Housing maintenance record under scrutiny

Burrell Tower in Albany Road, Leyton
Council-owned Burrell Tower in Albany Road, Leyton (credit Sahira Raja)

Councillors admit past failings but insist improvements are being made, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Waltham Forest Council’s homes have “come on in leaps and bounds” from the “dark days” of housing maintenance under a previous contractor, according to councillors.

A £225million contract to maintain more than 12,500 council homes was awarded to Osborne in 2012 and ended in 2019 but, at a budget and performance scrutiny committee meeting last month, Conservative councillor John Moss stated the council was now “in dispute” over the “lax” service Osborne provided.

While a report prepared for the meeting suggested the council’s new maintenance provider, Morgan Sindall, was performing better, he pointed out that Osborne had also reported good performance during its contract.

Cllr Moss said: “I fully accept the service has vastly improved [but] the report does not include any information on residents’ perception of the quality of the service. 

“We are in dispute with a former provider because the administration of the service… was so lax.

“Three or four years ago, the report from the team was saying 70-90% [of repairs were done on time] but residents were saying 40-60%.

“Residents were reporting faults and people were not attending but those faults were being recorded as closed and having to be rebooked.

“I have no doubt that some of the financial differences between us and Osborne relates to where we paid for work that we thought had been done that had not been done.

“All we are seeing here is what the council and the service are telling us.”

A report for councillors stated Morgan Sindall was meeting its contractual requirements, despite reporting  81% of repairs as overdue.

The report explained that this is because work has been “heavily impacted” by lockdown, adding: “The council has been working closely with Morgan Sindall to plan how to clear the backlog of repairs as we start to exit lockdown.”

Osborne’s contract had been awarded by the council’s former arm’s length management organisation for housing, Ascham Homes.  However, in 2015, after spending at least £7.6m on bailing out Ascham Homes twice, the council took all its housing services, including maintenance, back in-house.

At the scrutiny meeting, Labour councillor Jenny Gray said she felt the council had “come on leaps and bounds from the dark days of Ascham Homes”.