Tenants to have a say as social homes firm put under spotlight

MORE than 50,000 people are to be consulted over the future of a controversial social housing company after council chiefs said they wanted to assess all their possible options over how to deliver homes in the future.

Sheffield Homes was set up as a so-called arms length management company (ALMO) by Sheffield Council in 2004, under legislation which was introduced by the Labour government and is in charge of 42,000 local authority homes.

It is a not-for-profit enterprise run by a board of directors and has also been responsible for delivering a multi-million pound programme of Government investment as part of the Decent Homes programme.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sheffield Homes' contract with the council still has three years to run, but leading councillors have already decided they want to ask tenants whether another arrangement would provide better services and more value for money.

Today letters are being sent to 50,100 tenants asking them to nominate representatives from their housing area to speak out about their experiences of Sheffield Homes and help councillors and officers to decide the best way forward.

Nominations will then be counted by the council, and those people who have received the most support from their neighbours will be asked to take part in meetings over the next year which will help to formulate the authority's policy.

Coun Penny Baker, Sheffield Council's Cabinet member for housing, planning and regeneration said: "The interest shown by tenants and leaseholders in being part of the group has been very impressive, that is why we are holding a vote.

"I would urge everyone to vote for who they think will best represent them on the group because although they will not make any decisions about the future of council housing they will have an important role to play in ensuring we get the views of all tenants and leaseholders over the next 12 months."

Sheffield Homes has been unpopular with some tenants who have claimed that they have not received the same levels of service they had when their homes were managed in-house by the local authority and who have also complained about the decent homes programme.

A recent inspection by the public spending watchdog the Audit Commission also found that the organisation was owed 10m in rent and failed to respond to complaints quickly enough, but awarded it an excellent rating for its services overall.

ALMOs have been set up by South Yorkshire's other three councils with St Leger Homes in charge of council house management in Doncaster, Berneslai Homes taking over in Barnsley and 2010 Rotherham dealing with tenants in Rotherham.

All three have been controversial, particularly the organisation in Rotherham, which faced criticism from members of Rotherham Council and the threat of having its agreement discontinued because of poor service delivery.

Bosses at 2010 Rotherham, which is responsible for more than 20,000 council houses across the borough were told by housing chiefs in 2009 to improve their working arrangements or risk losing their contract immediately.

A 27-point action plan was drawn up by executives, after a tenant satisfaction survey sparked a series of concerns over the housing provider's performance with 40 per cent of tenants asking that services be transferred back to the council.

St Leger Homes in Doncaster has also faced a similar problem with councillors threatening to cancel its contract in February 2010 after a critical report was written over its running and complaints began to increase.

The organisation also suffered an asbestos scare in 2008 which led to a delay in improvement works. The fiasco, which cost taxpayers 200,000, led to the suspension and resignation of SLH's chief executive Martin Musgrave.