A LONG-TERM contract between Barnsley Council and the firm responsible for carrying out repair works at its social housing stock has been axed - just months after councillors complained that vulnerable tenants were being pushed into accepting ‘sub-standard’ properties.

A raft of alterations have been made to Berneslai Homes’ ‘void standard’ in recent months - a document which sets out the minimum lettable standard that all of its housing stock has to meet before a tenant moves in - after it came under fire at a councillors’ scrutiny meeting at Barnsley Town Hall.

Members of the panel claimed they had witnessed ‘shocking’ cases - including below-par repair work, mould and damp - which prompted councillors to urge a re-think of the measures in place.

A host of changes including a new ‘decoration standard’, an increase of independent, pre-let inspections and the creation of a photo database to help keep tabs on any issues were approved by ruling cabinet members as a result of councillors’ concerns, who relayed tenants’ fears over being ‘pushed back in the housing waiting list’ if they opted against accepting a home.

Wates Living Space will now be responsible for delivering repairs, maintenance, gas servicing and electrical works across homes in Barnsley, in addition to works to refurbish void properties in the borough.

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The previous provider, Kier, had held the contract for ten years but a decision was taken to end the agreement in the latest shake-up to Barnsley’s council housing stock since the scrutiny meeting took place late last year.

Coun Robert Frost, cabinet support member for regeneration and culture, said: “We’d like to thank Kier for their work and dedication over the last ten years. Going forward, we’re excited to work with Wates Living Space and see what benefits they can bring to Barnsley.

“I’d like to remind residents that there will be very minimal change and disruption in the service they receive. The repairs residents receive will be of the same quality and standard as before.”

Tenant Robert Sixsmith, of Cover Drive, Darfield, told the Chronicle he was waiting more than two months for a course of damp to be rectified and worries that others will be left in a similar situation as a result of the contract’s changes.

“I had damp in my lounge and I learned that Kier’s contract hadn’t been renewed and that there is nobody doing repairs until the new one is sorted out,” he added.

“The lack of communication to residents is really annoying because I only learned this through friends and wasn’t told it directly from Berneslai Homes.

“At the end of the day if they don’t carry out the repairs it could become a bigger issue and be detrimental to people’s health.”

The council told the Chronicle that a procurement process was undertaken to select a contractor able to offer both social and financial value, and Wates Living Space will take control on April 1 - just a day after Kier’s contract officially ends.

Tenants have been told they can still report issues in the same way by calling or emailing Berneslai Homes, whose bosses said they were looking forward to the partnership delivering an ‘excellent repairs service’.

Coun Jeff Ennis, chairman of the scrutiny board, praised Berneslai Homes for being one of the most successful organisations of its type but said a ‘higher basic level’ of decoration was ultimately required to address concerns.

He added: “The board saw photos which were horrendous with mould and damp, and it’s this we need to target. The committee felt there needed to be a higher basic level of acceptable decoration standard met for all properties and budget made available for this.

“Members feel that the council should be setting a good example to private landlords, especially given that providing a decent standard of housing is core to a person’s health and wellbeing.( “With the database of photos, clear evidence will be available as to if and when damage has occurred at a property and will also act as a quick reference for officers should they need to refer to a particular property and when maintenance may be required.

“The good work which is taking place by the council and Berneslai Homes in relation to property management as evidenced in corporate performance reports should be shared and celebrated.

“It is important however that where properties do not meet acceptable standards, residents are given opportunity to express their concerns and the issues rectified as appropriate.

“This will help the council set the standard which the private sector - which we know we’ve had problems with - can follow.”