Audit Commission to make short-notice swoops on associations

Housing watchdog the Audit Commission will bring in short-notice inspections for weaker services provided by housing associations.

The inspectorate will home in on one or two services, with the first spot checks beginning in autumn. The scheme could be rolled out to council housing departments and arm's-length management organisations.

The announcement follows a pilot scheme whereby 12 housing associations were given just five days’ notice of an inspection rather several months’ warning, in order to get a true picture of how the services performed. Inspectors spent three days on site looking at the three weakest services. They completed their inspection in six weeks rather than the six months a traditional inspection would take.

The commission and regulator the Housing Corporation will decide jointly which associations are to be inspected. Reports will be published but details of the inspection programme will not be given out.

The commission said the new system would reduce the regulatory burden on housing associations while improving the quality of services.

Steve Bundred

Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, said: "The pilot programme has shown we can successfully deliver a new style of inspection that puts the spotlight on weaker-performing or failing services. By working with housing associations and other housing providers, we can help them to improve services to their customers."