Chorley councillor Matthew Lynch knows from personal experience that the service offered by social landlords is not always perfect.
He once walked into his bathroom and left, several minutes later, not by the door - but through the floor. A botched repair job carried out a fortnight earlier had sent him plummeting into the kitchen below.
“I landed in a cupboard, legs dangling,” the politician recalls.
He has spent much of the last twelve months chairing a committee whose aim is to ensure that other tenants of social housing in Chorley live in decent, well-maintained homes.
As part of a cross-party investigation into the quality of the social rented sector in the borough, a survey was carried out of around two thirds of households from a variety of different housing providers - and the results seem to show that a significant proportion of residents are happy with their homes.
Around three quarters say they were satisfied with the condition of their property when they moved in and also the way it has been looked after by their social landlord since.
But the response rate was less than 20 percent and Cllr Lynch says he wants something done to improve things for the one in four respondents who are dissatisfied with the upkeep of their dwelling.
“While the figures seem positive, we need to look at developing patterns of poor performance and those individual instances where residents feel that they’re not receiving the level of service they should expect from their registered provider,” he says.
And although he is keen not to preempt the findings of his committee, Cllr Lynch adds that maintenance and repair should be the top priorities for the social housing sector. The survey showed that half of those responding to a question about repairs had “an issue” with work carried out on their property.
“There is one provider who thinks it’s perfectly adequate to use hardboard for a bath panel, when it will actually turn to tissue paper after a while,” Cllr Lynch says.
“On one occasion, the cabinet member for housing had to turn up at property during a visit by the landlord in order to ensure that a list of [previously-refused] jobs was agreed to.
“And in the last twelve months, providers have moved to carrying out only statutory repairs.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Lynch - who remains a social housing tenant himself - is also calling for investment to bring those properties which need it up to a modern standard.
“We can’t say we want a new kitchen in every house, but there needs to be a commitment to investment which has been lacking from some providers.
“There is a need for things like new bathrooms and energy efficient heating systems.”
So, what future for the social rented sector in Chorley?
“My fear is that resident engagement is being lost,” Cllr Lynch warns. “But, interestingly, when we announced our survey, one of the providers decided to carry out their own.
“So maybe they are starting to think that they need to do something [to improve] or they will be embarrassed by this process.”
WHAT THE LANDLORD SAID
The three main social housing providers in Chorley were ranked according to their tenants’ overall satisfaction.
The largest, Chorley Community Housing, came out on top with 84 percent of residents saying that they were satisfied, followed by Accent on 70 percent and Places For People with a satisfaction rating of 67 percent.
Responding to the figures, a spokesperson for Places for People said: “Our customers are our top priority, and we are always grateful for their feedback. We will review the findings of this survey carefully to find ways that we can continue to improve our service.”
Chorley Community Housing was also contacted for comment.
SOCIAL HOUSING SURVEY RESULTS
***82 percent are content with the speed of response from their landlord
***76 percent are satisfied with maintenance
***85 percent say their neighbourhood is a good place to live
***52 percent agree that their housing provider listens and acts on feedback
COUNCIL TO RETURN TO RENTING
Chorley Council announced earlier this year that it plans to re-enter the local property market by creating a local housing company.
The move comes just over a decade since the local authority - like many others - transferred its council house stock to a not-for-profit housing association, Chorley Community Housing.
The council proposes to acquire 50 homes for affordable rent and a further 71 for lease at full market rates. The properties will be a mixture of new builds, houses for sale and empty homes brought back into use. The authority may eventually develop on its own land.
Cllr Matthew Lynch, chair of a task group investigating the standard of social rented housing in the borough, said the new company - which would be one of the smallest providers - could act as “standard bearer” for others.
The private rented sector in Chorley almost trebled to more than 7,000 properties between 2001 and 2016.