Birmingham’s council housing service has been demoted from 'good' two-star rating to one-star 'fair' following an inspection by the Audit Commission.
A critical report by the Audit Commission was finally released after the city council failed to have the findings watered down.
The inquiry into the council’s performance as a landlord of 65,000 homes was conducted 16 months ago.
But city officials complained when they discovered that inspectors intended to brand the service as fair with just one star – marginally above a no-star failure.
Two years ago, the commission awarded housing two stars and rated the service as good.
The downgrading is a bitter blow for the city’s housing chief John Lines, who claimed “political interference” by Edgbaston Labour MP Gisela Stuart resulted in the inspectors giving Birmingham bad marks.
Earlier this year Coun Lines (Con Bartley Green) claimed Mrs Stuart attempted to turn the inspectors against the council’s housing record before they visited Birmingham – a claim she strongly denies.
Although the council lodged an official appeal against the findings, the Audit Commission stuck to its guns.
The survey rates the housing service as one-star, but adds that there are promising prospects for improvement.
While recognising that the service has “some clear strengths” including the provision of stair lifts and other aids for disabled people, the inspectors said customer care was not always provided to a high standard and the council had only limited knowledge of the needs of tenants.
The standard of houses let to tenants is described as poor and “falling below very basic standards”.
Mrs Stuart claimed the findings were “devastating” for Coun Lines.
She added: “The notion that I was trying to nobble the Audit Commission becomes increasingly ridiculous.
“This report identifies a lack of effective planning by the council, an absence of any strategic view and an obsession with short term fixes and headline grabbing initiatives that do not get to the root of improving council housing in Birmingham.”
A quarter of complaints about housing were not dealt with in a two-week target, while 10 per cent of telephone calls were “lost” by the council contact centre.
The commission also accused the council of exaggerating the performance of its council house repairs teams.
The survey found: “The service is not customer focused in some key areas such as appointment arrangements. Customer satisfaction is low, particularly with the quality of work, although customers do rate some areas highly, for example the attitude of workers.
“Recent performance reports suggest the council is meeting or exceeding its targets but this is not a reliable indicator of the actual customer experience.”
On the plus side, the report praised the council for managing anti-social behaviour and hate crime on housing estates effectively.
A spokeswoman said the council was “disappointed” at the Audit Commission findings which did not reflect the experience of most tenants.