COUNCIL tenants are getting a better deal on repairs say Government inspectors, who hailed improvements to a housing service as "a real success story".

Sedgefield Borough Council's £4m-a-year homes and maintenance service was criticised by the Audit Commission Housing Inspectorate last March, when it was rated as poor with uncertain prospects for improvement.

But a new report rates the service as fair, with promising prospects for the future, and welcomes a change of culture in the housing department.

The inspection team increased the borough's rating from no stars to one out of a possible three.

It said the service was more popular with tenants because it was more customer-focused, provided better information and dealt with calls more efficiently.

Nick Atkin, lead housing inspector for the northern region, said: "Sedgefield council has worked tremendously hard since our last inspection and customers are already noticing the difference.

"Improved quality of workmanship, better customer care, and faster repairs are just some of the improvements that have been made.

"The council is to be congratulated on its achievements so far."

Since the last inspection the council has cut waiting time for repairs from 41 to 21 days, and work quality has improved. Empty homes are better cared for, gardens are improved, wheelie bins emptied and cleaned, and fly-tipping quickly removed. Gas servicing is now undertaken in line with legal requirements.

However, inspectors found, the council still carries out too many repair jobs as expensive emergencies. And repair operatives are on a bonus system which is time-related and does not allow flexibility.

Inspectors want the council to reduce emergency calls, change the bonus system and encourage more tenants to get involved in decisions.