WEAR Valley's 5,000 council tenants receive a fair service from the district's housing department, according to an independent report issued yesterday.

Inspectors from the Audit Commission gave the housing service one out of a possible three stars.

They said that it is making good progress towards its target of achieving two stars by next October.

The council is planning to transfer all its homes to an independent management company next spring and the six-day inspection last September was part of the Government's arrangements to ensure that its management plans are acceptable.

The commission said it had found strengths in the department's approach to the improvement of homes and the management of its estates.

However, its handling of complaints and management of low-level anti-social behaviour cases is weak.

Deborah Good, the commission's lead housing inspector, said: "Wear Valley has successfully implemented most recommendations from previous inspections.

"However, it needs to address inefficiencies in the repairs service and demonstrate that its housing services are providing value for money."

The inspectors found that ground maintenance is carried out to a high standard, the repairs appointments system works well, but the standard for re-letting empty properties is basic and does not provide enough information, and customer satisfaction results are not being analysed to find improvements.

Recommendations include introducing a residents' handbook, publicising service standards and visiting new tenants.

Councillor Jeff Gale, chairman of the housing services committee, said: "This shows that our services to tenants are getting better all the time.

"However, we are committed to carry out these improvements and recognise that we still have a lot of work to do."