COUNCIL tenants in Sandwell have been assured it will be “business as usual” in housing service centres when responsibility returns to the council in the New Year.

Government cuts to the Decent Homes improvement programme is forcing the council to retake control of the borough’s 29,000 council properties after years of being managed by Sandwell Homes at ‘arms length’ from the local authority.

The council believes that money saved by returning the organisation to its control on Januray 1 and ending duplication of services and management structures will mean more money for improving homes and frontline services.

Sandwell Homes general manager Norman Fletcher said they were looking for a “seamless changeover” so that tenants will see no difference in the service they receive at the housing service centres He said: “The employees in housing will be as committed as ever to keeping up the high standards of service to our tenants.

“And we will be working to develop our services to tenants in the future as part of an ongoing plan to continue to improve standards on our estates.”

Tenants will also see no change in the recently-introduced special freephone lines at libraries and late-night openings. General inquiries and emergency out-of-hours numbers for council housing will also remain the same.

Mr Fletcher said housing employees would be working within a new neighbourhood services directorate within the council to come up with further new improvements.

“During 2013 we will be turning our six offices into neighbourhood service centres and offering new services for local residents in the six towns,” he added.

Councillor Simon Hackett, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The money saved by our decision to return management of council housing to the council will be ploughed back into improvements and frontline services.”

He added: “We have a 10-year investment programme which will see us working to provide the next generation of good quality, warm and energy efficient homes for the future.

"For the first time in a generation the council will build new council houses year on year.”