BIG improvements to the services provided for local council tenants have been unveiled by the borough's housing chiefs.

Bosses at Wigan and Leigh Housing have drawn up radical plans to move away from a traditional office-based system of reporting repairs in favour of a more personal one-to-one service from a boroughwide contact centre.

Wigan and Leigh Housing, which manages council homes on behalf of Wigan Council, says the changes will create a much better service for residents.

Instead of trailing down to their local housing office, they can simply call one number and make an immediate appointment for a visit from a housing officer.

All calls for help in future will be made to a single new 'contact centre' based in the borough and staffed by Wigan and Leigh Housing employees. It can already handle thousands of phone calls and even receive text and internet messages asking for repairs to be carried out.

At the same time, a number of the borough's less busy housing offices will become part time 'surgeries' where customers can make an appointment and be seen without having to wait.

The move to part time offices will start next month with reduced hours at four offices, and a further four will follow in spring next year.

The new approach has been prompted by a gradual shift in the way services are being provided. Local rent collection has gone, to be replaced by direct debit and post office payments, while homes are now allocated through dedicated property shops in Wigan and Leigh.

Wigan and Leigh Housing Board will decide later in the month which offices will have reduced hours but have already stressed that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the changes.

Peter Gee, Chief Executive of Wigan and Leigh Housing, said: "The way we provided services in the 1990s doesn't meet the needs of today's customers.

I'm confident that our customers will see a change for the better. Having invested millions of pounds in the stock we now intend to invest in being a first class service.

"These changes will improve front line services and tenants will see more staff out and about on their estates".

The new system has already been welcomed by tenants' representatives. Joan Tickle of the Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations, said: "We

are working with Wigan and Leigh Housing on the review and are satisfied that the main purpose is to improve services."