Housing association complaints – no regulation of service quality!
July 7, 2014 121 Comments
This updated blog post on housing association complaints is for anyone who has had serious problems with housing association complaints, Sanctuary Housing and Sanctuary Group in particular. For more on serious complaints see also 2016 post A nationwide scandal – Sanctuary Housing and the original 2009 post Are Sanctuary Housing Above The Law? and others here.
If you have had serious problems with Sanctuary Housing or Sanctuary Group, please join the independent facebook group Sanctuary Housing Independent Complaints Group – Countrywide, which has over 800 members (December 2016). It offers support and advice from others who have suffered at the hands of Sanctuary Housing – the incompetence, the frequent breaking of tenancy agreements, the threats, the lies and all the rest of it.
The information below is also relevant for complaints about other sometimes shockingly bad, usually very large, housing associations. Hyde Housing, Affinity Sutton, Metropolitan and Orbit are some that I have heard mentioned.
If you are reading this, you may already be familiar with the official procedure for housing association complaints, including Sanctuary’s. This consists of firstly trying to sort things out at a local level, then going through the housing association three-stage complaints procedure, then contacting a designated person (MP or local councillor). If all else fails, contact the housing ombudsman. In reality, for a large number of reasons, this process is not working for a very large number of people. The endless bureaucracy can be a complete nightmare and housing associations will often use every trick in the book to avoid taking responsibility for their poor services and sometimes diabolical treatment of vulnerable people.
An attempt to expose Sanctuary Group’s bad practices
Towards the end of 2013 (prompted by the news that registered charity Sanctuary had made a “surplus” of £72 million – this was apparently later revised down to £54.5 million, once the acquisition of Cosmopolitan had been taken out of the equation) – I sent out a very carefully-worded physical letter to 34 contacts: Inside Housing, Private Eye, The Guardian, Homes and Communities Agency, 38 Degrees, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Taxpayers Alliance, Shelter, the Public Accounts Committee, two Commons Select Committees, the then Housing Minister Mark Prisk and 11 other MPs. I focused on the following:-
1. Illegal and morally questionable practices.
2. Repairs being done very badly, or not at all.
3. Many properties in very bad condition, sometimes unfit for human habitation.
4. Complaints going missing and being ignored.
5. Blatant lying and dishonest manipulation of language in order to deflect complaints.
6. Bullying, harassment and bad treatment of tenants, including the elderly and disabled.
7. Inadequate soundproofing.
8. Bad communication and a lack of consultation with communities.
9. The lowering of service standards as a result of Sanctuary takeovers.
10. Bullying and mismanagement of Sanctuary’s own staff.
Under each category I selected a few quotes from the 500+ comments on the blog Are Sanctuary Housing above the law?. I tried to include (nearly) everyone who had contributed up to that point. Although yet again there was no media interest, I had two lengthy replies, one from the Homes and Communities Agency and one from Margaret Hodge of the government’s influential Public Accounts Committee.
Replies from the Homes And Communities Agency (the social housing regulator, mainly concerned with financial regulation)
Postal address: Referrals and Regulatory Enquiries Team, Homes and Communities Agency, 1st Floor, Lateral, 8 City Walk, Leeds LS11 9AT
Initially, the following reply gave me some hope:- “Thank you for your letter, sent to the Homes And Communities Agency and other organisations, containing a number of allegations about Sanctuary Housing Association… (We have) now considered the information you have provided and would like to invite you or others who have experienced difficulties to provide us with further information.” Carole Harrison, Referrals and Regulatory Enquiries Team, Homes and Communities Agency, 28.10.13
Several Sanctuary tenants sent extensive details of very serious complaints soon after – they were completely dismissed. On behalf of many tenants and others who have been badly treated by Sanctuary, I decided to have another go myself. In early 2015 I sent a carefully presented 80+ page document with extensive evidence (text, photos and newspaper articles which taken together represented 150+ Sanctuary tenants around the country) of illegal and immoral practices to a number of “authorities” and media. This included quotes from tenant-run Sanctuary facebook groups and detailed evidence of a fraud against the Scottish Housing Regulator by Sanctuary in Scotland.
The second reply from the Homes and Communities Agency was arrogant and completely dismissive. Why did they bother asking for further information if they obviously had no interest whatsoever?
Reply from Margaret Hodge MP and the Public Accounts Committee
Postal address: Committee of Public Accounts, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA
“My committee retains a strong interest in how the system of social housing provision as a whole is operating and I am grateful for the information you have provided… thank you for drawing these matters to my attention.” Margaret Hodge then went on to say that “the Homes and Communities Agency does not actively monitor social housing provider performance against, or compliance with, the consumer standards, responsibility for which rests with the Boards of social housing providers” Margaret Hodge, Public Accounts Committee, 6.12.13
Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but this is confirmation by the government that following on from the abolition of housing inspectors at the Audit Commission…
THERE IS NOW NO GOVERNMENT REGULATION OF SOCIAL HOUSING FOR THE QUALITY OF SERVICES PROVIDED TO TENANTS.
A selection of June 2016 tenant posts from the 700-strong Sanctuary Housing Independent Complaints Group on facebook
“They are useless! Our house flooded today and none of them wanted to come help!”, “We get a newsletter and it seems to be filled with happy, content tenants. Not sure where they get these people from but it’s certainly not in any Sanctuary house I’ve ever known”, “I am appalled with sanctuary housing! If anyone is offered a house through them avoid at all costs!!…this is beyond a joke and i will make sure everyone is aware of how sanctuary actually treat their tenants!”, “So, adaptations were requested in February for my disabled three year old. They were signed off by sanctuary on March 28th but…. nothing. I’ve been calling for 10 weeks and each time I’m told they will send an urgent email to the housing officer but still nothing. My little girl can’t walk, they knew she was having surgery in March and would be in a wheelchair”, “I feel like I’ve been backed up against a brick wall, the bullying tactics sanctuary use”, “Today I heard that Sanctuary have taken over Housing 21. Why are they still taking more on when they can’t get the stock they have in decent shape?”
The relentless Sanctuary corporate PR machine paints a different picture
From a June 2016 press release:- “Over 85,000 residents across England and Scotland have benefited from community investment and support from Sanctuary Group during the last financial year. The leading housing and care provider invested £1.55 million in community initiatives during 2015/ 16 to make a difference in communities nationwide. Under five strategic themes – employment, education, skills and training; health and well-being; community safety and infrastructure; environment and financial inclusion – Sanctuary’s investment has helped support more than 600 community initiatives with over 300 community groups…. Another key commitment for the Group is helping to reduce social isolation, particularly amongst vulnerable residents. 830 people have benefited through Sanctuary’s funding in the last year to help address loneliness and create more opportunities for people to feel more connected to their community.”
Why I am still writing blogs about Sanctuary Housing
Even though I wasn’t a Sanctuary tenant myself, I had my life temporarily destroyed by Sanctuary’s useless, uncaring, arrogant and disgusting mismanagement back in 2007 and 2008. Intitially, it was all about an anti-social neighbour and non-existent soundproofing but the main problem soon became the utterly diabolical management of Sanctuary Housing. A total of eight employees (including Chief Executive David Bennett) and other contractors showed themselves up with various combinations of incompetence, arrogance, blatant lying, blatant bullying and plain negligence. They lied and lied to our MP and the police, both of whom quickly saw through them. In the meantime, I lost my relationship, my home and almost my sanity. Months later, after threats from Sanctuary managers, I started a blog called Are Sanctuary Housing above the law? As can be seen there, this company does an awful lot of harm to an awful lot of people. I have worked in supported housing, care homes and homeless hostels myself, so I have a pretty good idea of the difficulties that Sanctuary often have to deal with. They do SOME great work with people and communities, SOME of their properties are as good as the glossy Sanctuary PR pics. But they are also failing large numbers of people in countless ways and regularly trying to cover it up. In my opinion they have simply got too big and too greedy to function properly. Eight years on and with the help of the government and support from the Church of England, they are still expanding their property empire of 95,000 homes whilst badly letting many, many tenants and others down. No-one is stopping Sanctuary, a rogue housing association if ever there was one, or organizations like them.
(Sanctuary’s Chief Executive David Bennett was made a CBE for services to social housing in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list – an absolute disgrace.)