Peterborough taxpayers were asked to give compensation through “the public purse” to the housing firm which is evicting dozens of residents from a single estate.
New Freedom of Information emails uncovered by the Peterborough Telegraph show a director at Stef & Philips asked Peterborough City Council for money due to “an unexpected loss of rent” on four properties in St Michael’s Gate, Parnwell.
The council is currently paying Stef & Philips nearly £3 million over three years to use the vacant properties, where 74 tenants and their families are being evicted, as temporary accommodation for homeless people.
The FOI emails show the council was asked on more than one occasion to increase the amount it pays Stef & Philips. One email on September 15 from a director at the firm says it has seen an “unexpected loss” on four properties at St Michael’s Gate since August 1.
He says that he fully appreciates the council’s reservation “regarding compensation from the public purse.”
But he adds that he wants the matter to be brought up at their next meeting.
In another email dated October 24, nearly a month after a deal between the two parties was agreed, he says that recent events had stopped the council from taking up use of the properties, leading to a “rental loss of £25,000” for Stef & Philips.
The “recent events” are thought to refer to a call-in (challenge) of the council’s decision to agree the contract with the company.
On this occasion the director says: “We are certainly not looking for any compensation,” but he added: “A revision of payment terms in this context is what I would like to discuss.”
Another email the following day then asks the council to increase the money it pays to Stef & Philips due to it leasing fewer properties than first expected at St Michael’s Gate.
Two days later, another email reads: “Given the delay and also the fact that properties will be made available to Peterborough City Council in tranches, it is quite clear that PCC will not be spending anywhere near £ [email redacted] even on the revised rates.
“Given this scenario, I would be grateful if you could kindly reconsider PCC’s position in this regard.”
Oliver Hayward, council assistant director: people commissioning and commercial operations, replied: “Any price increase will need to go back through the process as it is treated as a new decision, and given the interest around this matter there is no guarantee that the decision will be given.
“I would request that we hold prices as we previously agreed.”
Although 74 tenants are being evicted, Stef & Philips is renovating many of the homes – including turning some into houses of multiple occupation – to increase the number available to the council.
The number of properties was due to increase to 98, but because this was later reduced to 88 the council increased the amount it pays per bedroom by roughly 16p per night.
A council spokeswoman said: “Whilst a slight increase, the rate paid reflects good value and is far less than the continued use of hotel accommodation to help those in need in the city.”
The spokeswoman was referring to a Peterborough Telegraph story in September last year which revealed that the council was budgeting for a £1.2 million overspend after putting homeless people in city Travelodges.
Nobody from Stef & Philips was available for comment.