Organisations housing vulnerable Peterborough residents rapped over ‘dangerous accommodation’

Vulnerable residents in Peterborough are being placed in homes managed by organisations which have been rapped for providing potentially dangerous accommodation.

Monday, 16th November 2020, 7:22 am
Updated Monday, 16th November 2020, 9:35 am

An investigation has discovered that dozens of Specialist Supported Housing units in Peterborough - which accommodate people with learning disabilities or autism - are owned by providers found by the national regulator to be potentially endangering tenants.

An investigation by Bureau Local, which has been supplemented by work from the Peterborough Telegraph, has revealed the following:

. 112 supported housing units in Peterborough out of 762 are managed by providers which are the subject of a regulatory judgement from the Regulator of Social Housing

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Vulnerable residents in Peterborough are being placed in homes managed by companies which have been rapped for providing potentially dangerous accommodation

. Failings which have been identified by the regulator include over health and safety and the eviction of vulnerable people without support

. Two of the providers were found to own properties where crucial checks which includes gas, fire, electric and asbestos have not been carried out

. Housing associations and residents in Peterborough leasing properties from the providers are being charged rents which are significantly higher than the average rental property price in Peterborough

. Some of the providers are in a precarious financial position which could lead to tenants losing their homes. Some have also been criticised over their governance

How the lease based model works

Nazreen Bibi, who has campaigned on support for people in Peterborough who are autistic, said: “The issues highlighted come as no surprise. Cost effectiveness has been prioritised over safe and personalised care for the most vulnerable.

“With the transforming care agenda more vulnerable individuals with autism, learning disabilities and mental health diagnosis should be living in community settings. However, it is becoming apparent that community care providers are often ill-prepared or are prioritising profit over safe and personalised care.

“Overburdened with carer responsibilities, families are often in need of local accommodation and fully trained staff who are able to meet their child’s complex needs. A local, familiar environment and close connections to family and friends are essential components, but most importantly a fully trained workforce.

“But there is a desperate need for a top-to-bottom review of service provision for vulnerable adults, including housing and workforce development. Politicians and council leaders must consider reviewing the effectiveness of privatisation and include families and disabled individuals in each and every process of policy development.”

Peterborough City Council said it has a “clear process in place to ensure Specialist Supported Housing (SSH) properties are of the required standards, that they are secure for tenants and providing good value for money”.

No evidence has been provided that any of the breaches found by the Regulator of Social Housing occurred in Peterborough properties.

Providers rapped by the regulator

Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited

Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited is accommodating six people in Peterborough and charges on average £210 a week, according to the Bureau, in comparison to the average rent in the region which is said to be £129.

It is currently subject to two regulatory judgements from the Regulator of Social Housing, one of which stated that there was “the potential for serious detriment” to its tenants.

The regulator concluded:

. A number of statutory checks and risk assessments are overdue across a range of health and safety areas, including gas, fire, electric, asbestos and Legionella. 
. For a “significant number of its properties” BeST has been “unable to provide assurance that statutory checks have been carried out by the property owners, and it has also been unable to provide assurance that where risks have been identified, appropriate action has been taken”.
. BeST “lacks assurance that the homes where its tenants live are safe”.

. The company is “non-compliant” with governance arrangements and has “no long term financial plan that demonstrates it can continue to meet its lease obligations”.

. The board at BeST “has been unable to demonstrate that the risks to its financial viability, or the financial implications if risks crystallise, can be effectively managed or mitigated over the life of its contracts”.
It is not stated if any of the potentially at-risk properties are in Peterborough.

Commercial director Steve Boyd said: “Bespoke Supportive Tenancies is a charity which exists to provide accommodation for vulnerable adults. We have one property in Peterborough with capacity for six adults which is currently fully occupied.

“We do not comment publicly on the rents we receive directly through housing benefit.

“We do not lease property to other housing associations.

“We have been working closely with the Regulator of Social Housing and are now fully compliant with health and safety certification requirements.”

Westmoreland Supported Housing Limited

Westmoreland provides 32 homes in Peterborough at an average weekly rent of £370, according to the Bureau.

However, the Regulator of Social Housing concluded:

. Westmoreland breached consumer standards, meaning there was “the potential for serious detriment to Westmoreland’s tenants”.

. Some of its housing stock “does not meet the requirements of the Decent Homes Standard (DHS)”. It added: “An external review found the properties to be in disrepair and said that they were cold and lacked basic utilities”.

. Westmoreland “provided inconsistent information regarding its compliance with statutory health and safety requirements, and the regulator’s assessment of this is that previously large numbers of gas safety checks and fire risk assessments were overdue”.

. The company issued eviction notices to a number of residents but “failed to consult with tenants, failed to provide appropriate advice and assistance and failed to consider what would happen to tenants during and after the notice period”.

. Westmoreland has been unable to provide “adequate assurance” that its accommodation meets the Government’s definition of Specialist Supported Housing, meaning it may have been charging tenants more than it is legally allowed to.

. Governance and viability requirements are not being met.

. An insolvency process against Westmoreland was triggered but has now been halted to give it time to work on restructuring its business plan. 
Company response

“Westmoreland is a housing association registered with the Regulator of Social Housing and we do not lease our properties to others – our properties are therefore not private but social housing.

“It is important to note that the housing we provide is bespoke and specially adapted for people with a range of physical, mental and neurodivergent disabilities, some of them profound. Some of our tenants are unable to live with other tenants and may require the sole use of an entire property for themselves and a 24/7 carer. Others may require specific outdoor spaces and adapted properties, such as wet rooms with hoists or an ‘Arjo’ bath, which in return requires re-working of the property itself.

“The properties that our tenants live in therefore differ a great deal from general social housing and receive no public subsidy, so our rent range reflects that, as do the rent ranges of other housing associations in our sector. This fact has long been recognised and supported by successive governments, hence the exemption from housing benefit caps.

“As with any fast growing, specialist sector, we and other SSH housing associations are having to evolve quickly and there have been some operational challenges along the way and this was reflected in the notices in May and September 2019.

“Westmoreland has made significant management improvements over the last 12 months and we are now operating much more efficiently and effectively. The most recent notice relates to assurance around rent setting, but the regulator did note that “Westmoreland’s board has agreed an action plan to fully review its property portfolio against the SSH criteria and market rental rate as a matter of urgency. It has committed to act upon the outcomes of this review.

“Independent research has found that community living, in adapted homes, leads to better physical, mental and social outcomes for our tenants and costs the taxpayer less than long term hospitalisation.

“Westmoreland is a not-for-profit organisation and we are very proud of the service we provide. Our principal focus is and always will be on providing safe and secure homes for our vulnerable customers over the long term.”

First Priority Housing Association Limited, which is said to provide 40 homes in Peterborough, has also been rapped by the regulator for not having “sufficient working capital or the financial capacity to meet its debts as they fall due”.

It added that the company “continues to trade on the goodwill of its creditors”.

A First Priority Housing Association spokesperson said: “The regulatory judgement about our financial viability and governance dates back more than two years. We have addressed the concerns raised through restructuring our finance and housing portfolio and strengthening our governance.

“This has been done by working closely with our new board which we appointed at the start of 2019. We actively engage with our regulator to keep them informed of our progress.

“All the houses we lease are of good standard and we believe offer value for money in the absence of government grant.”

The spokesperson added that First Priority does not lease houses to housing associations.

Moreover, Inclusion Housing Community Interest Company, which is said to have 34 homes in Peterborough, is not meeting governance or viability requirements.

The Regulator of Social Housing said its financial situation ”could result in the potential loss of the homes from the regulated sector, with inadequate consideration of the re-housing needs of the vulnerable client group housed”.
The PT has contacted Inclusion Housing for comment but at the time of going to press has yet to receive a response.

Peterborough City Council response:

. Asked if there are concerns that companies which have been rapped for serious breaches are operating in Peterborough, the council said: The RSLs (Regulated Social Landlords) that Peterborough City Council have been working with have been scrutinised in relation to regulatory notices.

“If the company has a notice then information is requested from the provider with regards to what the notice was in relation to, when it was received and what they have done to mitigate the problem in the future.”

. Asked what checks are in place to make sure the SSH homes are of good quality and are value for money, the council said: “We have a clear process in place to ensure SSH properties are of the required standards, that they are secure for tenants and providing good value for money.

“We work with housing associations involved to ensure that regular checks are carried out and that any breaches of conditions are flagged at the earliest opportunity.”

. Asked if an issue over rent has led to a tribunal over the past two years, the council said: “Yes this has happened. We are fully committed to ensuring that SSH properties are of the required standards in Peterborough and we will look to take action against housing associations if they fail to comply with our conditions.”

. Asked if it was in contact with the housing association about the properties to make sure they are suitable and providing value for money, the council said: “Yes we are in contact with them to ensure properties are of suitable standard and providing value for money.”

. Asked if there been any complaints received over the past two years from tenants or their families/friends/carers about the standards/maintenance of the properties, the council said no complaints had been received.

It added: “Concerns, on the other hand, are usually managed between the provider and the RSL. However, if they are unable to agree an amicable solution then commissioners will work with both parties to ensure that solutions are achieved. To date all concerns have been resolved to mutual satisfaction without the need to escalate further.”

. Asked if the council is making efforts to increase its stock of SSH and reduce its reliance on private providers, the authority said: “Our current system of working with housing associations to provide SSH properties in Peterborough is still in its infancy.

“Our utmost priority is ensuring that vulnerable residents have access to suitable properties and once they are housed in accommodation they are safe, secure and living in accordance with our conditions. Going forwards we will continue to assess how well the system is working.”

The PT asked the council for an up-to-date list of the number of Specialist Supported Housing units being leased out to providers, as well as a breakdown of the number of homes for each provider and the average rent being paid out.

We also asked how many SSH homes in total there are, including ones which are owned by housing associations directly.

And we asked whether the council has received any concerns/complaints from housing associations about properties they are leasing.

We were told we need to submit Freedom of Information requests to find out those answers.

Background

In recent years, people with learning disabilities or who are autistic have increasingly moved from care homes and institutional settings into their own homes in the community. That’s in the wake of scandals like Winterbourne View where six care workers were jailed for “cruel, callous and degrading” abuse of disabled patients, while five other staff members received suspended sentences.

The Regulator of Social Housing calls housing for those with autism and learning disabilities Specialist Supported Housing and describes it as “housing designed or adapted for people who require specialised services to enable them to live independently as an alternative to a care home, and where the level of ongoing support provided is approximately the same as that provided by a care home”.

Usually, housing benefit rates are capped by local housing allowances, but these limits do not apply to residents of SSH, meaning landlords can charge higher rents.

The Bureau’s investigation discovered that some companies are buying and leasing properties on onerous terms, with the quality of housing not deemed value for money.

There is no suggestion that this is the case in Peterborough where there are seven external providers of supported housing units.