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Council to inspect supported housing after national report raises concerns

PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 September 2020

More than one in ten supported housing units in Havering are run by three companies who have been branded 'non-compliant' by the government regulator, new data has revealed. Pictures: Archant, Getty Images, Havering Council.

More than one in ten supported housing units in Havering are run by three companies who have been branded 'non-compliant' by the government regulator, new data has revealed. Pictures: Archant, Getty Images, Havering Council.

Archant

More than one in ten supported housing units in Havering are run by companies which have failed nationally to comply with basic standards.

Council leader Damian White said the authority would act on the findings by visiting the companies' properties in Havering and making sure they were compliant. Picture: Havering CouncilCouncil leader Damian White said the authority would act on the findings by visiting the companies' properties in Havering and making sure they were compliant. Picture: Havering Council

One of the companies was found to have been putting tenants at potential risk from asbestos and Legionella in other parts of the country.

Havering Council has vowed to act on the information, brought to light by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).

Council leader Damian White said the authority would be visiting properties run by the companies, to check their compliance.

He told the Romford Recorder: “The safety and wellbeing of our residents is always the council’s priority, none more so than those needing specialist support and care.”

Specialist Supported Housing (SSH), for people with learning difficulties and autism, is exempted from normal benefit caps so providers can add service charges for staff and facilities. Picture: Pixabay.Specialist Supported Housing (SSH), for people with learning difficulties and autism, is exempted from normal benefit caps so providers can add service charges for staff and facilities. Picture: Pixabay.

Twenty-five supported housing units in Havering are run by three companies which the government Regulator of Social Housing has branded “non-compliant”.

Two of them were found to be potentially endangering tenants.

The three companies invest in properties and then lease them as Specialist Supported Housing (SSH).

SSH, for people with autism and learning difficulties, is exempted from housing benefit caps because rents are often higher, to cover the cost of care staff and facilities.

A report by the Regulator of Social Housing found Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited (BeST) had breached basic standards, creating the 'potential for serious detriment to tenants'. Picture: Charles Thomson.A report by the Regulator of Social Housing found Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited (BeST) had breached basic standards, creating the 'potential for serious detriment to tenants'. Picture: Charles Thomson.

But TBIJ found significant variations between the rents being charged to the public purse by SSH providers.

In Havering, the three companies were charging between 130 and 208 per cent more than the local average rent.

Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited (BeST) was charging an average of £364 per week at its four units - almost two-and-a-half times the average local rent of £158.

In August 2019, Bespoke was found to have breached the regulator’s standards by failing to carry out statutory checks for gas, fire, electric, asbestos and Legionella.

An official report into Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited (BeST) found it had failed to carry out checks for gas, fire, electric, asbestos and legionella. Picture: Charles Thomson.An official report into Bespoke Supportive Tenancies Limited (BeST) found it had failed to carry out checks for gas, fire, electric, asbestos and legionella. Picture: Charles Thomson.

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The regulator said: “For a significant number of its properties, BeST had 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... We consider that BeST’s tenants, including some vulnerable individuals, have been put at risk.”

Trinity Housing Association, with 17 Havering units, charged an average of £460 per week.

In 2018, the regulator said Trinity was, “unable to evidence that it is meeting its statutory health and safety obligations, thereby potentially putting its tenants at risk.”

Westmoreland Supported Housing Ltd said it offered 'bespoke' housing, which was why its prices varied, and that SSH was proven to cost taxpayers less than hospitalisation. Stock image: Getty Images.Westmoreland Supported Housing Ltd said it offered 'bespoke' housing, which was why its prices varied, and that SSH was proven to cost taxpayers less than hospitalisation. Stock image: Getty Images.

Neither Bespoke nor Trinity responded to requests for comment.

Westmoreland Supported Housing Limited, with four units, was charging an average of £487 per week – over three times the local average.

In September 2019, Westmoreland was branded non-compliant due to “serious failings” in governance, leaving it “subject to regulatory intervention or enforcement action.”

It has been non-compliant since 2018 but was downgraded to a worse rating in 2019 because “breaches of the regulatory standards persist”.

Jason Frost, cabinet member for health and social care, said he would raise the findings with the council's safegurding team.Jason Frost, cabinet member for health and social care, said he would raise the findings with the council's safegurding team.

A Westmoreland spokesperson said it was a not-for-profit organisation which provided “bespoke” and “specially adapted” housing, adding: “Our rent range reflects that.”

They said independent research showed SSH housing cost taxpayers less than hospitalisation.

They continued: “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. Westmoreland has made significant management improvements over the last 12 months and we are now operating much more efficiently and effectively.”

Jason Frost, Havering’s cabinet member for health and social care, urged tenants or their relatives to contact the council if they had concerns, adding: “Now that the information has been brought to light, I will certainly be taking that up with our safeguarding team.”

Council leader Damian White added: “The three landlords highlighted in the report by TBIJ operate nationally... We have no local intelligence to suggest that any of their properties in Havering are non-compliant, nor have we been notified by the regulator of any concerns.

“However, in light of this report, the council will be following up with the regulator and landlords to ensure this is the case. We will also be visiting their Havering properties to satisfy any concerns around compliance.

“We have regular contact with the residents living in these properties and will continue to ensure they are taken care of and feel safe in their homes.”


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