Housing regulator critical of poor performance of Circle Housing in relation to maintenance risking 'serious detriment to its tenants'

PUBLISHED: 12:39 29 December 2016 | UPDATED: 12:39 29 December 2016

Damp and heating problems with Roddons at Chapel Avenue, Wisbech St Mary.

Damp and heating problems with Roddons at Chapel Avenue, Wisbech St Mary.

Archant

A summer of discontent among former council house tenants - including some in Fenland- has prompted a serious rebuke to Circle Housing by the Government's homes regulator.

Damp and heating problems with Roddons at Chapel Avenue, Wisbech St Mary. Sarah Jones trying to remove the mould.Damp and heating problems with Roddons at Chapel Avenue, Wisbech St Mary. Sarah Jones trying to remove the mould.

Circle, the parent body of Roddons and in control of 4,000 former council owned homes in Fenland, “risked serious detriment to its tenants” says a report by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

A regulatory notice details a catalogue of complaints made to Circle “and the regulator will consider what, if any, further action it will take in relation to the breach of standards”.

Throughout the summer a number of Wisbech councillors have been battling to secure improved conditions for tenants – and at one point Councillor Peter Human handed his complaints dossier to Circle in the hope improvements would come about.

Fellow Wisbech councillor Virginia Bucknor described the regulator’s findings as “extremely worrying” and is demanding Fenland Council investigate further.

Cllr Alan Lay.Cllr Alan Lay.

She has passed details of a recent complaint to council chiefs involving a couple from Waterlees with disabled children and the month they spent without proper heating.

“Why was this not considered a priority by Roddons?” she said. “We do appreciate that social landlords have a wide range of challenges but such an example of poor contractors, inadequate service by the contractors and delay by the contractors is unacceptable.”

Earlier this month Circle Anglia ceased to exist following its merger with Affinity Sutton to form the Clarion Housing Group, the country’s largest housing association and a major house builder.

Up to 125,000 flats and homes across nearly 200 local authorities will be controlled by the newly formed group but with top officials from both Affinity Sutton and Circle taking roles in the new organisation the regulator is deciding his next step.

Roddons housing, Morton Avenue, March.Roddons housing, Morton Avenue, March.

The regulatory notice details a large number of complaints about repairs and maintenance and says these were particularly bad in East London.

The notice also questions Circle’s customer contact system in relation to these complaints. It says many tenants found difficulty in contact Circle to raise issues and complaints and perceived poor responses by Circle to complaints led to a “very large number” being outstanding for a long time. Bringing Circle’s diverse group into a single call centre and in parallel implementing an IT system didn’t help.

Overall, including referrals from MPs and councillors, there were “hundreds of complaints about Circle’s handling of repairs and accessing Circle’s service. A high proportion of those complaints have been unresolved for long periods of time”.

The regulator found complaints ranged from minor repairs and maintenance to those classified as urgent/emergency. And referrals originated across an area of Circle’s operations covering thousands of homes, said the regulator.

Overgrown hedges and grass at Roddons home of Jean Morgan in St Paul's Close, Wisbech.Overgrown hedges and grass at Roddons home of Jean Morgan in St Paul's Close, Wisbech.

“Poor performance of customer contact and handling systems has resulted in tenants facing significant barriers to reporting repairs,” he says,

“As a result there are a very large number of complaints that have been outstanding for a long time.”

As a consequence, he says, it has the potential “to risk serious harm for Circle’s tenants”.

Clarion says it acknowledges the issues facing repairs and customer relations and has put in place resources and structures to “understand them properly and to improve the services, whilst acknowledging that resolving underlying causes may take some time”.

Letter from Circle Housing Roddons offering Sarah Jones £50 compensation for one-year-and-a-half worth of no heating.Letter from Circle Housing Roddons offering Sarah Jones £50 compensation for one-year-and-a-half worth of no heating.

The HCA says it is “liaising closely” with Clarion to understanding and where necessary remedying the issues but will consider what action to take following a clear breach of standards.

Clarion promised when the merger was announced it would “place a strong focus on providing locally responsive, reliable services to residents” through its regional structure.

* Are you a Roddons tenant? Do you have issues with maintenance or repairs? Can you report problems easily? Let me know. Email john.elworthy@archant.co.uk

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