Hexagon Housing, Housing, Repairs and Maintenance, Safe Homes, Service Cuts, Tenant & Resident Democracy

Outsourced Repairs: A False Economy

Hexagon Housing spent almost £7m on repairs and maintenance in 2019, an increase of nearly 14% on the previous year. But does it receive value for money? Or is too much being squandered through outsourced sub-contractors?

The landlord owns or manages around 4,300 houses and flats in south-east London. The organisation promises to deliver decent, safe and affordable homes, and put the interests of residents and service-users at the heart of what they do.

These are laudable aims, and similar promises can be found in the mission statements of every housing association in Britain. But the sector’s performance on repairs and maintenance shatters these promises and leaves a trail of misery and distress in its wake.

Gina* a Hexagon resident, offers one example:

On August 27, 2020 just before 9am, we heard a loud bang outside our flat and saw that a glass panel had shattered to the ground in the courtyard. The Fire Brigade had to secure the area. Luckily, no-one was hurt, but it could have been very different. The walkway that the glass panels cover is in constant use by residents and visitors on the estate.

Hexagon, the management company for our block of flats, sent sub-contractors KNK to clean up. We expected them to remove the glass. They didn’t – they just moved the large smashed glass panel to the other side of the courtyard and left it there. A week later, the glass was still there. We called Hexagon. It was finally removed the following week.

Hexagon tenants and residents: Please sign our petition!

A group of Hexagon tenants and residents want building maintenance and repairs brought back in-house.

If you are a Hexagon tenant or resident, please sign the petition here.

For several weeks, we residents made multiple requests to Hexagon for a plan to replace the original panel and get the others checked. We couldn’t get any response. Then, we sent them photos showing that two of the remaining panels were chipped. On September 30, one of the chipped panels also shattered. Finally, at the beginning of October, KNK came and smashed the two chipped windows. In mid-December, one of these was replaced. “

The shocking image of the fallen glass pane.
Other shattered panes on the walkway

As for when Hexagon will assess the stability of the remaining panels, Gina says: “it’s anyone’s guess”.

Frustrations for tenants and residents

The process has been long and drawn out. It has taken repeated appeals to Hexagon to make any progress at all. One call alerting the landlord to the problem should have been sufficient. It is frustrating and stressful for residents to deal with, and feels like a constant battle.

Gina and other residents have found their safety sidelined while the landlord and sub-contractor pass the buck between them. There has been little sense of urgency, despite the danger to residents and visitors. And while a falling pane of glass is an extreme case and fortunately rare, more routine repairs share many similar problems.

An assumption that social tenants don’t care

When Laura** found her block needed new flooring in the communal hallway, Hexagon promised to schedule the necessary repairs through a sub-contractor. The company made a start, but the quality of work and workmanship were so shoddy that residents had to contact Hexagon repeatedly to recall the contractors to make good.

The stairwell flooring was left with a potential trip hazard that residents had to get addressed by Hexagon.

The photos taken by residents vividly illustrate the slapdash approach of the maintenance team, including unsecured flooring on a stairwell causing a trip hazard.

Laura says “The lack of care and quality of the work and workers was terrible. There was a complete lack of forward planning, and there didn’t seem to be any supervision or inspection by someone senior. There is no accountability at all. The company didn’t seem to actually care. I think some of it comes from an assumption that social tenants do not care about their homes and environment and are not worthy either, therefore anything goes. They are wrong. We do care.”

These cases highlight a common complaint about outsourced repairs and maintenance services. They raise the urgent question of value for money, especially when repairs and maintenance costs are so high.

A false economy

Outsourcing is almost always a false economy. In these cases, affected residents have spent long periods contacting the association, who in turn have to contact the sub-contractors. The operatives must return to make good on the original job. Sometimes this process is iterated more than once. It represents a waste of time for residents and all the workers involved. Ultimately, this costs the organisation money. Outsourced direct service costs may be cheaper (although not necessarily), but these savings are squandered through additional administration charges as the landlord attempts to get the job completed to an acceptable standard.

Petition to restore in-house maintenance and repairs at Hexagon

A group of Hexagon tenants and residents want building maintenance and repairs brought back in-house. With direct supervision, the landlord can ensure that services are delivered to an acceptable standard first time, and if things do go wrong, they can be rectified much more efficiently.

If you are a Hexagon tenant or resident, please sign the petition here.

* Gina’s identity is being protected to safeguard against victimisation by the landlord.

**Laura’s identity is being protected to safeguard against victimisation by the landlord.

Sources

23 December 2020

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