On the 19th May, Clarion held a meeting open to all tenants and residents. It went under the patronising title of ‘More Than You Think’ and allowed attendees to hear about how the largest landlord in the country was doing more good than tenants and residents realised.
Here is a taster of the event. It was chaired by David Orr (with an emphsis on his CBE, just to make sure that everyone knows he is among the great and good). The presenters included chief executive Clare Miller, chief operating officer Michelle Reynolds, and other members of the executive team. The presenters explained how Clarion was doing an excellent job of governance, construction, repairs and maintenance, tenant involvement, and safety work. Then the event concluded with a carefully selected series of questions, and equally careful answers.
After the assembled executives had trundled out the corporate line. The Chair, David Orr (who has a CBE) was clearly impressed. Turning to Michelle Reynolds he said:
“Thanks Michelle, that’s brilliant. What a vast amount of activity. So much for everyone to think about. I mean, clearly there’s been some fantastic projects on the go and continuing, [looks at camera] and it’s so refreshing and great to see people working together and so well … [turns back to Michelle] so in a nutshell, if people are inspired by what they’ve heard, how do they take the first step to get involved?”
SHAC believes that this highly stage-managed public relations stunt was direct a response to SHAC’S ‘Clarion Wall of Protest: See Us, Hear Us’ campaign. The organisation aims to reverse some of the negative publicity that our campaign has generated but has yet to consider addressing the underlying issues.
But how good is Clarion really?
The landlord reports that a customer satisfaction level rate of 80%. Extrapolated across its 350,000 residents, this means that 70,000 residents are not satisfied with the service received. This is nothing to crow about.
With such high dissatisfaction levels, it is little surprise that so many of their residents watched the event with incredulity. One tenant said “I cannot believe half of what I heard tonight … Not my day to day experience … Taking a leaf from MPs – tell a lie enough times …”. Another commented “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind listening to all of this. We need a solid, secure base and environment first and foremost. All these projects are fine and good, but not many people have energy left for such things when basic needs are not met.”
All of the razzle-dazzle of this event put viewers in mind of the musical Chicago, in which the incompetent but self-regarding showman lawyer sings:
Give ’em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle ’em
Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give ’em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather ’em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle ’em
And they’ll never catch wise!
In fact, the consensus amongst SHAC members was that the public relations offensive was … offensive.
SHAC receives regular appeals for help from Clarion tenants and residents. The issues range from disrepairs, rent errors, extortionate and mis-managed service charges, and over-ridingly, a lack of compassion. The service charge issue is so extreme that a group of residents are now with-holding payment of their annual increase (www.shaction.org/clarion-leaseholders-hold-service-charge-strike/)
Here is the case of Clarion tenant Eileen. Her shed was used for storage, and among the items were her late mother’s belongings. Eileen recently made a distraught appeal:
“I’m so upset … So last month they [Clarion] needed to get into the shed to fix a light. I had my late mum’s belongs stored there.”
“Clarion took them out and kept them in storage. They never informed me they were doing this. As soon as I found out through a neighbour I was straight on the phone. I emailed went online, I put in a complaint too … I was passed from pillar to post. I made them aware I’m disabled so couldn’t get down the stairs.”
“I got a phone call this morning that they have destroyed all my late mum’s belongings … I sobbed on the phone … I’m heartbroken and don’t know what to do.”
Another example comes from a resident of a Clarion property in Driffield Road who wrote:
“The residents of Driffield Road have been trying to resolve a terrible litter and bin area battle with Clarion for years and years . After many years and many meetings both face to face and e-mails, nothing has ever been actioned. The bin area [has] become a dumping ground and flytippers’ paradise and the rubbish free flows into the streets … the bins are so overflowing that the rubbish actually blocks the road and hits our houses if windy. All we ever wanted was a barrier to contain the rubbish or make it look less unsightly and prevent fly tipping.”
The most shameful stain on the Clarion image is that it doesn’t need to be like this. In its annual report published in March 2020, Clarion reported a net surplus of £168m, up from £154 million in the previous year. Their operating margin is a very healthy 35%, and their net margin is 20%. In total, Clarion has almost 60 staff paid £100,000 or more. The chief executive earns £392,000 plus a £40,000 bonus. This is an organisation awash with financial resources.
Despite all of its wealth, and all the hot air generated at the ‘More Than You Think Event’, Clarion is unwilling to take the necessary practical steps to ensure delivery of a good service. Steps like hiring enough staff to ensure repairs are done properly and on time, and to make sure that residents contacting the organisation are able to get through.
SHAC Campaign Continues
SHAC@Clarion was formed to campaign for a better deal for tenants and residents of this giant landlord. It now has its own elected steering group of residents to direct campaigning. We will continue to campaign until we have achieved lasting improvements at Clarion.
24 May 2021