By Mary Carter, Notting Hill Genesis tenant
My landlord, Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) has published its annual report for the last financial year. The document is full of self-congratulation and positive affirmation about how well the landlord is performing. But read between the lines and you’ll also spot some small pointers to the truth. In fact, there is a gaping chasm between the vision NHG wants to paint, and the reality of lived experience for tenants and residents.
Kate Davies is the current NHG chief executive and earns a salary of £175,000 per year. Maybe this is why she smiles?
She says in the document that at the centre of NHG’s vision is a promise to residents to ensure “a personalised service with a single point of contact”.
She waxes lyrical on how their highest priority is to deliver the “services and support that our residents need”, and is “very proud of the success we have had.”
Yet the report goes on to admit that only 68% of their customers were satisfied with the services they received, that NHG was subject to 55 investigations by the Housing Ombudsman (up from 47 in 2018/29), and that 6 of these cases resulted in a finding of maladministration. This is not a record to be proud of.
Putting NHG’s satisfaction rates in context, 32% of residents in NHG’s 66,000 homes are not satisfied with the service they receive. That’s more than 20,000 dissatisfied tenants. Not quite delivering the services and support that residents need then?
My experience will give a taster.
A couple of weeks ago our homes in West London were flooded after torrential rain. The water rose very quickly and within less than an hour, it was three-feet deep outside our house.
Only the Fire Brigade came to our rescue. No one from Thames Water. No one from Westminster Council until after 9pm. By the time they arrived, we were freezing and soaking wet in our homes.
Inevitably, the electricity supply was affected so we were also without power. We couldn’t even make a hot drink, let alone think about getting a bath.
The response of Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) speaks to their inadequacies as a landlord. The flooding was on Tuesday. They arrived at some point on Wednesday. Their surveyor (who just introduced himself as ‘The Surveyor’) spent a couple of minutes looking at the wooden floor and said they would replace it. But when the operatives came to remove it, they only took some of it away, not the bit around the toilet, nor the still soaking wet skirting boards. They promised to deal with the skirting later. In the end, I removed it myself.
A couple of days after the flood, with no prior contact, a housing officer phoned to say that environmental cleaners were outside my front door. This turned out to be three men with two mops, a broom, and a container of chemical cleaner. The mop head was already filthy. It was black with dirt. All they did was introduce more contamination into my home. Like the skirting, I had to do the work myself and clean everything up.
NHG’s intervention, far from easing my problems, just compounded them at the worst possible moment.
On top of the inadequacies of support, there were all the inconsistencies in support. Some were offered a daily allowance for food, but you had to be rehoused in a hotel to receive it. Those of us who remained in our homes were not offered vouchers, even though we can’t cook because the kitchen stinks and is probably still contaminated by the filthy flood water. Some have been told that NHG will help with the cost of electricity for running dehumidifiers, others have not.
Despite the severity of the problems caused by the flooding, none of the NHG senior managers or executive have bothered to come and speak to us. We are after all, only social housing tenants. This, I feel, is why the executives think it is OK to treat us this way.
Resources are certainly not a problem for NHG. The total group surplus for 2019/20 was just over £98 million. Its core operating surplus, excluding sales activity, climbed to £132 million in the same period.
It is my belief that the disregard and disservice arise from an attitude that considers social housing tenants unworthy. It is this attitude that really makes me angry. I am a social housing tenant, but I pay rent. I have not been given this home out of charity. I have a right to live here. I have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.
And I am not a ‘customer’ as NHG likes to describe us. A customer can pick and choose where to give their custom. But a tenant can’t just gather their belongings and move elsewhere on a whim. Moving home is considered one of the biggest stressors you can face, alongside the death of a loved one, or divorce. It involves a huge amount of money, time, energy … and an alternative. Many of us have nowhere else to go.
Stop Talking, Start Listening!
NHG has plenty of good things to say about itself. It now needs to start listening to its tenants, to the 20,000 who have not had a good experience, or got the service they should have. If Kate Davies starts doing that, she would be setting an example across the sector, and that really would be something to be proud of.
My main concern is now how long will it take to repair our homes, and what the standard of those repairs will be . Personally, I am terrified. I have waited 20 years for my cyclical repairs and have little faith based on past performance that these repairs will be any different.
27 July 2021
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in our Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC).