Oh, the irony. Or is it hypocrisy? An announcement has hit the headlines. Peter Denton, former CEO of Hyde, has been appointed to lead Homes England, the government body responsible for housing investment. Denton quipped:
The government has an ambitious agenda of not just more homes but decent, affordable, safe, energy-efficient ones that sit well in their community and landscape. I cannot wait to help realise that ambition.Peter Denton, ex-chief executive of Hyde Homes, reported in Construction News
All names have been changed in this article to protect tenants against victimisation by Hyde Housing.
A Track Record of Shame
If Denton is interested in ‘decent, affordable, safe, energy efficient homes’, perhaps he could explain why, as chief executive at Hyde, he headed up the housing association with the worst track record on service charging? And this in the face of some very stiff competition.
Tenants and residents have experienced service charge rises that bear no relation to inflation, reaching anything up to 300% in one year. And the origins of these charges range from dubious to downright fraudulent.
Take David, who lives in a street property owned by Hyde. David spent three years trying to stop charges for services only applicable to those living in blocks of flats. It was not only David who was being falsely charged in this way, but all 37 Hyde properties on his estate.
Nor was this falsification affecting just one estate. Louise received a bill in 2020 for £59.18 for cleaning bins and rubbish. Hyde does not provide these services as Louise’s home is a street property.
Energy efficiency is a pertinent reference from Denton. Extortionate communal electricity has long been identified by Hyde as a useful source of unearned income. Jo for example is a resident in a block of nine flats, but received a communal electricity charge £6,983.08 in 2021. This was an increase on 2020, when they had been charged £37.84.
Under Denton’s watch, in 2018, Hyde introduced changes to ‘simplify’ service charge calculation, and the number of problems escalated. Even getting information on what the baffling charges are intended to cover is a struggle. Michael for example has asked annually for a breakdown of charges for the last four years, as is his legal right, but Hyde have so far failed to produce them. Apparently disregarding the law is the right kind of qualification for a job with government.
Electricity is a lucrative source of unearned income for Hyde, but the landlord feels no obligation to make delivery safe
Even where tenants successfully extract the breakdown, and get the landlord to admit service charging ‘errors’, tenants are lucky to get a refund.
Layla was an exception. She received a refund of £1,445.69 from Hyde in 2020 after they admitted to service charge ‘errors’ relating to estate and block cleaning, estate and block management, grounds maintenance, and CCTV. But it was short-lived. The subsequent service charge bill was even higher than the erroneous 2019 figure.
Ombudsman: Hyde Guilty of Maladministration
The Ombudsman reported complaints about Hyde Housing at a rate of more than twice the national average in 2019. In total 33 (14%) related to service charges. This figure had doubled since 2018/19. Hyde was found guilty of maladministration in 13 of the 27 cases within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction which reached a conclusion during the year. Apparently, maladministration is also a desirable qualification for a government job.
Denton (left) promises “decent, affordable, safe, energy-efficient” homes at Homes England, but spectacularly failed to deliver them at Hyde
The effect on tenants of Hyde’s slapdash approach to charging does little to offer them affordable and energy-efficient homes. In fact, it creates life-changing levels of stress and ill-health.
Samira is finding her housing situation “intolerable, very much magnified during lockdown. I am clinically vulnerable for Covid-19, and living in such an unhealthy environment is debilitating … I cannot cope with any more.”
Samira has been trying to get Hyde to address disrepairs since 2013.
Samira contacted SHAC after a total breakdown in communication with Hyde. She is forced to live in substandard accommodation with botched repairs, a rat infestation, gaps between windows and walls, damp and mould, all severely affecting her health.
Scandalously, cracks in the walls were hidden under new wallpaper when she viewed the flat, and she found hundreds of cigarette butts and rubble left under the bath and sink. On one rare contact with Hyde, she was told to be grateful to have a roof over her head.
Doors Shut Tight
When trying to report a problem, the doors at Hyde are firmly wedged shut. It’s a different story when the rents stop. Adam already suffered from severe anxiety. When an admin error with benefits processing led to non-payment of rents, Hyde pursued Adam to the point of harassment. He received a letter threatening legal action and was “bombarded with phone calls demanding money”. Adam describes the incident as having pushed his mental health “to the edge”.
Homes England pledges to provide decent homes through millions of pounds of government investment. Appointing Denton demonstrates that this is a hollow promise. Even allowing for its size, Hyde has a disproportionate level of complaints, and has spectacularly failed to provide decent homes to its own tenants and residents.
Unsafe, Insecure Homes
Eduardo has been struggling to get Hyde to address severe anti-social problems on his estate through the simple (but apparently impossible) mechanism of a working lock on the door to his block of flats.
“Because the locks are broken, people regularly use the hallways as a toilet” says Eduardo. The threat is not just from biohazards. Several people have reported being seriously attacked in the corridors and the police are regularly on site.
In March, Eduardo’s seven-months pregnant partner returned home to find two non-residents injecting drugs in the corridor. She was confronted by them and told not to ring the police. On reporting this to Hyde, Eduardo was told that the locks would be fixed, but the work remains outstanding.
Eduardo echos the words of too many reports made to SHAC:
I literally have run out of ideas and don’t know who else to ask for help. We cannot afford to rent privately. I feel trapped and am terrified that I am going to have to bring my daughter into this place and call it home.
Tenants Can Resist the Tide of Exploitation
So far appeals to Hyde, the Ombudsman, and local MP and councillors have all failed to make an impact, and it is apparent that Denton was content for these problems to continue. But tenants are not powerless. On one estate, withholding service charges has proved successful in getting some genuine engagement from the landlord (Hyde Cracks: Third Strike Group Win), and could point the way forward.
The appointment of Denton as CEO of Homes England lays bare the disinclination of government to help tenants and residents in social housing. The only other option is for those affected to self-organise through SHAC and other housing groups to force back the tide of exploitation.
10 August 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.