With the merger of Riverside and One Housing group imminent, tenants and residents of both organisations are understandably concerned about a post-merger deterioration in service standards.
Of the two landlords, One Housing is generally seen as the least well-governed, but SHAC has now received a number of confidential internal Riverside documents which lead to questions over its fitness as a takeover organisation.
Gas Safety Compliance Failure
In October 2017, Riverside directors ‘discovered’ that the organisation had failed to detect two gas safety breaches. The directors reported the incident to the board, acknowledging a “strong concern that the incidents had not been discovered earlier via established controls”.
The discovery led the group to order an immediate inspection of a further 77 properties which were potentially also affected.
We do not know whether this was brought to the attention of the Riverside residents concerned.
The initial breach was bad enough, but Riverside then acted to cover it up on the basis that “the appliances were in a shared space and not a room used for sleeping.”
The fact that tenants and residents had been living in potentially unsafe properties over a period of time was thus dismissed as irrelevant.
Don’t Tell the Regulator
The papers go on to show that directors held an intense conference over whether to report the issue to the Regulator, which was at the time part of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). Records of their meeting state that directors:
“acknowledged that a downgrade in governance rating was a distinct possibility should these incidents be reported to the HCA … the gravity of the issues suggested it might be considered a reportable item.”
Nonetheless, Riverside’s board and directors opted to keep the breach a secret. Had the organisation received a regulatory downgrade, it is unlikely that merger discussions would have progressed with One Housing.
Overseeing Secrecy and Incompetence
Carol Matthews is the chief executive of Riverside and was appointed in 2012. She received a CBE (which stands for ‘Commander of the Order of the British Empire’) in the New Year 2020 Honours List. Max Steinberg was Chair of the Board.
Together, as chief executive and chair of the board, Matthews and Steinberg oversaw firstly poor governance leading to gas safety breaches, and then the decision to withhold details from the Regulator. The risk of a governance downgrade from the Regulator was considered more important than tenant safety.
Residents have already raised concerned about the merger. Both organisations have a history of absorbing smaller housing associations. None have yet been identified as improving services or housing standards.
Now, the serious gas compliance breach and attempt to hide it has further enhanced unease. As one resident commented, the breach is
“a serious concern. If Riverside has hidden this failure, what else is going on behind the scenes? How can we now trust them to be in charge of our safety? We will be going from the frying pan, quite possibly into the fire.”One Housing Group tenant
The properties affected by the breach were brought into compliance with regulations, but exposure of this incident leaves questions over the trustworthiness of the board and executive.
The Riverside papers will form the basis of a series of articles over the next few weeks. Keep visiting our site for further updates.
Our SHAC@OHG group is open to tenants and residents of both One Housing and Riverside, and has been discussing the merger.
4 October 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.