In February 2021, senior executives in Riverside discussed a worrying trend: a sharp rise in the number of tenants and residents taking the landlord to court over disrepairs and uninhabitable homes.
Claims against Riverside were averaging around 29 claims per month, an increase of over 30% since November 2018.
When the report was published, there were a total of 353 live claims against Riverside.
It’s Not Our Fault
Riverside did not appear to acknowledge the obvious – that they needed to improve the conditions of their homes. Instead they claimed that the increase in cases was “driven by unscrupulous Clams Management Companies who harvest claims via door knocking and leaflet drops”.
The majority of claims against Riverside were settled out of court. This suggests in fact that the tenants and residents involved had genuine cause to complain about disrepairs and that they had not been able to get them addressed through the landlord’s reporting systems.
In Riverside’s world view however, the big problem was not the unacceptable conditions of its homes, but that continuing to settle tenant’s claims would involve a projected cost of around £3.35 million (working out at £11,000 per claim, including compensation). The executives argued that this was unsustainable.
It was with this mindset that the Riverside executive chose not to focus on addressing the systemic problem of poor management and under-investment in homes, but to club together with other housing associations in a united front against their own tenants and residents.
A United Front Against Tenants and Residents
A leaked Riverside internal report has now revealed that the landlord is working with other housing associations to give tenants and residents less access to justice for tenants and residents suffering disrepairs. The group is chaired by Riverside and has grown steadily since its formation. It is not just a shame, but a missed opportunity that the associations concerned didn’t club together to deliver better homes.
The executives go on to say that:
“Whatever operational tweaks we make to our approach, the biggest opportunity to arrest this epidemic would be for a fixed fee cap to be introduced in terms of claimants’ legal costs – making Housing Condition claims a less attractive proposition”.Riverside Executive
Ultimately, the group aims to identify “the legislative and policy changes we might seek to reduce the capacity of tenants to pursue inappropriate claims”. In other words, let’s just make it harder for tenants and residents to get justice through the courts.
A Devilish Project
To progress this devilish project, a sub-group of eight providers was set incorporating For Housing, Onward, Prima, Regenda, Riverside, Salix Homes, Shepherds Bush Housing Group, and Torus.
Riverside’s executive acknowledge that this approach might be widely seen as the wrong response. They identify “political risk factors when campaigning around this issue”, confirming that:
“[The] legislation is designed to protect tenants from irresponsible landlords and unsafe living conditions … Any action to limit their right to hold their landlords to account, could be considered as disadvantaging social housing tenants … it could be seen that [housing associations] are looking to avoid their responsibility to their tenants and allow them to live in unfit homes.”
On this one point Riverside is right. They and all the other housing associations involved will be seen as collectively seeking to avoid their responsibilities whilst consigning tenants to unfit homes.
In 2019, Riverside held a conference of care and support staff, which included a question and answer session with executives. Some of the questions are revealing, proving that Riverside’s poor governance is driving down standards.
Frontline staff highlighted a lack of coordination between different sections of the business, and that actions agreed at previous conferences were never implemented. Staff were made to work to unrealistic deadlines, usually because there were not enough of them, and their systems were inefficient. For example, one staff member was quoted as saying:
“The loss of caretakers across supported services has had a massive impact on operational teams … at the same time the severity and complexity of customer needs is increasing and staff are having to choose whether to support a customer or clean a toilet …”
Poor communication was repeatedly raised as an issue, and that frontline staff were often powerless to resolve the problems reported to them, increasing resident frustrations.
Repairs and maintenance works were unnecessarily costly and poorly managed. Staff were made to travel for miles just to carry out simple fire alarm tests for example, pointlessly increasing the final service charge bill to tenants and residents.
Another staff member reported that Riverside’s compliance procedures were a mess, that communication was non-existent, and that the organisation must be “haemorrhaging cash”.
The length of time that it took to get repairs done was a constant complaint. Repairs were left unresolved for so long, the structures, fixtures and fittings of homes had deteriorated by the time the work was carried out. There was also a lack of cyclical decoration investment in properties to make sure that they stayed in good condition.
One staff member asked:
“Why all the pressure to make higher surpluses and not see this reinvested into our supported housing stock, what are we paying for?”
Whatever the Riverside executives and senior management choose to believe, the scale of disrepair claims is much more likely to result from poor governance than vexatious complainants.
The Riverside papers will form the basis of a series of articles over the next few weeks. Keep visiting our site for further updates.
SHAC@OHG / Riverside
Our SHAC@OHG group is open to tenants and residents of both One Housing and Riverside, and has been discussing the merger. All meetings are advertised on our Events page. To receive an invitation, please register here.
8 October 2021
“I took my landlord to County Court (foolishly settled out of Court). Applied to the Human Rights Court as Landlord insisted on dealing with Housing Benefits on my behalf and without my permission (a simple matter of a letter confirming my tenancy took eighteen months to be sent to me). Later, I complained to the Health & Safety Commission as my landlord was not carrying out their statutory duty to do gas safety inspections. My mistake was do this alone and only did so as it was absolutely necessary. We have to take these out of control landlords on collectively. If our elected representatives are lax in supporting us, we must find other ways of defending ourselves. I wish you all well in your endeavors.“
“Absolutely disgusting…they would rather keep their housing stock in its current poor condition without risk of being taken to court and lose money….wow….money before people yet again.“
“I would have thought it was our democratic right to public redress in a court of law. Or is the UK turning further towards a dictatorship of big business in charge?”
“The psychology of executives. Many of whom are Psychopaths & narcissists with no compassion for their fellow humans.“
“Any party that supports that move will find themselves unelectable. With the grey vote also unhappy with all the parties that could be the last straw. I believe the move will backfire on Housing Associations & lead to their break up.”
“They have no shame.“
“Lock them up for life and sieze all these assets under the proceeds of crime.“
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).