Peter has lived in Spencer House for eight years. It is a beautiful building of retirement accommodation, situated in a prime location in Belsize Park, almost exactly halfway between Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill.
But now, without consulting residents, Clarion has decided to empty it and stop using it as a retirement home.
“It was a great shock. There were 16 tenants in the building at the time. Representatives from Clarion and Camden Council took everyone into the community lounge. This was on the 19th June 2019. Ostensibly they wanted to talk about fire protection, but within a few minutes, they told everyone they would have to leave their homes. I lost it.”
Clarion has now threatened Peter with a possession order to get him out. Peter is determined to fight any such order, but other tenants, some in their 80s, did not feel up to a war of attrition. In an effort to tempt them, Clarion offered a “crude bribe” of around £6,000.
“The tenants were stunned when they were told they would have to leave. They weren’t just stunned for that day, but for months. They were distraught. People were crying. And it wasn’t an accident that Clarion did it like that.Peter Hayden, Clarion tenant
Peter continues, “they are after the building. They are property developers masquerading as a charity. That’s really how they behave – like property developers. They are worse because you expect them to be connected to the community. They spend a lot of money on public relations to make it look like this.”
From Merger to Managed Decline
The building came into being as retirement flats when a previous owner sold it to Camden Council for £1 as an act of philanthropy to be used in perpetuity as a retirement home.
The Council then sold it on to Circle 33 housing association which merged Affinity Sutton to form Clarion in 2016. The philanthropist’s wishes will no longer be honoured.
Peter describes a happy place under the previous landlord. Things changed when Clarion took over as the largest, and many would argue the most ruthless, landlord in the UK.
The building is now in a state of ‘managed decline’ as it appears Clarion want to use it for higher paying renters or sell it on.
Echoes of Eastfields
Peter’s experiences follow the pattern reported by Clarion tenants at the Eastfields Estate.
Eastfields hit the press for chronic disrepair, damp and mould. Clarion had secured permission from the Regulator to waive the ‘Decent Homes Standard’ requiring them to meet minimum standards on repairs – effectively giving them permission to begin managed decline of the estate. ITV Housing Stories: Collapsed ceilings, mice and mould: Appalling conditions uncovered on housing estate of 500 homes
At Spencer House, an architect described the building as sound and robust, but Clarion is doing its best to make it appear in a state of disrepair. It took Clarion 13 hours to respond after a leak was reported in an empty flat, leading to a catastrophic collapse in the ceiling. The debris was left lying on the floor.
Clarion is now failing to properly maintain or repair Spencer House
Smoke and Mirrors Hide the Truth
Clarion’s excuse for moving the tenants out is that mobility problems would exclude safe evacuation in the event of a fire. However, Peter confirms that an evacuation policy has been in place for the last three years, and that only two residents had mobility problems severe enough to prevent them doing their own shopping.
“It was just a way of shocking elderly people into submission” says Peter.
Instead of being concerned about tenant safety, Peter points to an economic agenda, and the value of Spencer House as an asset for Clarion to exploit.
To support his assertions, Peter points to the fact that having announced the apparent fire risk, the building is still occupied 3 years later. The stair lift has been removed, and Clarion cancelled a direct connection with the local fire station. The landlord also removed fire safety equipment housed in the basement.
Peter emphasises that at no point did Clarion seek to explore any alternatives with residents.
Echoes of Clare House
The case also has strong echoes with the process used to drive tenants out of Clare House in East London. Following checks carried out after the Grenfell fire in 2017, Clarion became aware of fire safety risks.
But for almost four years, the landlord continued to assure residents of their safety until a ‘shock and awe’ announcement in September 2021 telling all residents to leave immediately.
The building overlooks the large and leafy Victoria Park in east London.
Clarion: Bullying with a Capital B
A common refrain from SHAC members is the difficulties they experience trying to get through to their landlords. Clarion in particular has a very poor track record on this point, and has been dubbed ‘Fortress Clarion’ as a result.
Peter found this too when Clarion failed to respond to three separate letters from his solicitors, all of which met with silence. By contrast, when Clarion wrongly suggested that he was in arrears, he describes being bombarded to make extra payments.
Peter considers the arrears allegations are a deliberate act by Clarion. He believes they are creating a false paper trail to support eviction proceedings should he continue refusing to leave.
But Peter is determined to remain in the building, and is campaigning to highlight the injustice and ill-treatment that he and other residents experienced.
Clarion tenants and residents are getting organised through the SHAC@Clarion branch and meet regularly to decide on strategies and tactics. Register here to join.
23 May 2022
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