MP Steve Reed has said council tenants are being treated with ‘contempt’ as he revealed that he was lied to over constituents cases and demanded a root and branch reform of Croydon’s housing repairs service.
Croydon Council faced a national outcry after terrible scenes of tenants living in dangerous squalor in Regina Road, South Norwood were shown on ITV news.
The council contractor at the centre of an investigation in to how council tenants were allowed to live in terrible conditions had its contract extended – just weeks before the scandal broke.
Now concerns have been raised about the ‘data’ used as part of the contracts process which awarded the council’s housing repairs contractor Axis Europe, a four-year extension.
There are also questions over the systems in place to benchmark the contract and failings in the information provided to the council scrutiny committee which carried out a review of the contract.
This week the Croydon north MP handed 30 further housing repair cases to council that he said he wanted treated as priorities some involving children living in homes with damp, mould and vermin .
The MP said: “It was 24 originally but we went through some that had been closed once I discovered they had been lying to me.”
He said that in a number of case repairs were being signed off as “done” and Axis were “being paid” but in many cases “no one” had turned up to do the jobs and “if they do them they are botched and not done properly.”
He said: “If you or I had someone in to do some work we would check the work was done before we paid them but the council don’t give tenants that same courtesy.”
He said he was disgusted adding: “I think people have been treated with contempt, that’s the truth of it. The scale of failure going on here demands a root and branch reform of that whole service and the thing I think is missing above all else is they are not listening to their own tenants. If they had listened they would know what’s going on.”
Tenants leaders are also due to have a high level talks with council chiefs to discuss voids after uncovering a new scandal on the turn around times on empty council properties, which are meant to meet a 20 day target and are currently running at 119 days.
At the last council meeting, Cabinet Finance Lead Cllr Callton Young said: “If you look at the contract which came to cabinet you will see that on every single indicator for Axis performance that they perform above the average benchmark.
“In fact it is really, really good so in my role and as part of the investigation which is underway I want to understand how those benchmarking figures are carried out and what is the quality of the assessments that are being made to ensure that we as cabinet members and the council as a whole has the right data before it in order to reach decisions in the future. Just looking back and seeing what we have seen I am quite worried.”
The Chronicle has learned the council paid a firm of consultant Echelon Consultancy Limited to advise it on a housing asset strategy, which according to Echelon’s web site included creating a new suite of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to evaluate the success of the services against a number of objectives.
Axis were appointed by the council in April 2014 as part of a 15 year contract which included a break clause at seven years in March 2021 with the option to terminate or extend the contract.
MP Steve Reed said: “I was very surprised it was extended. I want to hear why that was done. When something is failing that badly why do you renew it?
“For me a big part of this is they have got to give tenants a real voice of over how the housing service is managed and over the complaints handling process because clearly it is going very, very badly wrong and the thing you hear again and again from tenants is that the council just does not listen to me and I’m the MP and they are not listening to me either.
“There doesn’t appear to be any system in place for tracking cases in the council. They don’t know whether a thing has been dealt with or not. They don’t have dates where they can sort, chase or get confirmation of the work being done. They don’t ask tenants for their view on whether the job that is in their own property has been completed or not.
“Even after Regina Road I had people coming to me who had been treated abysmally as council tenants by Axis. I had another case I raised with the council on behalf of a tenant with children living in a bedroom covered in mould in the same area, in Regina Road and somebody knocked on their door, without arranging they were going to come around and told the resident I have ‘come here’ to see if you are ‘telling the truth’!”
“In housing in particular, given that is a real crisis right now I think they need to look immediately at ways to give tenants a real voice over how the services are run and an oversight over the complaints handling process.
“Their experience of their own homes and their neighbours will tell them when Axis or any other contractor is putting forward performance data that is a fiction.
“I think the council needs to do a complete review of Axis’ role in this and how Axis are being managed? Whether Axis are an appropriate contractor to continue working for Croydon council.
“There’s only one metric that matters and that is residents satisfaction or in this case tenants satisfaction. “
In February last year the council’s scrutiny committee for Streets, Environment and Homes was asked to review the repairs contract. The committee heard from Lorraine Smout who was head of repairs and maintenance. She said there was an average of 65,000 repairs a year for the council’s 16,000 property portfolio and that the council monitored 10 per cent of those repairs.
However, an appendix (shown) within the report contradicted that information showing annual statistics in 2014/15, 63,000 repair jobs were completed but in 2019/20 this had considerably reduced to 38,914. Complaints during that period also increased from 0.34 per cent to 0.41 per cent. The discrepancy was picked up by Conservative councillor Cllr Vidhi Mohan but the officer’s response made little sense: “..the number of jobs completed fluctuated seasonally and the end of year report did not reflect this.”
Vice Chair of Scrutiny Streets, Environment and Homes Sub-Committee, Conservative Cllr Jeet Bains told The Chronicle: “It’s not unusual at all for information not to be provided, or provided at the last minute in an impenetrable format, or it’s just irrelevant. It is so important that we hold the Council to account. To do this, we must see the right information.”
The report also highlighted that customer satisfaction had improved in the current year, that the repairs completion time for emergencies was ‘very good’ in the ‘upper quartile’ and that keeping appointments and completion times compared favourably with other boroughs.
This contrasts the experiences of tenants in Regina Road – and elsewhere in Croydon – who had been complaining since 2019 about persistent water leaks flooding properties and black mould coating the walls. The independent investigation into housing conditions will explore the role of both staff and contractors that led to conditions in the flats deteriorating, but now won’t be published until after mayoral, GLA and local by-elections period as it could be ‘politically sensitive.”
According to council documents the decision to extend the Axis contract followed an ‘extensive review’ of its performance and relationship with key stakeholders including council staff and tenants which is contradicted by tenant representative Les Parry.
He says he first raised the issue of mould and damp to officers in 2019 and the issue was passed in to repairs and housing management but he says no action was taken hence Regina Road.
He said: “The attitude we got when we raised such things with operational managers was the dismissive stock answer: ‘ I’ll investigate’ and then nothing happens.” He said they also challenged how the data was collated and asked for extra due diligence on the contract extension but were told it had already been signed off.