For several years I have been campaigning to bring fairness and transparency to those in privately managed housing. I have been contacted by hundreds of – often elderly – residents across Thanet and Sandwich who have faced excessive service charges, expensive and often unnecessary renovations and barriers to forming active residents association. This needs to stop.
Across Thanet, we have the Thanet 8 – 8 managed blocks of flats. I have been working in partnership with the group and the organisation - Leasehold Knowledge Partnership - to encourage the government to better regulate the industry to protect residents. We need transparency in the sector to ensure that the most vulnerable are not exploited.
Laura Hosts Peverel Chief Exec's Meeting with Local Leaseholders
7th August 2012
Laura Sandys invited Peverel’s new Chief Executive, Janet Entwistle, to Ramsgate to meet with Thanet residents living in the nine local Peverel-managed leasehold retirement properties.
Laura said: “For years Sir Roger and I have been assisting Thanet residents with the very difficult relationship between the previous management at Peverel and our local leaseholders. When Peverel went into administration, it caused a great deal of worry and unease for local residents and so I am very pleased that Peverel’s new management seems to be so keen to listen and work with those living in the properties they manage.
“I was delighted that the person at the very top of Peverel agreed to come to Thanet to speak with some of our local residents. She took lots of questions after outlining her plans to improve customer service through making the company more open, transparent and communicative. It was a positive meeting and I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a new age for those living in Peverel-managed properties, leading to tangible and positive long-term change. Janet has agreed to come down again in a few months time so that we can ensure that progress is being made.”
Ian Ives, Secretary of Poldark Court Residents’ Association said: “"It was a wonderful opportunity to meet the new CEO of Peverel and to be informed of her views, future plans and their intention to become more open in their dealings with all the blocks they manage. It gave us the chance to ask some very pertinent questions about life at the blunt end of her organisation and it was refreshing to have someone listen without ignoring what we have to say and without brushing our concerns to one side."
Help For Leaseholders: Laura Hosts Advice Event
23rd November 2011
On Saturday, Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet and Sandwich, hosted an event providing local residents with the opportunity to meet with experts from the Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) who offer free initial legal advice on a wide range of leasehold-related matters.
Over fifty residents from residential leasehold properties across Thanet – managed by large management agents or housing associations - attended the meeting. Concerns discussed ranged from transparency in the accounts submitted to residents by managing agents through to exercising the right to self manage. There were issues about the amount of money that some of these small properties are charged and also the sale fee imposed by landlords.
Laura said: “These are all issues that I will be raising with Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Housing in the next week. I am meeting him to discuss some of the concerns of particular older residents and to see whether it is regulation or legislation that can assist them.
“I am frequently contacted by constituents about problems they are experiencing as residential leaseholders. Lots of people don’t know where to turn and I wanted to ensure that more people know about this excellent government-funded advice service. I’ve received positive feedback about the meeting and am delighted that representatives from LEASE have offered to return again to host a surgery on leasehold matters in the future. If anyone is experiencing problems or would like to attend a leasehold information event in the future, please do contact me at email@example.com”.
Laura Sandys MP Attends Poldark Court Residents' Association's Inaugural Meeting: Residents worried
27th June 2011
Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet, was delighted to be invited last Friday to one of the first meetings held by the newly-formed residents’ association of Poldark Court in Ramsgate. Poldark Court is one of the Thanet 8 residential blocks that is managed by Peverel Management company that has recently gone into liquidation. Residents across Thanet are concerned about the future of the company and the level of their service charges into the future.
Laura was pleased to talk with residents about their concerns and said: ‘residents are understandably worried about Peverel, the company that manages their property, going into administration. Having recently met with the administrator, I was able to discuss some of the issues surrounding this. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with the residents and I am always here to support them if they do experience problems with any future management company.’
Michael Goodall, Secretary of Poldark Court Residents’ Association said: ‘The residents would like to thank Laura for accepting our invitation to speak about Peverel in administration, and also for the very informative advice about the administrators and their role. 34 out of 36 flats were represented which was a fantastic turnout and everybody I spoke to after the meeting felt a little more reassured.’
Sandys Kick Starts Campaign to Bring Fairness to those in the Thanet 8!
7th February 2011
Today, Laura Sandys MP met with Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, an organisation dedicated to helping exploited leaseholders in managed accommodation. Locally, we have the Thanet 8 - 8 managed blocks of flats across the area - that both Roger Gale MP and Laura Sandys MP have been campaigning for over many years; Laura raised their concerns in Parliament last year.
Following the meeting with the national campaign group, Laura said: “Inquiry after inquiry has exposed the exploitation of those in managed accommodation. For several years, I have been campaigning to bring fairness and transparency to those in privately managed housing. I have been contacted by hundreds of – often elderly – residents across Thanet and Sandwich who have faced excessive service charges; expensive and often unnecessary renovations; and huge obstacles put in the way of forming active residents associations.”
“Over the coming months, I will be working in partnership with Leasehold Knowledge Partnership to campaign for the Government to regulate the industry. We need to ensure that the managed housing we are trusting out loved ones with, is transparent and not there to make excessive profits from those expecting an honest service. A strategy is being put in place to achieve these goals and we will be seeking a meeting with the Minister, Grant Shapps MP, to press the need for change.”
Westminister Hall Debate: Managed Accomodation
17th November 2010
Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): The minute that I saw this debate listed in the Order Paper, I felt that I had to participate. For many years, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale) and I have been running a local campaign. We have formed a group called the Thanet eight. It is eight buildings with over 1,500 residents who live in flats that are owned by one company, and were originally managed by the same company – Peverel.
Those residents are by definition not young, and their objective in buying their properties was to have safe, secure and affordable homes, possibly for the rest of their lives. The reality has been different with increased charges; expensive and sometimes unnecessary renovations; a lack of consultation of residents; the attempt to block the creation of active residents associations; a reduction in services, particularly house manager support; and disproportionate penalties if a property is sold or rented.
Age UK has recently raised this matter and completed a very comprehensive report highlighting four key issues that my local residents certainly experience: unfair transfer fees when a property is sold or rented; escalating service charges, compounded by a lack of transparency about what people are paying for; very expensive rents for house manager flats-mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge-which do not reflect the market value at all; and the use of companies that are owned by the management companies to undertake work or provide services on behalf of residents.
In particular, I should like the Minister and the Government to examine what I call the vertical integration model. These businesses are being run by subsidiary companies where the group company owns the majority of the companies that provide services to these residential blocks. That throws up very interesting and questionable issues. I hope that those companies' ownership of that vertically integrated supply chain causes concern to the Office of Fair Trading. The method by which they operate the vertically integrated business model is certainly of concern to consumer groups and, as I said, has been the subject of an Age UK report.
In my experience, the freeholders and management companies, which are all owned by the same holding company, own lift maintenance companies, buildings insurance firms-mentioned by my hon. Friend-building and maintenance operators, window cleaners and internal communications fitters. That might on the surface suggest that such a company knows its business well and understands all the different aspects of running sheltered accommodation, but is that really the case or is the vertical business model precluding competition, reducing choice for residents and creating incentives for the management company to propose and sometimes impose renovations, refurbishments or additional services that residents have not requested and do not desire?
Penny Mordaunt: It is not just the Office of Fair Trading that needs to be concerned. If a lift is not fixed or the night warden is not there, that will lead to potentially massive bills for the public purse. I am thinking of more hospital admissions, more people falling over and so on.
Laura Sandys: I very much welcome that intervention; I totally agree with my hon. Friend. We need to consider the holistic cost-the overall cost-of how in the future we will look after people who are getting older. Many years ago I wrote a paper called "How we keep the new old young". That will be a big challenge for us. I am referring to how we keep people mobile and independent and ensure that they have the resources to be independent for as long as possible.
I now want to talk about the emotional impact and the worries and concerns of my local residents in Thanet, who have put their life savings into these small flats and do not have other resources. There is an emotional and physical impact from their concern about what will drop through their letterbox next week from the management company telling them that they owe another £1,500. That creates more health problems and anxiety and deters older people from making the independent choice and going for what is, on paper, excellent sheltered accommodation and a structure that gives them security for the future.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I appreciate the opportunity to comment on this matter. The coalition Government are considering the removal of the mobility part of disability living allowance for people in homes. Does the hon. Lady not agree that the removal of such an award puts a financial pressure on people in homes as well? The pressure is not just physical, but financial. Being members of a caring society, as I am sure we all are, does she not agree with me that that would be a backward step?
Laura Sandys: I am talking about sheltered accommodation, not residential care, but I understand that the issue is the component of DLA that relates to mobility. Local authorities do provide those services and need to provide them to ensure greater mobility and as much independent living as possible within a care home. We need to consider carefully how we maintain independence, mobility and active life for as long as possible. I have in my constituency one of the highest percentages of people over 60 in the country. They feel that they can and should participate actively in life, but sometimes and particularly when predatory management companies are involved, they and certainly their resources are put under strain. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
I shall give an example of what has happened in my area. Initially, for some of my local buildings, expensive refurbishment projects would be commissioned by the managing agents with the justification of needing to keep the buildings in good condition and ensuring that the residents' investment was being built on. With no comparative quotes having been produced, those refurbishment projects went ahead, incurring significant additional service charges for the residents. Yes, that was their choice, but it was on the recommendation of someone they trusted-the management agent.
As time has gone on, my local residents have stopped trusting their management agents. They have started to see a pattern as they start to question refurbishment. Now, the management companies are looking to undertake works priced just below the threshold at which they must consult the residents. Over a two-year period, a series of quite similar projects have been priced just below that threshold, so the firms can procure from their own companies at high cost and without consultation of residents. Those costs, which are passed on to residents, total thousands of pounds. The residents are elderly and often on low incomes and have no recourse.
Buildings insurance is also an interesting area. The majority of the buildings in my area that are under management with Peverel have been reinsured in the last four years-not exactly a time when property prices have been rocketing. Those properties have been revalued with increases of between 40 and 60% in the last four years. The insurance company is owned by the holding company of the management company. The premiums have been passed on to the residents. Equivalent quotes obtained by my local residents have brought down the value of the properties in the current market. Some of my residents question whether the building's value has gone up to support those companies in their market valuation and the presentation of their assets to borrow further money to buy more residential homes.
The vertical integration of these companies, the lack in many instances of competitive tendering and the cumulative cost of small refurbishments that are just under the threshold for consultation make for a very insecure and uncertain future for many residents and must be addressed. Many people from these blocks have taken up the opportunities afforded to them under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, but have the management companies made it easy for the blocks to self-manage? In fact, they have stood in the way of the setting up of residents groups and contested the right to manage, citing numerous barriers. My residents have ended up in tribunals and having to employ experts and lawyers. The law is there to liberate those residents, not to wrap them up in red tape or to place on them the expense of lawyers. All those things have been put in the way to thwart their right to self-manage.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge in the key points that she has put to the Government. I urge the Government to review the regulations on private retirement sector housing and to ensure that the code of conduct is properly enforced. Residents in my constituency should have access to recourse and to the rights enshrined by law. They need the future security that they and their families so deserve.