Following the publication of the report both of them had issued apologies. The objective of the meeting was to get their response to our findings and discuss a way forward to ensure much better customer care for Housing Association (HA) leaseholders and shared owners.
Kate and Geeta told us that the report was widely shared and discussed in HAs, including at CEO level, and that it was a very powerful report which was ‘horribly uncomfortable to read’. However, they believed that things had moved on ‘quite substantially’ and that many of the recommendations in the report – about communication and other issues – had been taken on board by HAs.
We told them that this was not the case as, based on the feedback we continue to receive, things have not improved. We said that if we were to carry out the same survey again, results would either be the same or indeed worse because several months have gone by. Bills are still landing and there is increasing frustration. People still have no certainty about what’s going to happen to their building, or when they will be able to move on with their lives.
We reiterated that poor customer service is still a major issue. It is also urgent and important for HAs to start reviewing their policies. The building safety crisis is an ongoing major crisis for many leaseholders, affecting their mental health and personal finances and taking away many life choices. We want HAs to do a lot more to support leaseholders.
Kate and Geeta told us that the building safety crisis had been a challenging time for HAs, with conflicting and complex information to manage and that, as a result, HAs were not able to meet leaseholders’ expectations of timely information about the situation of their building.
We said that while there was uncertainty for everyone, leaseholders were the victims who have been bearing the brunt of this crisis and continue to do so. We said that compassion and care had been missing and that leaseholders were being dismissed. Many are still being stonewalled by their HA to this day.
We raised the particular situation of leaseholders whose HA is not the freeholder of their building as these leaseholders face additional barriers when trying to access information. We made it clear that it is HAs’ responsibility, as landlords, to provide information to residents, even where there is a managing agent and a private freeholder. This issue was also discussed when we met the Housing Ombudsman – see our post about this meeting.
We raised a number of other issues that have yet to be addressed by HAs, including:
- timelines for remediation for larger HAs with significant housing stock
- lease extensions around the 80-year threshold as properties cannot be valued, creating additional financial risks for shared owners
- large rent increases for leaseholders already trapped in flats with fire safety defects; we asked that these rent increases be reconsidered
- gaps in leaseholder protection, such as 11m buildings
The building safety crisis is not going to end anytime soon, so we told both CEOs that HAs need to review and adjust their policies on lease extension, subletting and buybacks to take this into account. HAs must offer a range of solutions for people who need to move on, not just subletting. There also needs to be much more humanity in dealing with sensitive situations and far greater consideration of people’s human rights.
Our position is that HAs have far more choice and power than has been acknowledged, for example most decided to charge 100% of cladding remediation costs to shared owners. Their failure to provide adequate support is at odds with HAs having a ‘social purpose’. As a result, trust has been broken. HAs have more power than others to make a difference in this crisis and must demonstrate that they are on residents’ side to regain trust.
We agreed to work with NHF/G15 to lobby the government and lenders to solve current issues and ensure that flats can be valued.
G15 and NHF agreed to organise meetings between us and HA CEOs to discuss our concerns.
If you are a HA shared owner or leaseholder and want to take part in our work with housing associations, please get in touch with us.
The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign calls on the Government to lead an urgent, national effort to fix the building safety crisis.
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