Right to Buy properties in Westminster at centre of homes probe
Company that runs borough’s council housing faces crisis as dossier of ‘nightmare stories’ is revealed – and investigation is launched into the way Right to Buy homes have been bought and sold over the years
20 April, 2018 — By Tom Foot
The ‘nightmare’ stories dossier features images of damp, including this at a property in Oliphant Street, Queen’s Park
THE company that runs Westminster’s council housing was this week in crisis after a dossier of “nightmare stories” was revealed and a separate investigation was launched by trading standards.
CityWest Homes said it was “conducting a review of its policies” and would “comply fully” with the inquiry that is understood to focus on the way Right to Buy homes have been bought and sold over the years.
The arm’s length management organisation, established in 2002 and now managing more than 21,000 homes in Westminster, is expected to be scrapped if Labour wins the council election on May 3.
The party has compiled a dossier of complaints it has received from Westminster residents that includes one tenant saying they were forced to ring 999 about a leak. The document says the housing service is “incompetent and heartless” and standards have deteriorated because of council cuts to estate offices. It will bring the service back in-house unless urgent changes are made.
At Wilmcote House in Woodchester Square, Little Venice, one resident said: “My friend had to resort to calling the fire brigade out three weeks ago because water was coming through her smoke alarm and causing smoke. They shut off all her lighting and told her to contact her landlord. In three weeks since then nothing has been done and no decisions on how to resolve it have been made.”
The dossier of shame includes the plight of a 70-year-old woman who has been without electricity for six weeks.
“Contractors turn up and never finish the job. She is now lighting her flat with candles,” said a report.
In Churchill Gardens, a resident said: “My elderly mother in Churchill Gardens has water coming in from the ceiling whenever it rains or snows.
“This is a vulnerable old person who lives on her own and yet gets the usual response of go upstairs and speak to the people above.”
In Westbourne Terrace, in Lancaster Gate ward, one resident said: “I have been without water in my bathroom and without hot water in my kitchen since February 25. My repair started as an emergency yet coming up for four weeks I am still without hot running water.”
In Kennet House, Church Street, another resident said: “I’m writing to complain about the poor maintenance residents at Kennet House are experiencing from CityWest Homes.
“There is no water at all and it’s not possible to even use the toilet.”
Meanwhile, CityWest’s estate agent arm, CityWest Residential, is under investigation, for the second time this year. Trade publication Inside Housing has reported that CityWest Residential, which is wholly owned by the council, is being investigated because of the way it has handled the purchase of homes formerly sold off under Right to Buy.
A CityWest Residential statement said: “We understand Westminster City Council trading standards are looking into a complaint regarding CityWest Residential. Although we don’t believe we have contravened trading standards or are in breach of the Estate Agents Act (1979) we will of course comply fully with any investigation. In the light of this enquiry we are also conducting a review of our own processes.”
A spokesman for CityWest Homes said: “We recognise the impact repair issues can have on people’s lives if left unresolved and we take this very seriously. We are reviewing all cases brought to our attention and can confirm that 19 of the 25 in this instance have either been resolved or ongoing work is taking place. We are seeking full addresses for the remaining six cases so we can make sure they are also being dealt with appropriately.
“Our standards did fall below those expected by our residents and the city council when we changed contractors last year and we have worked hard to put that right. We have increased resources and training in the call centre, our repairs teams have cleared backlogs and have improved turnaround times. As a result 100 per cent of emergency repairs were completed within 48 hours last month. We know we can always improve and will be relentlessly focused on doing so until we meet the standard expected by our residents.”