Amidst the drama of last week’s ousting of the ex-Mayor we almost – but not quite – missed the Evening Standard report Tower Hamlets hit by new corruption claims in home repairs ‘rip-off’ on Friday. (HT to @eastendwestend for the tweet that brought it to our attention).
It seems that the DCLG is launching an investigation into claims of corruption surrounding a major refurbishment programme in Tower Hamlets that leaves leaseholders on council-run estates with bills running into tens of thousands of pounds.
It should be emphasised that no charges have been brought against anyone relating to this issue. Claims are just that until proven otherwise.
Some residents have complained directly to the DCLG that they consider they are being charged inflated prices for work which they believe could be accomplished at a fraction of the cost by independent contractors.
Massive bills from out of the blue
The main part of the housing improvements involves installing new kitchens and bathrooms in council properties to bring them up to standard but also includes communal areas and windows.
But the leaseholders have to pay their share of everything – whether they like it or not.
This comes as no surprise to Love Wapping who often tells prospective purchasers of flats on the lovely Green Bank Estate (LW HQ) to watch out for massive maintenance charges.
We have heard tales of residents being hit with a charge for £35,000 out of the blue. Curiously this exact sum is mentioned in the Standard story.
Tower Hamlets Homes
Tower Hamlets Homes (THH) is the trading name of Tower Hamlets Homes Limited, a not for profit company limited by guarantee controlled by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets also known as an ALMO – Arms Length Management Organisation.
In other words THH is the Tower Hamlets council’s housing department but a separate organisation. Sort of.
Tower Hamlets Homes’ Chief Executive Gavin Cansfield has announced that he will be leaving his role later this year after six years in the position.
Mr Cansfield has been a staunch advocate of Tower Hamlets Council’s provision of ‘Mother Tongue / Bengali language lessons’ services much criticised by Eric Pickles, as can be seen in his article written for the Guardian newspaper, Why Eric Pickles is wrong about local language services.
No mention of the alternative approach of providing English lessons to any THH tenants who do not have an adequate grasp of the language. Could be handy for all sorts of things.
Overcharging by THH contractors
Love Wapping has also heard from very reliable sources of overcharging by contractors working for THH including:
- Multiple billings for the same job
- Excessive charges for minor work
- Charging for work that is never actually done
This issue has been on our ‘to investigate’ list for some time but another corruption story got in the way. Sorry.
Regular readers of LW may also recall the problems that Anita had with very bad damp in her council property.
A fundamental part of her problem was getting the damp properly treated when all she was grudgingly offered was some minor cosmetic work.
Here is an extract from that original story from January 2014:
“THH contractors have made numerous visits to treat the damp. But all they do is a cosmetic job, stripping wallpaper and treating the surface of the wall. The cause of the damp remains. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of building knows that treating damp is a waste of money until the source is fixed.The damp comes up from the floor so it doesn’t take an expert to work out that there might be something wrong with the damp proofing of the building. No one knows for sure because no one can be bothered.”
(The stark reality of social housing in Wapping, LW, 31 January 2014)
Anita was eventually temporarily re-housed and the damp work done properly.
But how many other Anita’s are there in the borough?
It would be very interesting to carry out an investigation into this. Here’s how it could be done.
- Identify all Tower Hamlets council tenants who suffer from health problems such as respiratory infections often caused by damp
- Identify all Tower Hamlets council properties where remedial work for damp has been carried out
- Compare 1 against 2
- Check the costs of works for each property
Not rocket science is it? (It is data science but let’s not go there…)
In between reporting on turtles with odd heads and Mayor’s with odd approaches to grants Love Wapping has in fact been undertaking some exploratory work into this very issue.
But one problem is that it seems THH is not subject to our friend the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act due to its legal status.
Take THH back in-house?
One vote winner for any general (or Mayoral) election candidate would be a promise to bring Tower Hamlets Homes back under the direct control of Tower Hamlets Council.
Depending on who runs the Council of course. If it is Tower Hamlets First / Respect Party / Islamic Forum Europe / Lutfur Rahman Alter Ego Party then maybe not.
Tower Hamlets Homes and the Greenbank Affair
Long, long ago and far, far away Love Wapping recounted the odd tale of three ladies who came knocking on LW HQ’s door saying they were from Tower Hamlets Homes when it was blatantly obvious they were part of Lutfur Rahman’s campaign team.
Mystery surrounds this issue to this day.
Doesn’t it? Not quite. But it’s 2am so that story will have to wait for another day.
It does seem likely that Mr. Pickles has found even more reason to take further control of Tower Hamlets Council – if any more reason were needed.