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MP Rushanara Ali slams Circle Housing in Commons debate over ‘shoddy’ maintenance

PUBLISHED: 09:29 03 November 2016 | UPDATED: 20:05 03 November 2016

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali adressing Old Ford protest meeting in June, 2016 [photos: Mike Brooke]

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali adressing Old Ford protest meeting in June, 2016 [photos: Mike Brooke]

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An MP has slammed the parent company of east London’s troubled Old Ford Housing Association in Parliament over its planned merger with another housing conglomerate to form Europe’s biggest social landlords.

Tower Hamlets Cllr Marc Francis at Old Ford Housing protest meeting in June calling for return to local authority controlTower Hamlets Cllr Marc Francis at Old Ford Housing protest meeting in June calling for return to local authority control

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali has received complaints over the years about ‘life-threatening’ incidents she says are caused by Circle Housing’s “shoddy” repair and maintenance services, she told a Commons adjournment debate.

Her scathing attack follows a summer of protest meetings held by Old Ford families at a church hall addressed by the MP, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets and local councillors, calling for their estates to be returned to Town Hall control.

Complaints Rushanara gets at her weekly Bethnal Green surgeries have included tenants holding up umbrellas indoors because of leaking ceilings, a heavy heater falling off a wall near small children playing, lifts breaking down every week and 30 flats left without light for weeks on end.

The MP called on the Government for tougher regulations to make sure local accountability and control is not further eroded.

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara AliBethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali

“One family called Circle Housing’s office 40 times in three months to fix leaks that left them using an umbrella when using the toilet,” she told the Commons.

“A woman eight months pregnant slipped on water leaking from her toilet—which she had reported 88 times.”

The families feared Circle Housing’s merger with Affinity Sutton would make services worse for repairs and maintenance.

Half-a-million people across London would soon become tenants of this new ‘super social landlord’ which would own 127,000 properties.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs condemning Circle Housing at one of the Old Ford protest meetingsTower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs condemning Circle Housing at one of the Old Ford protest meetings

Rushanara called on Housing Minister Gavin Barwell for tougher regulations with robust systems for complaints, disputes and fast redress when things go wrong.

“Housing associations are at their best when anchored in their communities,” she insisted. “We have a complete failure to be accountable, with local board membership being cast aside.

“The trend towards bigger, more remote and less accountable bodies with multi-million pound turnovers and substantial assets behaving like companies are not serving their communities.”

The MP earlier this year had addressed one of a series of protest meetings organised for Old Ford families by Tower Hamlets councillor Marc Francis, representing Bow West at the Town Hall, who was backed my Mayor John Biggs in calling for their estates to be returned to local authority control rather than be swallowed up in Circle Housing’s mass merger.

Circle Housing says it is investing £100m in improving homes in the East End. The organisation sent a statement to the Advertiser following the Commons debate claiming: “We are committed to providing secure social housing at sub market rents and a good responsive repairs service to our tenants which will continue to be a priority for the new organisation”.

The Housing Regulator was forced to step in last year and downgrade Circle Housing for “its appalling service”, according to Cllr Francis.

The organisation gave an assurance in 2015 that it would carry out a governance review after acknowledging “problems” to make sure the failure would never happen again and was “committed to local scrutiny and local panels”.

But the merger plans include winding down all local management boards like Old Ford, which is being amalgamated with eight other housing bodies in London, the South East and Midlands “to cut costs” after £50m in government rent supplement was being taken away.

It is also closing local housing offices—the nearest to the East End would be in Kent.

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