Tower Hamlets social housing boss slams call centres for taking control away from tenants
PUBLISHED: 12:44 27 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:43 30 January 2017
A former social housing boss in London’s deprived East End has hit out at the trend for estates being swallowed up in “mega housing groups” that lose touch with tenants and families in their care.
Mike Tyrrell, who has stepped down after 17 years as chief executive of Tower Hamlets Community Housing, wants to see the big conglomerates which have closed housing offices and use call centres instead to be broken up and returned to local control.
His call came after last night’s ‘Stars in the Community’ awards by eight local housing associations for outstanding tenants helping their neighbours.
“Social housing is changing and is on the decline,” he told the East London Advertiser at the awards.
“The worst change is the rush to be seen to be giving ‘value for money’ which means more services through call centres. You lose that ‘local’ touch.
“More housing associations are merging with things run by call centres. That may be cheaper, but it’s not giving proper value for money, because what’s really happening on the ground isn’t getting back to the people in charge.”
Hundreds of families on estates run by the former Old Ford housing association are now tenants of a super housing group which has swallowed up estates across London and the South East, the Midlands and East Anglia. Local housing offices have been shut and local boards wound up.
This resulted in lack of proper maintenance and bad repairs including gas leaks, heating and burst pipes.
Old Ford was taken over by Circle 33, which itself merged with Affinity Sutton last month to form Clarion.
The Government’s Homes & Communities Agency immediately downgraded the organisation for breaching Home Standards “risking serious detriment to its tenants”.
The Regulator has received thousands of complains since last April about the repairs and maintenance, particularly in east London, even after previously serving a Regulatory Notice on Circle in 2015.
Complaints included repairs, maintenance, difficulty contacting Circle and poor response.
This came after Circle merged its ‘contact’ operation into a single call centre with a new management IT system last June, the regulatory agency found.
For Mike Tyrrell, this is a nail in the coffin of local accountability in social housing.
“The only thing people in Norwich who were under East Anglia housing have in common with the families in Old Ford is the fear and the sadness of having lost their local association,” he said.
“I’ve got this hope that in some years to come people will understand that big mega housing associations are not the way forward and that the government would come in and divide them up into much more community-focussed housing associations.
“But I fear the horse has bolted. There’s no chance with the current government of going back to local control.”
Circle-Clarion was not part of last night’s community awards staged at Bethnal Green’s Antrium venue, compared by Mike Tyrrell.
Awards to “inspirational residents” from eight East End housing associations went to Tania Nalwajko (East End Homes), David Stackable (Gateway Housing), Ruth Musgrove (One Housing), Richard Caley (Poplar Harca), Brian Kerr (Providence Row), Bushra Malquid (Spitalfields Housing), Abdul Hasnath (Swan Housing) and Phillip Green (Tower Hamlets Homes).
Police cadet Abu Saeed received the Young People’s award from Poplar Harca for his work helping a weapons sweep in Devans Road in Bromley-by-Bow last summer and the Notting Hill Carnival.
A special award for community service was also made for Sister Christine Frost who has been running her Neighbours In Poplar organisation looking after pensioners and families in need for the past 45 years.
Other special awards were: ‘Bringing People Together’ Margaret Wilson (Tower Hamlets Homes), ‘Contribution to Resident Involvement’ Charmaine Burke (Swan) and ‘Environment’ Mohammed Muktar (Swan).