Friday, August 27, 2010

Sydenham Hill continues the fight

Whilst Crossfields still awaits a reply to emails sent in May on queries made in relation to April's charges and feels no inclination to chase them up having spent a whole year getting nowhere, Sydenham Hill continues to remind our landlords of their duties...

Dear Mr Barrett,

As Chairman of the Sydenham Hill Tra ( SYTRA) I am disappointed to say the least that you have failed to respond to my letter of 6th July 2010.

I hope you are not underestimating the severity of the issue.

By all accounts there have been but TWO full time Caretakers on the Estate.
The residents, tenants and Leaseholders have, according to the workings of our Secretary been charged approximately £134,000 per annum for the privilege.

In simplest terms we respectively ask you to declare annually, exactly:
- how much is being spent on Caretaking
- how much is being billed for Caretaking

The 08/09 was reconciled by a reduction of some 70% after we challenged the charges and Janet Senior conducted an audit on behalf of Lewisham Council.

The level of Caretaking has not been improved nor the number of Caretakers.
Sad to say that the Caretakers Supervisor has been on perpetual sick leave for most of the period in question.

As a matter of urgency can you now come forward with a response.
Failing which we reserve the right to escalate this to the external adjudicator or Ombudsman.

Thanking you,


See SYTRA Chair's letter to Adam Barrett, 6 July 2010 here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why it is crap

These are the notes we gave the Audit Commission:

Notes for Meeting with Audit Commission 29 June 2010

a)     Charges increased enormously last year and since Lewisham Homes took over
  • We are told this is because we were undercharged before, except for Caretaking charges where we are told the increased costs are to buy more equipment which we haven’t seen used.
  • Large increases are based on estimates which are later seen to be over-estimates, thereby causing unnecessary financial hardship by increasing monthly payments by 100% one year and reducing them by 30% the next year, making it impossible to budget.
b)     Service Charge Bills are unaudited
  • Bills are full of errors due either to typing errors or because of charges for work that wasn’t done.
  • Bills are accompanied by a letter that says bills are audited (when they are not), a misleading and fraudulent statement.
  • Leaseholders are charged differing amounts for the same item, eg changing a light bulb
  • Communal repairs, caretaking and grounds maintenance are often charged more to smaller blocks, and charged differently to same sized blocks.
c)     Charges for Repairs cannot be traced adequately
  • With only 6% inspection of repairs, Lewisham Homes do not know whether a job is done or not, nor satisfactorily, and leaseholders know even less.
  • Until Repairs can tell us what they’re repairing when they repair it and allow us to comment on its satisfactory completion or indeed whether it has been done at all, leaseholders do not know what they’re paying for up to 18 months later. (Highlighted by us for years, and now also by Scrutiny Committee. Persistently denied by Leaseholder Team, but now being considered by Potter)
  • Due to lack of monitoring, we are charged for work that is re-done many times – there is no planning or understanding of persistent problems, eg no plans available for drainage networks.
d)     False claims for consultation
  • At Leaseholder Improvement Group Meetings, issues that a clear majority want to discuss affecting whole estates are described as ‘individual’ problems and not minuted.
  • Managers in Repairs and Caretaking have suggested ways forward but are then ‘silenced’ by their seniors – recommendations they make ‘in the field’ are not put into place.
  • Meeting agendas are set by LH, and taken up with presentations rather than discussion
  • Minutes are inaccurate if unfavourable comments are made, and are later not rectified.
  • Changes to charges are made with claims that consultation with residents has taken place, when less than 0.5% have attended meetings where changes are presented.
e)     Querying charges
  • Details of repairs only available by requesting a breakdown which are full of jargon with no glossary provided and are supplied variously in either date order or Repair Number, or a mixture of both, so are hard to decipher. Also sometimes supplied as Excel files.
  • Anomalies become apparent when Repair Breakdowns for different blocks are compared. The average leaseholder has no means of comparison since no benchmark figures are available (eg average tariffs).
  • Requests to see supplier’s invoices and queries on charges are unfulfilled.
  • Photographic evidence provided by leaseholders has been persistently ignored.
f)  Caretaking
  • Procedures are so poor in many cases that dirt and grime have built up to unacceptable levels. Persistent complaints about these procedures have been ignored.
  • Charges for caretaking have increased for all leaseholders by as much as 300% with no visible increase in standards.
  • On smaller estates charges are applied regardless of far lesser requirements
  • On large estates, smaller blocks may pay more than larger blocks
  • There is still no contract in place for cleaning bins, resulting in flies on all balconies on estates with bin chambers
  • Pest Control: infestations do not get sorted until there are enough infested flats to do a block treatment, and we are charged whether it is successful or not.
  • Inspections adhere to low standards and are marked high.
  • If a resident attends an inspection they may point out repairs required that are otherwise missed. These are marked up to be actioned then recorded as done when they are not.
  • Reports are not available to view on website as claimed.
g)     Grounds Maintenance
  • A charge for sweeping was removed from Caretaking to be added to Grounds Maintenance – Caretaking charge went up anyway, as did Grounds Maintenance
  • No provision of maps telling us where work is to take place. Work is now done according to need (eg grass height) – breaches of contract have already taken place. Leasehold Services said Estate Maps would be online by April. They are not.
  • No effective monitoring of grounds maintenance contract, no inspecting during winter months (no contract was in place this past Winter)
h)    Value For Money
  • Leaseholders must pay their own building insurance as well as a charge to Lewisham. Residents  often asked to claim on their own insurance because Lewisham don’t want to claim on theirs when it is usually their fault that a claim must be made.
  • Antisocial Behaviour charged to Leaseholders on estates and not to those on street properties. The Scrutiny Committee recommends its removal as a charge. It Is totally ineffective (as proved by a recent focus group).
  • Too much money spent on Lewisham Homes branding. A proliferation of institutional signs bearing the logo and Homes magazine are perceived by many as propaganda, serving no useful purpose.
i)    Poor communications
  • The website is difficult to use (the search facility is poor)
  • Enquiries are only responded to when a councillor is copied in.
  • Letters to Andrew Potter, Adam Barratt, and other senior managers are rarely replied to (also letters to the Mayor). A letter from Joan Ruddock to Potter was replied to by the Council’s PR Head.
  • Complaints via the Complaints Team about service levels are forwarded to Leasehold Services who spend so long ‘investigating’ that the complainant gives up and the Complaint is deemed closed.
  • Leasehold Services hinder rather than help to obtain information about services and do not want us to talk to other services.
  • These meetings with the Audit Commission were not publicised until one day before via Homes magazine. A handful of residents were contacted directly. Those wanting to attend who are awaiting transfer to L&Q whilst experiencing an abysmal level of service were denied access.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Would you pay more for a 'proper' service?

A small group of leaseholders from Crossfields, St John's Vale and Sydenham Hill, met with the Audit Commission on Tuesday 29th June. The AC had already met the night before with a handpicked group who we suspect had been personally invited by Lewisham Homes two weeks before.

We were there because I had received Homes magazine on Friday 18th June, and had actually read it. On page 7 was an announcement that we could meet with the Audit Commission to have our say. I called the number in the afternoon, wary of not being able to get on the list if I wasn't quick enough. Adele Stevens, Communications Manager, took my name down for a leaseholders' meeting with the Audit Commission on Monday 28th. Tenants were to meet them the week before this, which seemed very short notice.

Over that weekend I emailed leaseholders in St John's Vale and Sydenham. The guys in Sydenham couldn't go (my main contact was off on holiday), but the St John's Vale team called Adele on Monday and were told the meeting was full. Rather audaciously they wrote to the Audit Commission and asked if they could meet somehow. Another meeting was arranged for them through Adele for Tuesday 29th. They were asked for names and in addition to their own team, they put forward myself and Crossfields Repairs rep Raphael.

So we went on Tuesday. We were joined by one of the guys from Sydenham. He had decided to foregoe a special family event to attend but when he'd called to add himself to the list, he'd been told he couldn't attend because his estate was due to be transferred to London & Quadrant Housing Association in October (in the meantime, his estate has been run into the ground)...He decided to turn up anyway.

The meeting started 20 minutes late (because the two chaps from the AC were stuck in another meeting), was supposed to last an hour, and ran on by 20 minutes....

Near the end of a very tense meeting (due to time limits more than anything), the Audit guys asked us if we would be prepared to pay more for a better service.

We were baffled by this question. Lewisham Homes keep telling us that we are getting a 'great' service...and we keep having to pay more for it with no visible improvements...and we were meeting with the Audit Commission that evening to tell them that we were paying too much for a third rate service. If services were as First Rate as Lewisham Homes claim, why would we want to pay more?

Was there a Triple Gold Standard about to be introduced that everyone including tenants would benefit from but that only leaseholders would pay for? Or would tenant's rents go up proportionally? What a strange question. What was wrong with just plain old Silver, a good enough standard for everyone, rather than the bit of old tin for council house scum everyone's getting now?

The leaseholder from Sydenham pointed out that Glendales had promised to maintain our grounds to the same standards as our local parks. If we paid more, would we get a better service than that? Rose gardens on every estate? Flowerbeds bursting with colour? Fountains in courtyards? (steady on)...

In Caretaking, Programmed Inspections rate the quality of service as almost 100% every time despite the grime, dirt, cobwebs, flies and stains (which are often noted, and have to be rectified within a week or two, but still there is a great score because, well, basically, there's no litter about). (Search Caretaking Standards on LH website and see what you get)...

It should be noted that at St John's Vale they are happy with the level of caretaking – they only have 16 flats and there is little to do. They wanted to know why they were paying for three hours' work a week when a perfectly adequate job was presently being done in half an hour.

Their attempts to raise queries like that over the past couple of years only to be met with lies and obfuscation means that their experience serves as a microcosmic version of our own – where we have 365 flats and similar problems are amplified massively. The problems experienced on a tiny estate reverberate across the borough.

The Audit Commission guys didn't seem to be very puzzled by their own observation that at the meeting the night before, participants were scoring Lewisham Homes quite high...(mostly 8 out of 10, apparently, as opposed to our own average 3/10). We too were puzzled, although I knew from a couple of those people (who voted 5/10) that they had been personally invited to the meeting by Lewisham Homes...The AC guys said it must be that some estates are better than others. (Oi MATE! Our estate is one of the best, considering its location in the middle of Deptford, and it's not thanks to Lewisham Homes!!!)

The problem with the question "Would we pay more for a better service?" is that last year we were asked to pay around £800 in advance for a totally crap service. This year we were asked to pay much less in advance for a service we're still not getting, but my bill has gone up 44% overall in three years, but the only difference I've seen is the branding of the delivery.

Why is it crap? See my next post...

Glendales working overtime

The Audit Commission are in town (see previous post).

That is probably why our estate is not looking so bad at the moment. They're here today – both the Audit Commission AND Glendales. A guy from Glendales told a resident that they don't know what they're supposed to be doing since they don't have any Estate Plans to tell them which areas they're supposed to cut and work on.

We were told in March at a Leaseholder Improvement Group Meeting: "Good news! A contract has been signed with Glendales to take over Grounds Maintenance. Residents will be able to view Estate Plans online on the Lewisham Homes website next month to see where they are supposed to be working on your estate!" Hurrah!

Nothing to view on the website to date though. It also appears Glendales have nothing to look at either. Anyway, they've been pruning the bushes like crazy this week.

They were last here just over a week before, on 17th June, cutting grass – to within an inch of its life, since only two weeks before on 3rd June they had cut the same grass (although they left out the Holden lawn that time).

That was just a week after an Estate Inspection on 27th May when we showed the inspector the height of the grass.

FRONT OF HOLDEN 25th May 2010: Normally they would cut around the spring daffodils, but in this picture above you can see these daffs are well past their sell-by date. They have completely died.

BACK OF HOLDEN 25th May 2010: the grass has reached a height of 17 inches (also measured by the inspector on 27th May) – we understand the maximum height should be 2.5 inches. Glendales' new contract allows them to work on the basis of 'need' rather than frequency, ie, when grass gets to a certain height, it must be cut.

The last time Glendales were here before that was 8th March when they did a bit of leaf blowing...The Glendales guys love their tools, but the leaf blowing machine is a pointless waste of time much of the time when it is windy. I've seen them blowing a load of leaves to one area and then the wind blow it back and then they do it again.

The boys justified their use this time because the daffs were coming through quite high and a rake would be less clever, though actually they went on about the 0-60mph effect of the leaf blowing machine more than anything else. As I said, the Glendales team love their powertools and can't wait to use 'em, especially at 8am in the morning so that they can wake up and spite the lazy doleys on the estate – and the shift workers they never conceived of.

There were a helluva lot of leaves. But then the team hadn't been seen for months.

We still don't have specifications or estate plans, but it appears, neither do Glendales.
(At least we have dated pictures, which, to their shame, neither Glendales, nor Lewisham Homes have)

Stair Cleaning History

This week the Audit Commission have been inspecting Lewisham Homes.
For the past two weeks the caretakers seem to have been working overtime to clean things up a bit.
And a special caretaking team came in at the end of May and spent the week cleaning the stairs...
Who for? Not for us!!!
We wish the Audit Commission came every year, then perhaps we'd have and environment to be proud of.

Stairs finally get a bit of a clean

Last Monday and Tuesday the Holden House caretaker was out on both days cleaning the stairs. The normal cleaning day is Wednesday, but on the Monday he did the normal perfunctory routine with the mop and bucket of cold water. The next day he was accompanied by another guy in white overalls who watched while our guy used a plastic bristled broom to really scrub our filthy old stairs. This was the result:

The stairs didn't look much better, and the caretaker was unable to get to the areas between the bannister uprights with his six inch broom. Also, having worked up a bit of a dirty lather, much of it was spread to the unpainted concrete surfaces of the balconies, which are now quite badly stained on all floors.

The dirty lather also dripped down the sides and stained the paintwork there.

Today, more caretaking operatives were working on the stairs, attempting to clean the areas between the bannister uprights. They were at it all day and I spoke to one of the guys, Jim, who explained that first they were using a scrubbing brush with a special cleaner that would lift the dirt.

Then another guy was a couple of flights behind him with a vacuum cleaner...

Both were critical of the surface, which was laid over ten years ago. Jim suggested it was Health & Safety gone mad that had led to a paint surface mixed with grit to prevent slipping. Such a surface was impossible to keep clean, he said, and he thought the best thing to do would be to remove it, but he wasn't sure how. He later set about some already chipped areas with a knife and removed quite a bit from the first mezzanine landing, in an attempt to see how easily it might come off.

I suggested that their cleaning operation was just a precurser to the stairs being painted again because last October Leasehold Services told us they wanted to trial a new paint surface, but we'd said the stairs were too filthy to take any sort of paint...(they didn't go ahead with it and actually blamed us for holding them up). He said he'd seen some new paint surfaces over at Honor Oak and that they were no better and would not last. But he knew nothing of any plans to paint our stairs.

This exercise, which is apparently going to be done on all the blocks that have painted stairs, must surely be in advance of the AUDIT COMMISSION's visit next month, when Lewisham Homes will be tested on whether they have done enough to qualify for Decent Homes government money – if any is still available.

27 APRIL 2009 ( - SCROLL DOWN)

Just after cleaning...with one bucket of cold water and a mop...These photos are dated January, February and March 2010, taken at Holden, Wilshaw and Farrer. The important thing to note here is that the unpainted stairs are just as badly stained.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lewisham Homes and the Audit Commission

On page 7 of the latest Homes magazine, tenants and leaseholders are invited to give the Audit Commission our views on the services provided by Lewisham Homes, via three focus groups to take place over the next two weeks. Please ring Adele Stevens on 020 8613 7651 if you want to take part.

I did. Apparently there are only two focus groups, one for tenants and one for leaseholders, and the leaseholder one is at the Town Hall on 28th June...the tenant's one is probably next week – not much notice, eh?

Number Crunching

Meanwhile I was interested to read on page 9 the results of a National Housing Federation survey of residents, carried out on Lewisham Homes' behalf. "The results show that we are seeing results..."

At the end of this article it says "See more performance information online, or register to take part in surveys and have your say!" But if you go to the Lewisham Homes website, you will be hard put to find where on the site you can do this.

Meanwhile, the Council's Housing Select Committee found a less rosy picture in an independent survey on the service provided to leaseholders:

71% were dissatisfied with the standard of major works carried out
74% were dissatisfied with the standard of repairs
67% felt charges for repairs and maintenance were unfair
82% felt charges for major works were unfair
70% were dissatisfied with the billing process
64% felt their housing manager did not keep them informed about repairs and maintenance

Perhaps leaseholders are a more whingeing bunch!

(The Committee's report can be downloaded here)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dear Lewisham Homes...(letters from Sydenham Hill)

The following emails were sent over the past three weeks by representatives of Sydenham Hill TRA to Lewisham Homes (copied to various officers), and to the Mayor and councillors. They reflect our own efforts to get an answer out of Lewisham Homes...

Subject: Sydenham Hill Request TRA Meeting with Adam Barrett (4 June 2010)

Dear Lewisham Homes,

The Sydenham Hill TRA would like to schedule a meeting asap ( but no later than 18 June 2010) with Adam Barrett and the Heads of Caretaking Services, Repairs and Grounds Maintenance to discuss a way forward with regards to on-going unresolved issues of Estate Management and Service Charges to Leaseholders and Tenants.

Some of these issues are as follows:

1. Inadequate and insufficient Caretaking Services and Unjustifiable High Charges for the service
2. Disrepair on the estate with particular reference to Health andSafety concerns – Silbury Lights, a case in point
3. High charges for the provision of an insufficient Grounds Maintenance Service
4. Extremely poor Supervision and Quality Control of the Services provided leading to very poor Value for Money delivery of the Services which SHOULD NOT be passed on to the Clients – us.

The need for this meeting is urgent and overwhelmingly important.

Kind regards,
Peggy, Sydenham Hill TRA

Subject: Charges for services (4 June 2010)

Dear Lewisham Homes,

I sent you a letter back on 11th March with numerous items raised regarding poor cleaning standards, items gone un repaired even though reported by myself many years prior and raised again and again since that time, poor management of our estate services.

I am still awaiting a reply from you (and/or your supervisor).

The other day I had a final reminder for paying my service charges.

As I have stated in the past, I have no problem in paying the service charges if work is actually carried out. I have no intention of going to court over these payments. As such, as soon as I receive your response to my letter, I shall make arrangements to pay the outstanding bill by monthly direct debit.

To get a bit more information about this, please see the email (above) from Peggy Amoako (TRA secretary). You can see that we have actively been pursuing Lewisham Homes regarding service charges and poor standards.

You can also view our SyTRA website:
There are photos and reports plus other information. I hope you can see that we have been proactive in chasing the levels of service we deserve/pay for!

 I look forward to your response.


Subject: Charges for services (7 June 2010)

Dear Steve Bullock,

I have been advised to bring the issue of poor standards and overcharging in Sydenham Hill estate (managed by Lewisham Homes) to your attention.

I am an active resident, taking much of my free time pursuing Lewisham Homes, Lewisham Council and attending meetings for the TRA, Leaseholders Improvement meetings, ASB forums and also on the L&Q Shadow board prior to the stock transfer which will be in full swing by Autumn.

To give you a brief back ground: I have lived on Sydenham Hill Estate since 2006. During which time I have repeatedly written to the numerous management agencies we have had for our estate. I have also written to my councillor (Alex Feakes, who just to note has not replied to any emails sent regarding these issues for more than 2 years!), my MP, Lewisham Homes Leasehold Services Dept, Technical repairs dept,Caretaking dept and our estate rep, to name but a few!

I have never received an adequate response to my complaints about the extremely poor standards in caretaking and maintenance we all receive, despite being charged exorbitantly each year (more than a 400% increase since 2006, and standards have actually slipped since then!).

We tried our hardest to combat this injustice, within the SyTRA and other focus groups, but as you can see from the emails above, we are still pursuing the issues.

What we all want, as residents, are three main changes to current arrangements:

1) Fair and accountable pricing of services provided. Completely transparent access to these records, of charges and works carried out.
2) We require that cleaning and maintenance be carried out to the standards set out in Lewisham Homes own documentation. That there be enough cleaners, with enough time to actually be able to provide the services we PAY FOR.
3) For repairs and maintenance to be carried out in a timely fashion, for clear safety hazards to be noted by the caretakers (weekly) and reported by them (e.g. potholes, broken glass, communal lights not working etc).

I wonder if you can help our cause? Email can be sent to me at this email address, you can also check out SyTRA website (blog): where all recent info and photos are posted.

I look forward to your response.



Cllr Feakes – who had been copied into the above email – replied on June 11th, promising to chase Lewisham Homes about the outstanding works. He asked if Sydenham Hill leaseholders had received a copy of the REVIEW OF THE COUNCIL'S OBLIGATIONS TO LEASEHOLDERS, that the Scrutiny Committee that he chairs had published in January. (They hadn't...)

Subject: Charges for Services 12 June 2010

Dear all (leaseholders),

Lets face it we are flogging a dead horse.
Lewisham homes do not have the Will nor the desire to provide the level of service being charged for. What little they are visibly doing is to help them in achieving the 2* Rating from the audit Commission. We should be entitled to a 50% rebate on Caretaking, repairs, ground maintenance and management charges for at least the last three years.

The charges have been excessive, unreasonable and unjustifiable.
If in doubt please attend the next "Walkabout" and Smell the coffee!!!!!

M. Quereshi

Subject: Sydenham Hill Estate (12 June 2010)

Dear Cllr Feakes,

After checking the status of the lights at Silbury House last night, I feel we should at this stage seriously consider getting an external contractor to fix the lights.

They are still not all working, some don't have fittings at all, and little or no activity by Lewisham Homes has been noted of late. Despite some recent help from Alex Slattery and his team, it seems they are not able to complete the work.

The lights were reported as faulty 6 years ago be me (and no doubt other residents as well), the issue has been raised again and again repeatedly with Genevieve Emanuel (leaseholder services) and many other departments dealing with repairs and technical issues since 2006.

It seems, at this stage, that no further effort by us can make Lewisham Homes complete a satisfactory job, so I feel we should get an external contractor in.

On top of the lights, there are of course many other issues still not up to standard. Namely the cleaning standards (worse than ever), safety issues: pot holes (countless and real hazards), broken glass pains, the poor quality of tenants put here by Lewisham Homes and Council (dumping, fly-tipping and general antisocial behaviour) and of course the general state of disrepair of the whole estate. I for one am not happy to be paying £800 per annum for the services we receive, I believe I can speak for the whole estate with these sentiments.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Kind regards

Cllr Feakes replied (14th June 2010):

I've escalated the problems on the estate with the Head of Housing at the town hall. I hope that the additional focus that this should give on to the managers of the estate will yield some better results.

I know that that you have had Lewisham Homes come down and do a walk about on the estate and in Silbury House. It may be worthwhile getting the Head of Housing down as well soon to see the problems for themselves - please let me know if this is something you would like me to organise.

Kind regards