Showing posts with label London Housing Trust. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London Housing Trust. Show all posts

Friday, 16 June 2017

Grenfell Tower - get on board

Grenfell Tower's Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation: Get On Board
I used to work just over the road from Grenfell Tower on a housing and social work job. Scroll to the bottom for an anecdote headed "anecdote" that might make you laugh. From that, I learnt nothing about Grenfell Tower directly (one or two tenants moved to council flats next door but not in the tower) but a lot of the evidence is obvious about the causes of the fire,
  • cladding not sprinklers
  • housing associations management, not "residents listened to" or "fire regulations" directly
  • what an inquiry should talk about, if there is a need for one at all

Polyurethane Cladding

Everyone has seen fire damage on tower blocks, which effects one flat and just possibly the one above or two floors above, if cinders have got in through a window. It follows that the problem is not directly about sprinklers, even if they would have helped. Everyone has also seen the smouldering cladding on TV, so that's where the problem lies.

Housing Association Management

Meanwhile, The Guardian writes that a load of people are in Kensington Town Hall chanting "we want answers" while The Independent thinks they are shouting "we want justice" - it must be hard to tell who should ask what question to who. Kensington Council is ground landlord to a specialist housing association that spent £10 million on polyurethane cladding. A small amount of extra spending would have bought inflammable cladding. It's as simple as that.

One thing I did learn while working for a housing organisation was how completely dotty they are, obsessed with procedure and hierarchy that forces staff to act a bit like MPs, stuck between residents and a procedure that says they have to be consulted about decisions already taken. While procedure is important, the theory behind what they do is almost secret and has to be picked-up gradually with luck. Each member of staff has a different theory to what the organisation is meant to do. Grenfell Tower was slightly simpler because it offers permanent housing, but some of the complications are the same.


Should a supported temporary housing organisation exist to help
  • past residents with resettlement and opportunities to come-back to a club or for advice
  • future residents
  • just the ones in the building who make a fuss?

If a junior member of staff somehow gives a senior member of staff a funny feeling of unstated disagreement, is this a question of
  • facts,  polite disagreement, action according to who's job it is to decide what
  • bad attitude and an excuse to discourage a potential rival?

Should the funding of the organisation be
  • described in a contract in the director's safe, which nobody else is allowed to see?
  • presumed by everyone concerned in their own way, often conflicting? For example people could agree that it would be good for a volunteer to do something, but need more information about whether taxpayer subsidy or rent covers something done by paid staff.

Should fire safety information be
  • evidence based with training to anyone who needs it based on records of past fires and clear facts?
  • left at the discretion of fire safety officers who speak to the maintenance manager about fire regulations that don't exist or are very hard to look-up?
  • oddly enough, an ex employee of the housing association has written an article for The Guardian - . Her experience is a little less frustrating in some ways. She got a job after university; I faced all this in the 80s and had to work-up to the privilege of a housing job or a housing support job. Housing support workers were paid less and that was my job title. She also got some kind of clear training about fire by default. I had to talk about fire safety because team meetings required it, so I asked for proper training and eventually got it, from the firm that supplied fire extinguishers. An unusual success but true. The ambivalence is the same. Is the job social work? Or letting agent? Or an awful mixture of the two under glaring management scrutiny by people who shouldn't really be in the job, but were somehow allowed to cash the subsidy cheque.

    Should consultation of residents assume
    • that all residents want the same thing, to be determined in a meeting, and "get on board" as the picture suggests?
    • that every tenant will want a slightly different thing, often overlapping? For example most might think plastic cladding flammable, some might not care either way if sprinklers are installed, others might think it a waste of money and a few might not want the things in their flats while they are tenants, whatever happens outside. That's not a "get on board" answer.
    You get the gist that nobody would want to work for a housing organisation for long and staff turnover is high. Meanwhile a group of residents is encouraged to use vague language and to feel disappointed. I disagree with The Guardian's statement about a similar group:

     "Residents are not ignorant: they have to live in buildings like this one every day, hoping for the best in the knowledge that this home is the only one they have. Grenfell Tower’s tenants may not have been experts in architectural cladding – who is, apart from the people you entrust with the safety of your home? – but they were well aware that their building didn’t have an adequate fire-alarm system or procedure for evacuation in the event of a serious fire."
    The truth is that residents have different levels of ignorance, and the tricky bit is to inform and educate about background detail, and that's something that could be done on the website or anywhere similar; it doesn't have to be done by every single landlord. Just today, someone added a note to this page to say that planning permission was for less flammable cladding. That's the kind of fact that residents need so that debates can be reasonable and not break-down into phrases like "doesn't listen" or "justice".

    If I lived in a tower block, I would not vote for fire practises, nor go-along with them if introduced. I would be the one who left a pushchair next to the lift and got cross with an official who sent a letter. The truth is obvious. It's plastic cladding that spread the fire, and sprinklers would only use-up scarce time and money, so making the choice of cheap cladding more likely.

    There another bit of ignorance that politicians and media encourage. It is a view of a religious people who like to come together in shared togethery-ness, and have no need for the Social Fund or whatever it is called now, or Housing Benefit, or the council's duty social worker or duty to rehouse in emergencies. No politician went to visit Work and Pensions staff trying to deal with emergency claims, but a few visited

    No wonder there is a group of people making a fuss about sprinklers that wouldn't have helped, and a group sitting in the ground landlord's lobby chanting "justice" or "answers" as loudly as they can. If there is a public enquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire's cause, that's what it will find out. An organisation with high staff turnover, low availability of facts, and shelves full of tenant consultation notes and policies as their name - Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation - suggests. If you check their web site at this difficult time, you see just such a message, as a pop-up that all new visitors have to acknowledge.

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    what an inquiry should talk about

    • Planning permission was for one cladding; the suppliers' receipt was for another more flammable one. That's the whole thing sorted with just some background stuff to find out about
    • How members of housing association staff thought plastic cladding was OK.
      This is the same as asking: how do people who wish they could get a better job end-up making a decision when bombarded from all sides? What is it that makes the job difficult and short of applicants? What allows the Machiavellian applicant to get the job? Why are people writing about the need for sprinklers, which would reduce a tight budget, when more expensive cladding (or none) is obviously the answer?
    • How fire laws, law-like rules, and evidence could be made more search-able and well-written. To the point where any builder or housing association worker or tenant in a consultation meeting should be able to start looking them up, even if they give-up and ask advice later in the process. This is more important than whether laws and law-like things are up to date on plastic cladding, I think that private sources of information and negligence law should work almost by themselves, even if nobody updates things like ministerial guidelines for decades.

      If evidence of past fires and injuries could be linked to the same sources of information, so that someone in a meeting with colleagues about cheap cladding, under pressure from all sides, could point to previous fires, that would be ideal.
    • How people who are fair and who respect facts could be hired info public-funded management jobs. This I think requires a way of getting a reference from previous junior colleagues, as well as the senior ones who might be Machiavellis or just desperate to be shot of the person they give a reference for.
    • How people are so ignorant of facts that they invade the wrong building, claim they are being lied-to about facts which nobody can yet know (the death toll) and generally believe that making a noise helps. I think the rioters are the problem as well as the cladding-choosers and their management.
    • How to get breathable air to a flat that has toxic smoke wafting about. Sprinklers wouldn't help. A long fire-proof hose in each flat might help, either to climb down or to breath through.
    • Finally there is the issue of dignitaries and camera units coming to film and shake hands with people called "community leaders" in one case. There was a report today that a local catholic priest was praying for victims of the disaster. I hope it made a concrete difference, but in the UK we have a
      benefits agency with
      hardship payments, we have
      duty social workers,
      housing benefit, and the
      council's duty to re-house people made homeless by disasters.

      All of these are important and more likely to have any effect than what the BBC reports, which is priests and shared togethery-ness. So the enquiry should enquire why no politician could be bothered to visit the benefits agency and no public sector information worker put-out statements about how benefits are meant to work. The result could be better understanding by claimants about what they've paid for, better understanding by politicians about whether the system works, and less of this pretend system by which people pull-together and post random jumpers to local churches in case that helps.

    Anecdote - skip to para two if in a hurry

     As it happens my employer - London Cyrenians - rented cheap space off the building where Grenfell residents met politicians or spent an emergency night or two, a building built as a church, with basements and balconies sub-let to social work and education agencies, and still working for faith groupies in the middle. Our office was in the left-hand balcony, where Victorian architects planned for so many more faithful to congregate that two tears of seating would be required. Maybe they expected even more and left room to build more balconies. By the 1950s or 1960s, someone must have guessed that this was not going to happen and built partitions with frosted glass and lockable doors to make a lettable office space.

    One day the boss was a way for the weekly stupid team meeting. We heard music. Lead Kindly Light Amidst Encircling Gloom ... Leed Thou Me On ...  something like that. So we sang along, as you do if trying to bond with colleagues.

    This was a real funeral for some faith-groupies, apparently. The director told us a day or two later, just in passing. There was nothing else to do or say

      related post about London Housing Trust:

      John Robertson now works at for vegan shoes online

      Monday, 13 June 2016

      London Housing Trust ... A lot of this blog post repeats what's on the link - skip down the page for how to run an organisation that is not like London Housing Trust or read-on to see why not to copy them. If you are just loking for London Housing Trust's office address: 8b Evelyn Court Business Park, Grinstead Rd, SE8 5AD.

      London Housing Trust & funders

      The BBC version of this story confirmed that London Housing Trust defrauded the local housing benefit office by claiming for a "concierge service" at a place where there wasn't one. The fraud is as simple as that. The building housed victims of domestic violence amongst others, so there's a good reason to have someone paid to answer the door, but no such job existed. This is a straightforward factual statement, easily proved; there is no need to find a record of complaints. The Guardian re-reported the story with quotes from several residents.

      There's also money from Supporting People, a scheme like Housing Benefit which I don't understand, and depends on residents needing some kind of extra service beyond what other landlords can provide.

      Meanwhile the organisation insists on online referrals which could be good but leaves less paper trail to say what these residents' support needs were or are - always a problem when the residents are not there for any specific treatment that might help define them. I don't know if this is a problem, but it was certainly a problem at Kids Company, where the founder made repeated implausible claims about the needs of her clients and instructed staff to upgrade every one of them on the database in the last few days that staff thought they were paid.

      London Housing Trust & suppliers

      The BBC confirmed that London Housing Trust defrauds ex-residents as part of a scheme to defraud suppliers, showing an interview with an ex housing support worker who said something like "this has happened loads of times. We put any ex-residents' name on the electricity bill, and when it isn't paid we say 'look: we're a housing association; the resident has moved-on', and the electricity company don't cut us off." The BBC backed-up this general story with a specific ex-resident who had been chased for forged fuel bills, and a current resident who had confronted the landlord. The BBC had a third piece of evidence - a photo of an emailed reply from a current housing support worker saying that the director - "Steve" - had instructed her to put "the longest residents' name" on an electricity bill.

      This illustrates the problem of people who get public money. They are often not people who you would hire to paint the place where you live, or do your accounts, but if you need a job or supported housing, you sometimes have to put up with them as though they were the sensible ones.

      London Housing Trust & jobs & staff

      The organisation seems likely to treat staff so badly that ex-staff can be called bad witnesses, as though this was normal. As though it's normal for ex-staff members to want to contact the press: "The programme ... arose from one complaint from one client and the malicious intent of a former employee". If the organisation does treat staff like this, the result for some staff is obvious. There is another result for tenants and taxpayers: organisations who hire staff like this will get the ones so unimaginative that they didn't see anything wrong, or so cynical that they worked the system. They won't get the perfectly good staff who made a fuss. Such people would be given a bad reference if they tried to get another job after being employed at London Housing Trust or any of the other organisations like it.

      London Housing Trust & donors

      The BBC added a story of food bank parcels being delivered to the head office, and interviews with residents who said they had never seen any food from food banks; none reached them.
      London Housing Trust urges residents to complain to the BBC about unfair reporting.

      It's easy to see why this sort of organisation should be short of cash, but the high housing benefit payments ought to go a long way if the organisation is run efficiently, without anything being syphoned-off to other companies. London Housing Trust is certainly a thrifty organisation in terms of self-written web sites done on open source software, clients on the board instead of external trustees, and an organisation that seems to run on the say-so of a director rather than a committee-cycle. This could be a good thing if it allows the organisation to run on the current grant system, including special high-rate housing benefit, rather than a begging-round of grants from all-over-the-place and housing provided cheaply by sympathetic housing associations, as was the system when I worked in supported housing (we used to have fake consultation where a team leader would be required to get consent from staff for some distant committee's decision). Firms that pay low wages and are generally cheapskate like NACRO or Stonham or English Churches had all the advantage that bad employers have, and were still short of money when I did temping work for them. But that doesn't change the starting point; the housing benefit payments should be not be syphoned-off to other companies; they should be spent on what it said on the form.

      London Housing Trust & trust & scandle

      By the time the story was on TV, some of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports of obvious and deliberate-looking conflicts of interest, like awarding a contract to a company owned by a director Steven Dellar, had been acknowledged to some extent. Dellar resigned on the 4th of June, while another London Housing Trust director, Winsome Chambers, resigned a directorship of Limitless Care Ltd on the 3rd of June. The names of both director's other companies suggest that they are contractors for the likes of London Housing Trust, and so able to get work in a way that isn't transparent. They could move money in or out of the organisation in a way that isn't shown on the books by charging less or more for work they are bound to get.

      This is not worth a news report when a private company does it - maybe to avoid Corporation Tax - but if there is charitable-style funding or volunteer work done to help a poor organisation, then it ought to be known. The organisation claimed on its web site to be a charity until quite recently, when it was pointed-out to them that larger charities have to register or stop using the word. It still calls itself a "Trust".

      London Housing Trust & inspections, December 2016

      We did not give a rating to the service because there was only one person using the service.

      London Housing Trust & trustees or residents

      LHT has some residents on the board of directors.
      Trustees sometimes justify bad management of voluntary organisations by saying that it's the clients that are the first priority, and so all the other stakeholders - funders / donors / volunteers, staff, or suppliers - come second. Usually the same point of view comes with a lazy approach to who the clients of a charity are - such as the particular residents at any one time - rather than the potential residents and ex-residents as well in part of a process. Anyway, clients of a service suffer too. For example, if you had a problem with domestic violence, you want to live somewhere with a "concierge service". If it it's funded but not supplied, then nobody can have the service. Either the hostel tries to avoid housing clients who need it, or they take a chance and maybe it's needed but not there.
      The effects on clients go-on. Staff who make a fuss leave the trade or are forced to leave the trade without a reference. The next agency down the road hires staff who got their first jobs at this place, and can get a reference from it. After a while, the whole trade gets to be staffed by people who are loyal to employers, not to the work, who lack curiosity about what they're doing, and don't make a fuss. These aren't good people to run anything,. An organisation which was much more transparent could do a lot more for everyone, including clients.


      In everyday life, you don't trust dishonest people; you don't hire someone to do a job if they did a fraud on another job.

      The shocking and depressing thing is that the organisation is so dishonest that it doesn't apologise or understand the problem; a statement on their web site urges residents to write-in to complain to the BBC. The notion that a dishonest person should not have been a director, nor a biddable person still work as a housing support worker, isn't addressed in their reply. Facts are not important to them either. My hunch is that words and facts are less important than status in way that the organisation is run.

      This is the kind of management that you have to put-up with if you work for grant artists. I once worked for a firm called Equinox, working for rough sleepers in South East London, that treated funders, residents, and staff in a similar way. Not exactly the same way, but fraudulently. Equinox is still going. Quo Vardis Trust, a company and registered charity run by Steve Dellar, does joint work with Equinox apparently.

      Dishonesty is often the end of a process that began with an attempt to run an honest service. People set-up organisations to do impossible or difficult things because they don't know that it's difficult. A general point of view emerges among trustees and around the office, which happens to be the easiest and cheapest thing to believe. Then when managers are hired over time, it's convenient for them to believe the unbelievable. These are London Housing Trust's specialisms, according to the Care Quality Commission.
      • Dementia
      • Mental health conditions
      • Personal care
      • Physical disabilities
      • Caring for adults under 65 yrs
      NHS consultants have trouble specialising in one of those areas and finding a way to help; this rental agency claims to specialise in all of the. It's not unusual. TurningPoint has a similar note on its letterhead, as does English Churches Housing Group. The letterhead says something like "drug alcohol learning difficulties ... those sort of people", and the service is described as "housing", or "working with", or "anything to claim a grant to be honest". The reality is that someone from the temping agency or a junior inexperienced job applicant is called-in to do the job. Whatever it is. Job qualifications and interview questions can mention subjects like "awareness of alcohol issues" in passing, underneath the bit that says "able to use an impress petty cash system". This was the norm in the kinds of housing support agencies I used to work at while temping, and it's only a few steps short of the the fraud that follows. It's a very hard norm to change, because there is no set of people you can ask about what the organisation does. Some staff do a lot; some a little. Some talk a lot, and rise to be team leaders. Others come-in from other jobs and become the grander staff who talk to consultants about how very, very junior their junior staff are.

      Afterthought and digression about schools

      As most secondary schools now work on with similar principals, this it's hard to guess what will happen to secondary schools. Will they become as bad as supported housing agencies? There are reports in the Times Higher Educational Supplement staffroom section of free schools awarding over-priced contracts to their own senior staff under other company names.

      Italics are direct quotes from the London Housing Trust web site - scroll down for a bit about how to be an honest skinflint in the voluntary sector

      Jun 16

      BBC London News Broadcast – Response by London Housing Trust

      Many of our clients and agencies who work with us, may have seen the BBC London News broadcast (08/06/16) about alleged malpractice occurring within the Trust. We unreservedly deny the reported allegations and intend to make a formal complaint to the BBC and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The broadcast was littered with factually inaccurate details and was based on a complaint from one client, who in collusion with a former employee, collaborated to bring the name of the Trust into disrepute. The Trust supports over 200 clients across 47 properties. The journalists honed in on two properties and interviewed two clients and from this made an exaggerated claim of “widespread malpractice”.
      On seeing the broadcast, a number of clients have contacted us voicing their astonishment at the biased reporting and volunteering to give video testimonials of the support that they receive from the Trust.
      If you have any concerns about our work, please do not hesitate to contact our Operations Manager, Winsome Chambers.
      London Housing Trust has not yet been inspected by the Care Quality Commission, after registering in January 2015.

      The Homes and Communities Agency has a very public online notice to say it's inspecting London Housing Trust as a registered social landlord, and links for detail to this page about how to be a registered social landlord. I haven't read the detail but I was in the trade the inspections were from the Housing Corporation and about things like rent, repairs, and the role of staff.

      Dec 2012

      LHT Signs up to the London Living Wage (£8.55 ph)

      On the 31 December London Housing Trust raised all its employees wages to at least the London Living Wage (currently £8.55).

      We believe that, like Boris Johnson “Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right, but makes good business sense too.”  As a Registered Provider of Social Housing, LHT  provides supported accommodation to over 150 clients in London.  Our commitment to our clients must be reflected in our commitment to our staff.

      “Support is one of the lowest paid sectors and providing a living wage means that we can attract the best people in the sector to offer the best support to our clients.  Its part of our people strategy and our corporate responsibilty agenda.” – Dr Stephen Dellar – Director @ LHT

      Update: London Housing Trust has extracted "messages of support" from other organisations as their website described them for a while, Or at least it has extracted feedback about the referral process; quotes show replies to that question. It's not stated whether these were phone interviews or email or what, but the quotes were all made on the same day - eight days after the broadcast - so they were probably obtained by cold-calling people who need referral options for their clients and so are likely to be polite.
      Heather Lord (who works at The Depaul Trust)

      ‘Most referrals have been a positive outcome. I have not faced any issues with LHT.  
      The referral process is not the best although it is online.  LHT could improve the referral form to suit referral agents and well as LHT staff.’
      Malcom Williams (who works at The Passage Day Centre)

      ‘The referral process is fine. I do not have any issues with LHT however they could improve communication with referral agent in regards to clients who have been referred.’


      Tracey Hamilton (who works at Tower Hamlets Council)

      ‘The referral process makes it easy to provide the client information.  LHT is very informative; they call you back regarding a client and if not when you call, they provide you with enough information, so your up to date with everything.’
       Gary Bird (who works at Thamesreach)

      ‘The process of referring clients is very straightforward, its nice quick and easy.  I personally have not faced any issues with LHT and in my opinion there are no improvements needed.   I’ve referred many clients and I will definitely refer more.’  
      Homeless Support Worker (no name, team, or organisation given so this is looks very much like a made-up quote).

      ‘bla bla bla bla bla bla bla this is probably a made-up quote para one’
      ‘bla bla bla bla bla bla bla this is probably a made-up quote para two’
      ‘From all of our Team, we would like to say thank you to the London Housing Trust and at a time like this when you are going through difficulty holding on to positive thoughts and feedback is far more important than journalists causing distress’    

      How to be an honest skinflint in the voluntary sector

      A happy event: is a good site about how be a good skinflint and other subjects that interest prople in the voluntary sector - all published as a wiki with help from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations

      This is quite different to the kind of thing that used to be on head office desks when I worked for the voluntary sector. Subjects like how to work without an office or a landline. Whether there is something on how to work without a Microsoft and and Adobe licence I don't know - that used to the last badge of rank that voluntary sector managers wanted to give-up, even when they were plotting fake gross misconduct allegations to get rid of expensive staff without redundancy, or ripping-off funders and clients with lies about services provided or letting down suppliers. I worked at one place that simply decided not to pay rent on an office in order to rip-off the landlord.

      Oh - here is a clue:
      This author suggests using one donated piece of microsoft software one one remote server. I disagree. I think the default option should be to use free open source software like Libre Office on all machines, updated every few months, so that everyone is using the same software and nobody has to trouble donors. There is a side effect that everyone associated with the organisation learns that free software exists, which is the kind of objective that charities are set-up for; they can pass-on the knowledge to their clients.

      Traditionally, voluntary sector trade associations have had to advise a broad range of organisations, defined by the type of organisation (however broad) rather than a purpose, which is usually something more or less impossible like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick and providing community to those who are hard to reach. All with or without a grant from some government body which is probably reducing while demand increases.

      I found a couple of pages on making the landlord redundant and cutting energy costs legally -both by the same author. They read like something from Moneysavingexpert, which is another good place to look.

      And I almost forgot to add a link to my job - flogging vegan shoes mainly made in the UK, along with boots, belts, and some vegan jackets.

      How to set-up a better firm to your boss's one in the voluntary sector

      When I worked for Drink Crisis Centre, as it then was, there was a rapid turnover of people who were often not on speaking terms with each other, working for the outreach team. My project - hostel liaison - was merged into it on the management diagram, but really I was self-employed with hindrance from a voluntary organisation that took a large grant, kept some of it for management fees or ghost staff, and paid me the rest as salary till on a whim they closed my part of the project and used fake gross misconduct accusations dismissals to remove remaining staff without a reference. What surprised me was that there was no way to set-up a rival organisation with the same staff and the same funder, given that the management team provided next to nothing. All we needed was a formal way of meeting, because we were not all of us on speaking terms, and a bit of free advice from a consultant on how to transfer the project over to a better management team. At the time there was another management team called Rugby House Project that we trusted a bit more and had managed similar things. We needed a union branch that was interested in this kind of work. All the rest would become obious once a union branch had started the process, as, between us, we have most of the knowledge about how the grant system worked and who organised it. Now, people who work with people don't often want to go and work with more people in the evenings in some kind of branch committee and there is a good site about how one of these worked very badly a decade ago, but the idea remains worth a try.

      I doubt the idea would work for London Housing Trust because the staff would more often be on a first job in the trade and keen to move-on to something better-paid rather than stay and do something. This is more of an idea for jobs were people like the work, but don't like the employer, but it might apply.

      Related post about Grenfell Tower and how the behaviour or tenants at Kensington Town Hall links to housing association management styles