Comment: Housing trust secrecy is an insult to tenants

Amid all the confusion surrounding Watford Community Housing Trust’s plans to levy new service charges of up to £600 a year on its tenants, one thing is clear: The tenants are a powerless element of the housing trust.

And after the events of the last few months, its jargon about “empowering” tenants and putting them at the heart of its decision making is looking decidedly hollow.

In November, tenants were informed by letter that the trust needed to recoup £2.5m for “additional services” it said it had not previously been charging for. These included services such as grounds maintenance, caretaking, fire alarms and looking after communal services.

The result would be an extra weekly charge for tenants on top of their rent and, understandably, the result was an outcry.

From the numerous calls I received from tenants on the newsdesk, it was clear the letter was the first time they had any idea these new charges were coming down the chute. It was also clear they were not only angry, but many were also scared about the impact these new charges would have.

There was little specific information other than that the charges would be up to £12 a week and would be phased in gradually over three years.

This left many people wondering what impact it would have on household budgets and what the consequences would be for those who were unable to pay.

From the view of the tenants I spoke to, the decision to impose these new fees was made behind closed doors and then imposed by diktat.

Following the angry reaction from many tenants, the trust belatedly added some concessions to its fees plan, such as extending their phased introduction from three to five years and said the maximum charge will not be as much as £12 a week.

The trust says the fact that it has made these concessions is proof it has listened to its tenants. However, I suspect if they had truly listened, the charges would be rescinded completely.

To many tenants the charges appear grossly unfair. One tenant I spoke to pointed out that hitherto these communal services had ostensibly been paid for by the trust with money from tenants’ rents. So the new service charge was essentially being imposed like a second Council Tax.

However, we do not know how the trust’s finances work as they, like the decision-making process, is hidden from the public.

The decision was taken by the trust’s board behind closed doors and the finances on which it is based are not open to the public.

After the decision over the fees was announced and the outcry started, the trust then showed its true colours when it comes to openness. It will not tolerate it.

At a series of meetings held with tenants, it banned not only members of the press from attending but also local councillors. This is faintly absurd seeing as it is Watford Borough Council’s housing stock the trust is running.

Had service charges been imposed when the council ran its own housing stock, it would have been made at an open meeting, where the finances were open to public scrutiny.

But where once there was democracy and accountability, that has now been removed.

And the social housing tenants of Watford have been left without democratic representation or recourse.

Comments (8)

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1:29pm Fri 4 Jan 13

MarsLander says...

Secrecy is often a cover for greed, corruption or incompetence.

If there is nothing to hide, why all the secrecy?

The question now remains, "how do we change the trust to something that is transparent and runs in the interests of the town"? It should not have been allowed to operate in such secrecy, it's accounts should be made public.

Where is all the money going anyway? How much do the trust take? Who, if anyone,is on high and unjustified salaries at the trust?

Some blame must attach to the council who allowed this trust to be set up in this way. The fact Dotty appoints people to the board just makes it worse.

The board needs to be ousted and a new board installed, one that will do away with the blanket of secrecy.
Secrecy is often a cover for greed, corruption or incompetence. If there is nothing to hide, why all the secrecy? The question now remains, "how do we change the trust to something that is transparent and runs in the interests of the town"? It should not have been allowed to operate in such secrecy, it's accounts should be made public. Where is all the money going anyway? How much do the trust take? Who, if anyone,is on high and unjustified salaries at the trust? Some blame must attach to the council who allowed this trust to be set up in this way. The fact Dotty appoints people to the board just makes it worse. The board needs to be ousted and a new board installed, one that will do away with the blanket of secrecy. MarsLander

2:23pm Fri 4 Jan 13

Wacko Jacko says...

Conspiracy or cockup? I'm charitable enough to assume it is the latter, but the Trust now need to put some effort into redeeming themselves and engage their tenants in a meaningful way. The tenants must be fully involved with the decision making process as it's their money the Trust is spending.
Conspiracy or cockup? I'm charitable enough to assume it is the latter, but the Trust now need to put some effort into redeeming themselves and engage their tenants in a meaningful way. The tenants must be fully involved with the decision making process as it's their money the Trust is spending. Wacko Jacko

2:38pm Fri 4 Jan 13

Mohandas says...

Well said Wacko Jacko.WCHT has mishandled the engagement with their tenants. Goodwill is very difficult to build but easily lost. Power currupts and absolute power currupts absolutely and is something that political groups and those who have monopoly power are prone to in terms of protecting 'their interests', hiding the unacceptable, and saving face.When was the last time that those in power apologised for strategically mismanaging a situation. Even WFC has had their fair share of the good, bad and ugly in court cases.
Well said Wacko Jacko.WCHT has mishandled the engagement with their tenants. Goodwill is very difficult to build but easily lost. Power currupts and absolute power currupts absolutely and is something that political groups and those who have monopoly power are prone to in terms of protecting 'their interests', hiding the unacceptable, and saving face.When was the last time that those in power apologised for strategically mismanaging a situation. Even WFC has had their fair share of the good, bad and ugly in court cases. Mohandas

3:58pm Fri 4 Jan 13

garston tony says...

Cllr's where banned from attending meetings? Does that include the ones on the board? Cant see how that could be enforced, is that right?

As to tenants having no say arent the current chair and vice chair tenants along with other board members? Arent they elected by the tenants? That doesnt sound very un democratic to me, rather the opposite. And tenants were allowed to attend the meetings so again the people who are going to be affected were communicated with.

There has been a communication cockup up but does make the charges themselves wrong.

Also the WO is not a red top, there is no need for such stir mongering which is what I feel the chief writer is aiming for
Cllr's where banned from attending meetings? Does that include the ones on the board? Cant see how that could be enforced, is that right? As to tenants having no say arent the current chair and vice chair tenants along with other board members? Arent they elected by the tenants? That doesnt sound very un democratic to me, rather the opposite. And tenants were allowed to attend the meetings so again the people who are going to be affected were communicated with. There has been a communication cockup up but does make the charges themselves wrong. Also the WO is not a red top, there is no need for such stir mongering which is what I feel the chief writer is aiming for garston tony

5:32pm Fri 4 Jan 13

theturpster says...

Get a mortgage. It's less of a stress.
Get a mortgage. It's less of a stress. theturpster

12:25am Sat 5 Jan 13

Razor Sharp says...

This is a rather simplistic article. The first article consisted of a councillor critiquing the Trust. Now this article focuses on the tenants critiquing the trust.

It fails to explore councillor complicity, acquiescence, tacit consent and association with a system that supports secrecy. it also does not consider the WBC and councillor involvement in setting-up the Offer Document in the first place and a system that permitted this situation to crystalise.

Where were the lines of accountability, responsibility, effective consultation and involvement and governance?

Where is WO's investigative spirit? It seems like armchair journalism to me.
This is a rather simplistic article. The first article consisted of a councillor critiquing the Trust. Now this article focuses on the tenants critiquing the trust. It fails to explore councillor complicity, acquiescence, tacit consent and association with a system that supports secrecy. it also does not consider the WBC and councillor involvement in setting-up the Offer Document in the first place and a system that permitted this situation to crystalise. Where were the lines of accountability, responsibility, effective consultation and involvement and governance? Where is WO's investigative spirit? It seems like armchair journalism to me. Razor Sharp

10:40am Sat 5 Jan 13

Roy Stockdill says...

It's not difficult to discover from the community trust's website the names of all the board members, plus the executive management team. The contact details are all there also.

Shouldn't disgruntled tenants be writing, telephoning and e-mailing every single one of them to voice their displeasure? Perhaps this would concentrate their minds.

However, I have to agree with theturpster that it is much preferable, at least for those who are in work and can afford it, to get a mortgage to buy your own home. I've never understood why anyone should choose to pay rent to a council or housing trust unless they absolutely have no choice.
It's not difficult to discover from the community trust's website the names of all the board members, plus the executive management team. The contact details are all there also. Shouldn't disgruntled tenants be writing, telephoning and e-mailing every single one of them to voice their displeasure? Perhaps this would concentrate their minds. However, I have to agree with theturpster that it is much preferable, at least for those who are in work and can afford it, to get a mortgage to buy your own home. I've never understood why anyone should choose to pay rent to a council or housing trust unless they absolutely have no choice. Roy Stockdill

12:23pm Sat 5 Jan 13

John Dowdle says...

Buyers of former council properties do not become freeholders but are lease holders. As such, they are liable for the same charges as tenants. There may be leaseholder and tenant representatives on the WCHT Board. If there are, then they should be leading the information campaign, explaining why charges are having to be increased and what the benefits for tenants and leaseholders will be as a result.
Buyers of former council properties do not become freeholders but are lease holders. As such, they are liable for the same charges as tenants. There may be leaseholder and tenant representatives on the WCHT Board. If there are, then they should be leading the information campaign, explaining why charges are having to be increased and what the benefits for tenants and leaseholders will be as a result. John Dowdle

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