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Circle drops a Clarion over “unhealthy legacy” on repairs
Clarion Housing Group got off to stumbling start after tripping over problems with the repairs service it inherited from Circle Group. The case highlights why consumer regulation still matters, writes Phil Morgan
THE Clarion Housing Group, formed of Affinity Sutton and Circle, begins life at an uncomfortable, if technically compliant, G2 rating. This has been caused by an unhealthy legacy from Circle Group on repairs, complaints and responding to concerns.
These issues at Circle first surfaced back in 2015 when the regulator downgraded Circle following failure of its repairs service. This was significant for two reasons. Firstly, this was (and remains) the sole time that a social landlord had been downgraded for a non-health and safety issue on consumer regulation, and secondly the downgrade was to a non-compliant G3.
The finding was damning about the “exceptionally poor provision of repairs and maintenance”; that Circle had “failed to control delivery of a core service and respond effectively to serious underperformance” and, over a period of three months, Circle reported that less than 20% of urgent and emergency repairs were completed on time and elsewhere less than 50%. Referrals received by the regulator provided extensive evidence that for over a year tenants, including vulnerable tenants, had experienced significant difficulties in getting essential repairs done, either on time or at all.
In early 2016 Circle gave assurances to the regulator that everything was now resolved and the Regulatory Notice was lifted. Except that everything was not resolved.
There were fresh concerns about the repairs and maintenance service, and further concerns about the way in which complaints about these were treated. The cases involved numbered in the hundreds and included tenants, councillors and MPs.
The regulator, in making the downgrade for the Clarion Group, criticised the repairs service, the contact and complaints service and, most worryingly, the information on Circle’s performance on general statutory compliance. Again concerns were raised about services to vulnerable tenants.
The concern of the regulator is well founded. The Circle board, having failed to ensure core delivery of services, then gave assurances about resolving these issues which were shown to be unsubstantiated. The regulator will want to think carefully about checking future assurances on consumer regulation.
Clarion Group, with a strong-minded chief executive, will want to resolve these issues around repairs, complaints and compliance. Consumer regulation remains an important part of the protection on safety and services tenants rightly seek.
Phil Morgan is a leading authority in tenant and resident involvement and works as a consultant, commentator and speaker