Peabody are determined to remove the remaining market tenants from the estate

10 mins read
Peabody Estate St John's Hill - Credit: CJAG

Did anyone at Peabody board level ever care about the fate of the to-be-removed market rent tenants?

At least Tony Bird does. This Independent Housing Adviser/Consultant was approached by concerned parents at the local school to try and help the Tenants who at that time were facing being made homeless just before Christmas of 2021. Since then, he has worked relentlessly to prevent this situation and find a solution to re-house Peabody’s tenants. In this article, he talks about his experience.

I started work as an Independent Housing Adviser/Consultant for the remaining Market Rent Tenants of St John’s Hill Estate in August 2021.It was a Pro Bono appointment. I was officially retired after a long career (47 years) in social housing including 22 years as an Independent Tenants Adviser in Regeneration schemes most of which featured rolling decant programmes. I pioneered Decant Agreements for the Chartered Institute during this experience.

I was also the Co-Author of the Decanting Tenants Good Practice Guide which was published in year 2000 and was/is a standard housing practice text book. It sold over 2,000 copies (and I have been trying to re-write it for the past couple of years).

I had also been a specialist Trainer on Decanting Good Practice for the Chartered Institute of Housing for some 17 years until 2016. I had even trained two Peabody Regeneration staff at the beginning of the St John’s Hill Estate development! I remember them as very enthusiastic! Where did they go?

How I came to work for the remaining market rent tenants at St John’s Hill Estate

I had been approached by concerned parents of one of the local schools (Belleville) to try and help the Tenants who at that time were facing being made homeless just before Christmas of 2021. This impending outcome was causing families with children at the school to be very worried.

One of these parents was at the time a BBC Producer who knew of my specialist in dependent Regeneration work. I have had my own Independent Housing  Consultancy since 1994. I have been an occasional independent commentator on regeneration schemes for the past 19 years. My position was confirmed at a special meeting of the Market Rent Tenants on 11th September at which point they formed an Action Committee to advocate on their behalf. Peabody were advised about this development.

To put it mildly Peabody did not welcome my appointment and have been very un-cooperative to my requests for information about the regeneration. For some months, we were prevented from using the Estate Community Hall for our meetings; we had to meet outside in the courtyard whiles the hall stood empty just yards away. We finally complained to the Peabody Chair Sir Bob Kerslake and the new CEO Ian McDermott about this and they sorted it. It is no longer a problem getting a booking at the hall although Peabody are still highly secretive at giving me requested information about bespoke estate regeneration policies. I am yet to see any bespoke estate policies; the general policies available on the Peabody website are only general, they lack detail. The devil is in the detail.

Sadly the woman who was still apparently the chair of the St John’s Hill Estate Tenants and Residents Association (although she moved off the Estate some 12 years ago!) was not minded to support the Market Rent Tenants who she advised me had no rights to call themselves Tenants.

She had herself been decanted off the Estate some 12 years ago and does not intend to return to the new flats. She now lived in the Shaftesbury Estate in a house. At this time there were, as far as I know, just 10 such Tenants left on the estate. Peabody had been active for some 15 months encouraging all the Market Rent Tenants to get out and surrender the flats to them by December 2021.

No realistic rehousing help was offered that could be described in any way as ‘affordable’ to these Tenants who were all on low incomes. Except for one couple who were financially able to purchase a Shared Ownership flat on the Estate that was due over in September 2022. Peabody were not adverse to the Market Rent Tenants bidding to be considered for one of their high rent vacancies on other hard to let semi-sink estates that Peabody owned or even a Shared Ownership flat but this was not realistic for the Tenants. One Tenant (single person) did however agree to sign up for another Market Rent Tenancy on the other side of London. .

Did anyone at Peabody board level ever care about the fate of the to-be-removed market rent tenants?

The St John’s Hill Estate development finally achieved Wandsworth Council planning permission on 6th June 2012 (Planning Reference 2012/1258). Peabody had been planning this development for several years beforehand. At the time of the planning permission being granted in June 2012, there were only 225 social rent tenants left on the estate out of an original total of 353 Social Rent Tenancies. There were however 128 Market Rent Tenants who had filled up the voids left by the early decanting and casual vacancies.

I have written to ask the Chair of the Peabody Board Sir Bob Kerslake if I could see any Committee papers appertaining to these Market Rent Tenants, especially from the post 2,00 period. I also asked him ‘did anyone care about what happened to them when they left‘?. I am yet to receive a reply.

Market rent tenants are being muscled by Peabody staff without any affordability criteria applied

From what I have seen in the past 6 months the under-termination notice outgoing Tenants get bombarded with letters and notices urging them to just vacate and disappear. The latest is what amounts to an utterly deceitful and cynical proposal by Peabody issued on 22-01-22 to just vacate the flats (with no rehousing included) at the end of March 2022.

This so-called offer intimates the idea that if the Market Rent Tenant does not get out by the end of March 2022 then they will not be able to claim a Home Loss Payment or a Disturbance Payment from Peabody. This is legally untrue as statutory Decant Compensation rights apply no matter what Tenancy Agreement you have. The 1973 Land Compensation Act does not allow for discrimination between different types of Tenancy. This borders on intimidation by Peabody who rely on the Tenants not wanting to challenge their powerful landlord or exercise their rights.

Many of these Market Rent Tenants came from BAME Communities and countries where there is frankly little or no culture to challenge authority, in this case a powerful landlord. They do not, as Assured Shorthold Tenants, have a legal right to rehousing but what happens in many other regeneration schemes is that temporary or non Social Housing households such as hidden homeless within a household rehousing gets included in the decanting decide upon and carried out by the Housing Association Landlord. At this point of wanting vacation, the Housing Association Landlord literally just gets on with the job of deciding who they include in their own rehousing quota.; the Housing Association takes responsibility for their own decanting.

Peabody have literally been trying to dump the rehousing future of the remaining Market Rent Tenants on the local Council who already have some 3,000 homeless household cases on their books.

All the remaining Market Rent Tenants have been registered on the Wandsworth Council Waiting List; it is a complete waste of time. When one of the remaining Market Rent families (Husband & wife and 4 children) did approach the Wandsworth Homeless Families Unit for Homeless Rehousing, they were accepted but only offered a private leased home with a rent of £592 per week! This is a disastrous situation to be in but it represents how Wandsworth Council choose to discharge their rehousing responsibilities.

What the tenants want

What the 5 remaining Market Rent Tenants are demanding is a Social Housing rent that they can afford without BH support and that they are treated the same as the other Peabody Tenants on the Estate.

They see this whole matter as one of discrimination as they live in an overwhelmingly white community. They want respect and choice. Peabody now owns 104, 000 rented homes of which there are over 2.400 in Wandsworth alone. They made an operating surplus in year 2020-21 of £195 million.

The 5 Remaining Market Rent Tenants reject any offers of Market Rents or Intermediate Rents (80% of Market Rent) as they simply cannot afford them. They also need local rehousing. 3 of the families are headed by NHS Nursing staff; they each have children who have local support networks. These NHS staff are true heroes; we used to clap them on a Thursday night last year!

All 5 households are BAME (3 are Black African families, One is Eritrean family and the single man is Afro Caribbean) 3 of the families are overcrowded. Peabody need to ask themselves the question; do they want to proceed to evict such wonderful public servants

Market rents are introduced on the estate

As part of this planning preparation, Peabody had already pro-actively started a programme of decanting their Estate Tenants and filling the subsequent vacancies with what became known as ‘Market Rent’ Assured Shorthold Tenancies.

These new Tenure Tenancies would be charged rents roughly double what the original Assured and Secure Peabody Tenants were paying. I am on record as describing these rents as ‘exploitive and disgraceful‘ for an organisation that calls itself a charity set up to house the poor and needy in London.

The advantage to the Landlord was that they could recover possession of the flats at a time of their choosing in the future, as long as they correctly served the appropriate Tenancy termination papers (known as a Section 21), These Market Rent Tenants had to lodge a considerable deposit with Peabody before they accepted one of the flats. They were asked to sign an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement that was very biased in favour of the Landlord.

For example the Tenancy Agreement featured a schedule of fines that Peabody could make against Tenants if for example they were not present when a Repairs contractor called at their home. For being absent at such a repairs visitation time, the Tenant could be fined £30 but also charged for the cost of the repair that the contractor had been commissioned to carry out! They could also incur an extra 12% rent arrears surcharge if they fell just 2 weeks behind with their rent.

The Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement meant that the landlord could achieve a Possession Order if it progressed to court. There was no description however in the Tenancy Agreement of what would then happen at the expiry of the Agreement. There was no mention that eviction would follow. Nor was this aspect covered in any supplementary papers made available at the time of the sign up.

I carefully explored this matter when I interviewed each of the Market Rent Tenants in September 2021. I found that none of the Tenants with agreements over 2 years old had any knowledge of this aspect at the time when they signed up. Only one of the original 10 (as at September 2021) Tenants that I interviewed even had any basic understanding of the Tenancy Agreement. All said that their sign up was rushed and nothing about their Tenancy Agreement was explained to them.

Peabody lettings staff were always in a rush, especially in the early years of the development.  I also found that most of the 10 Tenants had had no idea that the rents they were paying was so much more than the Peabody Assured and Secure Tenants on the estate

Peabody had offered these early decanted Tenants a Right to Return to the estate at a later date. It would only finally be acknowledged by Peabody in February 2022 that there were only 2 of these decanted Tenants who were interested in returning to a new build flat [Note from CJAG: in October 2021, CJAG asked the same question to Peabody. The did not know the answer and responded they would come back with a figure. They’ve never done it] on the re-built estate. This is not surprising as the delay in the development progressing meant that decanted Tenants had settled in their new communities.

What Peabody are saying

They say that because the Market Rent Tenants are not social rent tenants they refuse to help them as their Lettings Policy says so.

We have asked the Peabody CEO Ian McDermott to say which legislation or regulation prevents this happening? He could not provide a answer nor could the Peabody Assistant Director of Resident Services Claire Morton.

We have noted that Peabody are overdue in reviewing its Lettings Policy which was supposed to happen in April 2021. We think there is a powerful case for Market Rent Tenants living in homes due for redevelopment to be included in the reviewed Peabody Lettings Policy. This would be a fair and equitable solution. We intend to pursue this with the Peabody Board if we have to.

Tenants intend to use the media

The remaining Market Rent Tenants were interviewed by a film unit a week or so ago; the unit will be returning shortly to film at night; they want to get a shot of the fat rats who run around at night.

I have offered to get Sir Bob Kerslake an opportunity to be interviewed by the unit. Should be interesting. Sir Bob has set up an excellent Kerslake Commission (with other ‘great and good’!) to help prevent homelessness and has a report out soon.

The Tenants hope that he sees the parallels with their own impending homelessness… They had repeatedly asked Sir Bob (who they see as a man who can solve problems and effect big changes at the Association) to come to the estate to meet them and hear their presentation to him (including by their children no less!) but he has so far declined to respond. We shall see…

Finally, the most explosive aspect of the tenants case for equal treatment in their decant rehousing

In May 2018, Peabody’s then Chief Executive Brendan Sarsfield made a mayor announcement in the pages of the Inside Housing Magazine that Peabody were launching a mayor initiative to freeze and reduce thousands of their unaffordable rents. Amongst this announced initiative they made a promise to specifically convert their Market Rent Tenancies to Social Rent Tenancies as from April 2019.

This is a very clear undertaking that for some reason Peabody have not delivered on despite their massive operating surpluses for the past 2 years. They certainly did not tell the Market Rent Tenants at St John’s Hill Estate. Converting their Tenancies to Social Rent would have made a huge difference to them.

When this announcement was made back in 2018, Peabody were showered with praise in the housing world, including from Shelter Director Polly Neate!

Before we challenged Peabody on this point, the Market Rent Tenants twice asked me to double check with  the Inside Housing Magazine  (in September 2021 and January 2022) if anyone from Peabody had made any representation to them that the offer was somehow not accurate or true. The Editor of Inside Housing himself checked this out and advised that no one from Peabody has ever disputed the article’s accuracy. Furthermore he stood by his journalist’s accuracy. Peabody have tried to wriggle out of this undertaking but they do not have a leg to stand on.

Watch this space, as they say… The implication here is that the remaining Market Rent Tenants would be treated as per the other Social Rent Tenants on the estate. PROBLEM SOLVED!

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