Monday, 13 June 2016

London Housing Trust

https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2016/06/08/revealed-homeless-housing-trust-accused-letting-domestic-violence-victims-400-week-rooms/ ... 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. 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.

London Housing Trust & 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

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.

So

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

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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.
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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.’
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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.’

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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.’
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 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.’  
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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: https://knowhownonprofit.org/ 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:
https://knowhownonprofit.org/case-studies/upgrading-it-systems-with-very-limited-resources
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.

https://knowhownonprofit.org/case-studies/going-officeless
https://knowhownonprofit.org/case-studies/cutting-energy-costs-1


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
http://veg-buildlog.blogspot.com/2017/06/grenfell-tower.html