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Talk to the Scottish Monitoring Group
on Housing & Homelessness
Saturday, 10 February 2007
Pollokshaws Burgh Hall, Glasgow
GHA Ltd - a legal report card
In October 2005, an editorial in The Herald asked what had changed for the 80,000 tenants in Glasgow since stock transfer?
What had been delivered?
Second stage transfer hadn't been delivered and by all accounts never will unless the GHA gets another half a billion pound subsidy.
There had been some new kitchens and bathrooms installed - and from our clients' experience sometimes poorly fitted with tenants being left to clear up the mess. New kitchens are nice but they are not repairs.
Back in 2005, The Herald rebuked the GHA for betraying 30,000 tenants - stranded in homes under review for demolition - which had received no capital investment since 2003. The newspaper's leader claimed that the GHA had perpetuated:
' ... a form of social apartheid in Glasgow ... condemning the less fortunate to a continuation of the cycle of poor housing, poor health and poverty'. (28 October 2005, Leader, The Herald)
Today in February 2007, I ask what has changed?
Regretably, I can tell you nothing - except for the resignation of Michael Lennon - the GHA's Chief Executive. Mr Lennon's sole achievement was the doubling of his salary within three years to £200,000 per annum.
In many respects, conditions are now worse for many tenants and homeowners in Glasgow. I shall justify that statement in a second.
Communities Scotland are currently inspecting the GHA and Govan Law Centre was asked for its views. What I would like to do over the next few minutes is present a report - a legal report card if you like - from the experience of some of the law centre's 1700 or so clients.
Firstly, the adoption of a '10 year review' policy by the GHA on thousands of properties means that families will not receive habitable repairs while the future of properties remains undecided. Besides being unlawful, we believe any reasonable housing association would move families into dry and warm accommodation if they were unable to carry out repairs. The failure to do so indicates that the GHA's service to tenants in substandard accommodation is wholly inadequate. I know that Stirling Howieson is going to talk about the impact of poor housing on health - all I would say is that the GHA's failure to tackle poor housing is making many adults and children physically sick in Glasgow.
In eviction cases many LHOs refuse to co-operate with us as the tenants' legal representative. They refuse to provide us with copies of documents, and refuse to change their court instructions when we present them with new information.
GHA's 'management' company factors around 26,000 owner-occupied properties in Glasgow. The activities of this company and its debt enforcement strategy is a major cause of social exclusion and poverty in this City. The GHA often carries out unnecessary renewals in order to spend budgets, and bills owner-occupiers for thousands of pounds. We have a client who was told to pay a £9,000 bill within 12 months - if you don't the GHA will take you to court. There is no need to be so inflexible.
GHA's charitable objective is to manage housing for 'necessitous' people. Many homeowners on pensions or benefits are necessitious, yet the GHA forces them into poverty by excluding reasonable time to pay.
The quality of works carried out by the GHA is often poor. The GHA seems happy to employ the cheapest of contractors and use the cheapest materials.
Many of our clients report that when they take entry to a new GHA tenancy they have to remove the previous tenant's rubbish and clean the property. And the GHA tells us it is 'customer focused'.
Finally, when tenants are taken to court for rent arrears and make arrangements to repay their debt many local authorities in Scotland will not seek court expenses. Expenses are typically £300 to £400. Why does the GHA insist on charging tenants on benefits court expenses? If it was a genuine charity it would not do so.
In conclusion then.
The GHA enjoys more public subsidy and cashflow than any other RSL in the UK. Why after almost 4 years of its 'housing revolution' are so many families still living in conditions no better than the slums of old? The answer can only lie at the door of Granite House, GHA's HQ.
GHA's Board and CEO have failied to show leadership, failed to manage their organisation, and worst of all they have failed to care about the health and welfare of Glaswegians.
Michael Lennon may have pondered these inhumane failures on his flight back to Oz; job not done, but with almost £1m in salary safely trousered. But I suspect not.
What is clear is that the Scottish Executive has the power to replace GHA's board and senior management. The solution is simple.
The Board has failed. They must go.
Let's appoint people with a proven track record of success.