Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Leasehold enfranchisement II

* * * * * * *

Readers may recall that I went for a meeting last month at Wandsworth's Home Ownership Unit. I met with a Mr John Watts, Deputy Head of Divisional Support (Professional Services). Mr Carl Lacey, the man I'd spoken to before, was also present.

It turns out that my 'block' is well-known to Mr Watts, and has presented something of an administrative headache for Wandsworth for many years due to anomalies in the service charge structure. There have been meetings on this very subject, and the problem remains unresolved. I don't entirely understand the problem myself, but I'll explain as best I can.

The 'block' of which my flat is part was formerly three separate terraced houses. The ground floor has been laterally converted so that there are only two ground floor flats, and six flats (two per house) on the upper floors. The service charge should have been apportioned between eight flats, i.e. approximately 12% per unit; however, my lease states that I pay 50%. I haven't been paying 50% of the eight flats, but 50% of my 'house' (even though there is no separate freehold 'house'). I think there are other incorrect percentages on other leases (but not all of them). The end result is that Wandsworth have been collecting, I think, 137% of the service charge. Mr Watts said I was probably due for a refund.

In short, selling the freehold would entirely solve the problem, as we could issue new leases for everyone. So Wandsworth are, in theory, keen to sell if (but only if) three other leaseholders are willing to join me in the purchase. As a public body, different laws apply and they are not free to sell to whoever they choose. This now makes sense; otherwise, it's backhander heaven, selling off cheap freeholds to chums, etc.

At the time, I felt briefly optimistic about getting other leaseholders on board, as although I have a 125+ year lease, the majority of leases are around the 71 year mark, meaning the resale value will very soon drop, and Mr Watts estimated that the cost of extending the lease would be similar to the share of freehold purchase were everyone to participate. I think I was also encouraged by Mr Watts, who was very different to my previous experience of Wandsworth officials, being helpful, professional and positive. He kindly offered to write to the other leaseholders. That happened over three weeks ago; no feedback as yet, except from my downstairs neighbours who are pro-purchase. I think I'll put a note through people's doors giving them a push, but I somehow sense general apathy (though it's quite likely me projecting my own apathy - the entire Wandsworth experience has slowly ground me down to the point where it's hard to imagine feeling positive about anything for very long).

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Epic win

* * * * * * *

Hearty congratulations to fellow blogger Niall Connolly, whose criticism of Somerton Town Council in his blog, Muck & Brass, has led to the en masse resignation of 11 of the 15 councillors.

Though I haven't yet read through the whole blog, this post gives an idea of the kind of people Mr Connolly has been up against.

The media, however, has focussed mostly on the so-called "abuse" of the councillors. In reality, you have to look hard to find the quoted insults such as "clowns" and "hypocrites" - hardly the unbearable torrent of abuse claimed by the councillors.

A report in The Times and a clip from Newsnight here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Servicing Stop Ltd follow-up

* * * * *

Following Wednesday's blog post, on Friday I was called by both Jo Preedy of Servicing Stop and John at Acme Garage. They'd seen my blog.

First off, I got a call from John. I was a bit mystified that he was calling me, when I hadn't named his garage and my contract was with Servicing Stop. Anyway, we had a long chat about the whole thing and he sounded sincerely apologetic.

Then about 15 minutes later Jo Preedy rang. She said basically fair enough if you want to complain on your blog, and she apologized if I felt I'd been "let down". But she also felt I'd unfairly depicted her as incompetent, because every single time I'd called to complain she'd contacted the garage (true enough), and there was no point in her calling me as well (so she said) because it was easier for the garage to deal direct.

Yes, of course it's easier, but doesn't this defeat the raison d'etre of Servicing Stop? Aren't they meant to be managing the customer relationship instead of me dealing direct with the garage? And Servicing Stop's T&C state that all complaints/communications must go via Servicing Stop. This means I'm not actually allowed to call the garage, so why is it okay for the garage to call me? The whole system is a fuck up if the point of contact isn't consistently customer-2-Servicing Stop. It may work fine when there are no problems and the car is delivered back on time, therefore no question of customer-2-garage contact; demonstrably not fine when there are problems. At that point, it's even more essential that Servicing Stop makes sure the problem is sorted and the customer goes away happy, or at least not totally and utterly fucked off.

I just don't buy Preedy's claim that because she'd passed my complaint on to the garage every single time she had therefore done her best. She should have stayed on the case the whole way through, and called me and the garage regularly to check progress, not just assume the garage was on top of it. She did admit that it would probably have been a good idea to call me to check up on customer satisfaction levels (I contemplated legal action at least once in the 'silent' periods). But I shouldn't have had to tell her this would have been a good idea.

Preedy went on to explain about short staffing problems as a result of unanticipated increase in business. I told her it wasn't my problem.

I accepted her apology, but she had no answer as to why Mr Oliver "
outstanding customer service" Richmond hadn't called me himself or replied to my letter. Ultimately, I don't blame Jo Preedy. Poor customer service is always the result of poor management.

Click here for all posts on Servicing Stop.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Review of Servicing Stop Ltd

North Londoners Toby & Oliver Richmond

* * * * *

This is a special guest Incompetence Today feature, following an experience of staggeringly bad customer service at the hands of a company called Servicing Stop.

A while ago I watched Dragons' Den on BBC2 and three of the dragons made offers to invest in a company set up by Toby and Oliver Richmond, an online car servicing business which farms out the jobs to garages nationwide, offering competitive fixed prices, compliance with manufacturer’s warranty, free pick-up and delivery, etc. The Richmond brothers accepted Deborah Meaden’s offer of £100K for 30% of the business.

I have no interest in cars and limited experience of garages, mainly confined to being charged a fortune for stuff I'm never quite sure was necessary, and avoiding them generally unless I need an MOT. I drive less than 1,000 miles a year. Anyway, it was three years since my modest four year old Ford Fiesta had been serviced, so I decided to give Servicing Stop a go. I thought that with an investor like Meaden on board, it had to be trustworthy, at least.

What follows is a very dull and long-winded story of crap customer service. So unless you’re contemplating using Servicing Stop Ltd, I recommend you skip it. But if you’ve found this blog post whilst looking for customer reviews of Servicing Stop and are contemplating using them, I urge you to read on. [Edit August 2015 - read the comments, too, still coming in after six years].

* * * * *

I booked a full service, an MOT and asked for a repair to the plastic wing mirror back which had been vandalized three years ago.

DAY 1: Thursday 27 August. For a brief time, it all went swimmingly. The car was collected at 9am by a representative of Acme Garage (not their real name), with a promised delivery time of between 4-6pm that same afternoon. I was impressed - same day service! I wondered a bit about the Acme man giving me his business card. It seemed to defeat the point of Servicing Stop managing the customer relationship - if I thought Acme were brilliant, what's to stop me calling them direct next time? (Quite a lot as it turned out).

The first fly in the swimminess occurred at 5pm, when John of Acme, struggling to pronounce my really not very hard to pronounce name, called me to say my car wouldn't be back today. He assured me it would be back at noon tomorrow.

DAY 2: Noon came and went. At 3pm I called Servicing Stop, whose T&C state that all complaints and communications must be conducted via Servicing Stop Ltd. I got a helpful-sounding woman called Jo Preedy, who apologised and assured me my car would arrive between 4-5pm. At 5.05pm I rang Servicing Stop again. A less-than-helpful bloke said someone would call me back. Nobody did.

I rang again at 5.30pm and spoke to Ms Preedy. She assured me that the garage had promised the car would arrive by 6pm. And, in what later turned out to be a rare example of good customer service, offered me a discount in the form of crediting the payment for repairing the wing mirror (approx £66). All was fine until the car didn't show up at 6pm.

It finally arrived at 8pm. Nobody phoned to check I’d be home to take the keys.

DAY 3: I checked the car. No MOT certificate provided in the glove compartment as I’d been promised, and it was a Saturday and my MOT expired on Monday. Also, the wing mirror hadn’t been repaired.

DAY 6: Monday 31 August was a Bank Holiday. First thing on 1 September, I emailed Jo Preedy with my complaints. (It had got to that stage where I felt it was written complaint time). Ms Preedy didn’t call me back so I called her that afternoon. She said Acme Garage would call me to arrange the mirror repair. They did, and said they’d pick up the car tomorrow.

DAY 7: John of Acme called and said they were having trouble getting the spare part, and he’d call again when they had it.

DAY 17: My car was finally collected for the wing mirror repair on Saturday 12 September. It was returned the same day. The MOT certificate was provided this time, and a postcard from Acme with a box ticked next to ‘interim service’ – when I’d paid for a full service. The car was also leaking oil, a 30cm puddle of it.

DAY 19: I took the car on a 2 mile journey and reparked it to check whether the oil was still leaking. It was; and this time it was coming through the radiator grille.

DAY 20: I rang Jo Preedy. She said the garage would call. John agreed the leak was abnormal and said he would call me back. Two days passed.

DAY 22: Having heard nothing from John of Acme nor Jo Preedy for two days, I wrote a formal letter of complaint to MD Oliver Richmond, asking for another garage to take over the oil leak repair and check that the service work I’d paid for had actually been carried out. I also emailed a pdf of the letter to Jo Preedy. This was Thursday 17 September.

DAY 28: After four working days of silence since the letter, (and six since the oil leak was reported), I got a call from John of Acme, wanting to pick up the car. I rang Ms Preedy and said I wanted a different garage to do it. She put me on hold whilst she consulted Mr Richmond (I got the impression he was sitting next to her). She returned saying this was contrary to Servicing Stop’s T&C. I asked her to direct me to the specific term which mentioned this. She tried, quoting a term which did not contain this restriction, but in the end couldn’t find anything. She put me on hold again to consult with Mr Richmond. Mr Richmond says it’s the law, she said. OIC. I told her that Distance Selling Regulations were the law and to tell Mr Richmond that their T&C didn’t comply with them. She asked me to repeat the phrase “Distance Selling Regulations”.

It would have been nice if Mr Richmond himself had deigned to speak to me, the customer who’d written to him, instead of leaving it up to Ms Preedy to parrot his bullshit at me, but whatev. I said okay, if you refuse then so be it. And that afternoon, Acme picked up the car. The driver’s clipboard notes revealed the source of John of Acme’s pronunciation problem – Acme’s records had my name spelt very weirdly.

DAY 29: Acme called to say they would try to deliver car back that day and would call later to confirm a time. The oil leak was due to a loose cap on the oil thingy, which hadn’t been screwed back on properly. They never did call back.

DAY 30: At noon, still no car, so I rang and was told it’d be with me in five or ten minutes. It was, but no-one had called to check I’d be home.

And no follow up call from Servicing Stop to check that my complaint was now resolved. It's now five days since the car was returned.

* * * * *

I haven’t ‘outed’ the garage as they are not the corporate entity with whom I had a contract. Servicing Stop are responsible for the garages they contract.

What really amazes me is that Richmond didn’t even bother to reply to my letter. The real test of customer service is how you deal with complaints, and good customer service is so moronically simple it beggars belief that they fucked up so badly. Just one sincere letter of apology from Oliver ("Ollie") Richmond would have ensured no bad press on this blog, no bad word of mouth to my friends and potential future custom from me. I was therefore very surprised to find, in an interview with fleetdirectory.co.uk, that Richmond claims to believe “customer service is key”. Absolute proof that this man is officially a wanker.

But he surpasses himself in another interview with Exchange & Mart

"In the past, dealer garages have had widely publicised negative press; ranging from them having a total lack of customer service, to their charging exorbitant prices for repairs and servicing. Amidst all this, we are fighting off the industry's negative image, offering outstanding customer service and slashed prices".
The company's adherence to the principle that the 'Customer is Always Right' is proving successful - they've already had to expand into larger offices and employ more staff, to cope with demand.
So, outstandingly CRAP customer service, plus Servicing Stop is not especially cheap. To add insult to injury, I received a card in the post today from my local Ford dealership, Dees of Wimbledon, offering a £99 full service including parts, labour and VAT plus an MOT for £9.99. Less than half what I paid. I hadn’t bothered to check Dees' prices as the last time I took my car to Dees two years ago to get the aircon fixed, the cost was extortionate and they’d quoted around £150 to repair the wing mirror.

Now I feel ripped off as well. Great.

P.S. More bad feedback to be found in the comments to this other blog post.

And click here for all posts on this blog about Servicing Stop.

Leasehold enfranchisement

* * * * *

I have an appointment with Carl at the Wandsworth Home Ownership Unit on Friday, to discuss buying the freehold. This came about as a result of a mailout they did inviting leaseholders to a 'Buy Your Freehold' open evening. I rang immediately to book a place, literally two minutes after opening the letter.

My flat is part of three houses merged to form a single freehold with eight or nine flats (at least one is a lateral conversion), so apparently it's more complicated, and the upshot was that I was told there was no point coming to the open evening. They needed to get the files for the property first, etc. before it could be discussed.

I'm not optimistic. I know I'd need to get at least three or four other leaseholders on board, which I think is unlikely as people won't want to fork out money if they don't have to. Still, it's worth a shot. I've already asked if I could buy the freehold if I couldn't get enough of the others to cooperate, and Carl said no. I don't know why, as if they want to sell freeholds (presumably a money-making exercise, perhaps disguised as citizen empowerment) then why do they care who buys it?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Mr Crawley's letter

* * * * *

Following on from Wednesday's update, as I said, Mr Crawley has written in response to the stuff I sent him on 20th August, the stuff I thought meant that we'd now be moving on to sorting out the valuation and then the Deed of Variation.

But now he wants more stuff, stuff he's thought of since the onsite meeting. It no longer matters what stuff. It feels like a sisyphean torture, as if I am doomed to correspond with Mr Crawley for eternity and never quite reach the point where he finally agrees that the Deed of Variation may proceed to completion. This feeling is mixed with despondency, and aching boredom with it all.

And anger that this is all down to me being stupid enough to trust Miss Parris, who gets off scot free in spite of the maladministration and the lies.

But, like Claire Zachanassian in D├╝rrenmatt's The Visit, I can wait.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

It's still not over

* * * * *

It's been over four months since I last posted; not because it's all over, but because, in the wake of the roof ridge refund triumph, there seemed to be a general air of rapprochement with Mr Crawley.

An onsite meeting took place in mid-May. Both Mr Crawley and Mr Brophy (the Building Maintenance Manager) attended, and both seemed satisfied with the standard of the work carried out. Positive, approving, noises were made.

Mr Crawley also appeared to accept that I could not provide all the things he had originally demanded, like Public Liability Insurance in excess of £5 million - I mentioned that I had considered trying to get this insurance retrospectively, and he said there would be no point (this being the case, I inwardly wondered why he had repeatedly demanded it). I explained further about the breakdown of cordial relations with the builders, and again he seemed to understand. Anyway, he asked for a few things: a copy of the technical drawings for the sliding doors to the balcony below the roof terrace (not a structural alteration, but whatever...), details of the contractors who installed the railings on the roof terrace, and anything else I could find in my 'files' which might be relevant. In short, it all felt like progress. I actually felt cheered, after years of getting absolutely nowhere.

I then lapsed into a period of laurels and apathy, as finding these documents involved, well, finding them. I have shedloads of paperwork from numerous properties over the years, other work projects, company accounts which I have to keep for seven years, personal tax accounts, stacks of invoices shoved into plastic bags, etc. Until last month, I'd not filed anything except essential stuff for tax purposes for quite some time (years). Non-essential stuff was deployed in various crates stuffed into inaccessible parts of the flat.

I eventually sent the requested documents to Mr Crawley on 20th August. This particular three month delay is, I fully admit, down to my own laziness, holiday-making, and general fear of paperwork. I now have Mr Crawley's reply dated 8th September, but I'll continue this thread tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the leak in the communal hallway was repaired. You will remember that, back in April, Roy Evans had expressed his doubts concerning the simplicity of fixing the leak, in a masterpiece of flawed logic:
"I would obviously be very concerned, particularly given the time period since this leak was first reported, that the remedy was as simple as your plumber suggests"
Unsurprisingly, it turned out that there is no direct relationship between the length of time since a leak is reported and the complexity of the repair. Both my plumbers were right; the leak was due to one leaky valve and it proved unnecessary to excavate the hallway in search of other leaks, as previously advised by the council's contractors.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Trufax -v- Wandsworth Council

* * * * * * *

You'll remember that at the end of March I announced I couldn't write about the court claim against Wandsworth for the time being? Well, I can now.

It was shortly before that post that I received two letters from Ashfords Solicitors. The first invited me to discontinue proceedings against Wandsworth and told me that, either way, they'd go after me for their costs, and use their letter as "evidence of [my] unreasonableness". (Huh?)

The second letter was a Part 36 CPR offer. CPR is short for Civil Procedure Rules; they apply to civil court claims. You can find Part 36 here. As you can see, it's all about offers to settle ("out of court" so to speak) and the consequences if the other party refuses the offer, one of which is that a refusal may expose you to the other party's legal costs, if, ultimately, the judgment is not more advantageous than the offer, or even if it is "at least as advantageous" as the offer. 

So, in effect, this was another way to threaten me with costs. It meant that if I refused the offer put forward, I would have to be damn sure I'd do better in court, or I could end up with a massive legal bill for Ashford's services. 

They offered to pay me £125, but here's the twist - they also wanted me to delete "any reference to the Council, its agents or employees and this firm [i.e. Ashfords]" from my blog, and agree that I would "not refer to this matter or to the terms of any settlement in any publicly available document or electronic medium [i.e. newspapers, my blog]".

In short, they were trying to buy my silence for £125, and scare me into accepting for fear of the possible cost consequences. However, my instinct was not to take this lying down - firstly, I had the huge advantage of knowing the truth and being able to prove at least some of it with hard evidence (in a court which judged only on a balance of probabilities), and secondly, how dare they try to suppress criticism of a public body. 

So, in the spirit of some outrage, and feeling a bit like this was turning into the Winslow Boy, I did some research. It took me a couple of weeks to get to the bottom of it, but eventually I discovered CPR Rule 27.2, which states that Part 36 does not apply to the small claims track (the track to which it was almost certain that my claim would be allocated, as it fell entirely within its scope according to CPR). In addition, Rule 38.6 (regarding Discontinuance and liability for costs) didn't apply to the small claims track either.  Therefore, Ashfords' threats were empty, or as good as.

I can only assume that Ashfords' lack of experience in the small claims track meant that they were ignorant of the special rules which apply. I was quite tempted to go ahead with the claim, but however gratifying it would have been to expose both Ashfords and Ms Parris to the judge's opinion of their conduct, the law should not be treated as a point-scoring exercise, and really all I wanted was the money promised to me, so I took the reasonable approach, and made them a counter offer, pointing out that Part 36 does not apply to the small claims track. My offer was the same as theirs - £125 - but excluding the gagging provisions.

A few days later, Ashfords accepted on behalf of their client. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for the conversation between Ashfords and Wandsworth, where Ashfords presumably had to admit they'd fucked up with the Part 36 offer.

I have the cheque for £125. It's only taken two and half years to get the money. Ashford's bill for this must be at least £500, probably more like £1,000, not to mention the cost of the man hours put in by Mr Crawley in his endeavours not to pay me the refund promised by Ms Parris. Epic misuse of public funds. 

Friday, 24 April 2009

Freedom of information

Apologies for the long silence. This is partly due to very little happening apart from the stuff I'm not allowed to write about. Hopefully, I should have more in the way of updates in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, last month I submitted a couple of Freedom of Information requests via WhatDoTheyKnow; one regarding the number of complaints received by each area team in Wandsworth's Housing Department in the past two years, the other asking for details of the contract between Ashfords Solicitors and the council including the fee scale. I now have the information.

1. The total number of staff in the Housing Department is 410, and there are four area teams - Central, Southern, Eastern and Western - each comprising between 19-22 staff members. I'm not sure what they do apart from managing leasehold properties.

In the years 06/07 & 07/08, these are the figures for Step 1 complaints received by each area team:

  • Central Team: 59 complaints in 06/07; 45 in 07/08
  • Southern Team: 49 complaints in 06/07; 39 in 07/08
  • Eastern Team: 44 complaints in 06/07; 55 in 07/08
  • Western Team: 57 complaints in 06/07; 33 in 07/08

It is interesting that the Eastern Team is the only one in which complaints levels increased in this two year period. Could be a statistical blip but it did rather fulfill my expectations.

2. Ashfords Solicitors' contract with Wandsworth contains a schedule of "notional assessed workload hours" totalling 4,233 hours. If you divide this number by the number of working days per annum - approx. 250 - this is equivalent to 16 hours per day. The total payment for this notional workload is £550,077. 

Anyway, based on these figures, Ashfords' hourly rate is approximately £130. Quite reasonable, really; at least, compared to what my solicitor charges. But it's like going to a wholesaler and buying 10,000 bog rolls. This makes me wonder, if I got 100 friends together, we could merge to become a single buyer of professional services such as accountants and solicitors - one could probably negotiate some great deals.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

HHSRS & Mould

* * * * *

Along with blossom, daffodils and warm spring weather comes the perennial delight of fungus in the communal parts. The carpet is so soggy now it squelches when you walk on it. 

On the subject of mould and fungus in the home, the Government's Housing Health and Safety Rating System Operating Guidance (Housing Act 2004) booklet says:

Description of the hazard
1.01 This category covers threats to health associated with increased prevalence of house dust mites and mould or fungal growths resulting from dampness and/or high humidities. It includes threats to mental health and social well-being which may be caused by living with the presence of damp, damp staining and/or mould growth.

Potential for harm

Most vulnerable age group and statistical averages
1.02 The most vulnerable age group is all persons aged 14 years or under.
The neighbours downstairs have a small baby]

Mould growth
1.08 Although less significant statistically in health terms, spores of many moulds and fungi (including timber attacking fungi) can be allergenic. The spores can also be carcinogenic, toxic and cause infections; the potential health effect varying with species. Fungal infection, whilst not common, is usually associated with those vulnerable to infection (such as those on immuno-suppressant drugs). Some fungi, particularly when in very high concentrations, can also colonise the airways of susceptible individuals, particularly asthmatics. Toxins from some moulds (mycotoxins) can cause nausea and diarrhoea, can suppress the immune system, and have been implicated in cancers. Although uncommon, these are serious if they occur.

Social and mental health effects
1.09 The mental and social health effects of dampness and mould should not be under-estimated. Damage to decoration from mould or damp staining and the smells associated with damp and mould can cause depression and anxiety. Feelings of shame and embarrassment can lead to social isolation

Regulations relating to Housing Health & Safety are enforced by local government.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Roy Evans finally replied

* * * * *

Roy Evans, Director of Housing and Mr Step 2, finally replied, thus saving me the heartache and misery of writing to Mr Jones again. The letter is dated 31st March but didn't arrive until 2nd April

He obviously won't discuss the refund as that's in the court's hands. Fair enough. 

Regarding the landlord's consent, he completely avoids the point - i.e. Mr Crawley's total inflexibility and failure to acknowledge that I can't provide documents that were requested years after the event - and says:
"Tom Crawley is quite correct in that irrespective of Planning Consent or Building Control approval, the written permission of the Council, as landlord is required prior to any such works being undertaken and that the works if approved may require a variation of your lease."
Like, duh. I know I need permission; that's why I wrote to Ms Parris in 2006 before the works began asking for permission! (BTW, like Mr Crawley, Mr Evans is careful never to mention Ms Parris). Anyway, he wants me to "take up the offer of arranging an appointment with Mr Crawley for an inspection" following which Mr Crawley "will advise you on how the matter can be progressed and thereby remedy the current breach of your lease conditions". Yes, and I know exactly what that advice will be - please provide the following documents....etc. 

Mr Evans' letter continues with a paragraph which starts well but quickly descends into flawed logic:
"Concerning the leak, I understand that you feel that on the advice of your plumber, the destructive survey currently being proposed is not necessary and that all is required is for the renewal of a stopcock. [Yes, yes, and...] I would obviously be very concerned, particularly given the time period since this leak was first reported, that the remedy was as simple as your plumber suggests."
So - Mr Evans is concerned that the leak isn't a simple repair because it was reported three years ago? I don't know the premise upon which this logic is based, but it is clearly unsound. 

He thinks it would be a good idea to have a meeting with my plumber, their contractor, Steve Brophy the Building Maintenance Manager, and me. However, I can't ask my plumber to waste time coming to a meeting to say exactly what he said in his report to a person who didn't bother to carry out a proper inspection, and for a job he's unlikely to get. 

The letter concludes with a rare admission that "in respect of the delays in responding to your concerns and the apparent loss of paperwork, I would agree that this is unacceptable and I offer my apologies for this lapse in our normal high standard of service delivery." And, finally, Mr Evans assures me that I won't be charged for costs associated with the repair, which is obviously a win, but I wonder why he doesn't mention the buildings insurance. 

If I'm not paying for it, they're welcome to dig up the hall to find the non-existent leaks. I suppose I should still go along with the high-level leak conference (without my plumber), if only to point out all the redecoration that will need to be done. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Announcement regarding the claim for the refund

* * * * *

As the claim for the refund is pretty much up and running now, I'm going to leave off claim updates till after it's settled. This is in order to avoid any risk of being held in contempt of court - however unlikely this may seem given the nature and size of the claim. When it's over I promise I'll fill you in on all the gory details.

Meanwhile, I will of course continue to keep you all posted on the thrilling developments which arise with regard to the repair of the leak, the existence of Mr Evans, etc. 

(BTW, in case any of you are wondering where I get my funny cat pictures and illustrations from, they are mostly ganked from communities on LiveJournal, as was today's image. No idea who made it or why, but somehow it seemed...apt). 

Monday, 30 March 2009

Roy Evans, Wandsworth's Director of Housing, still hasn't replied to my letter

* * * * *

Follow up to my post last Wednesday, it's now two weeks since the Chief Executive, Gerald Jones, forwarded my letter to the Director of Housing, Roy Evans, and Mr Evans still hasn't responded. 

It is worth noting that Wandsworth's citizens charter says it will respond to complaints "in an efficient and understanding way." They promise to: "send an acknowledgement letter to you within 5 working days if we cannot deal with your complaint immediately" and "send you a final written answer within 10 working days of receiving your complaint".

I'll give it a couple more days then if he still hasn't I may write again to Mr Jones  telling him his BFF Mr Evans hasn't replied yet again. 

Thursday, 26 March 2009

My hero

Daniel Hannan's recent speech in the European Parliament, directed at the Prime Minister. Really cathartic to see incompetence being attacked so eloquently. Note Gordon Brown's pathetic smirk. 

Mr Hannan, you are full of win and awesome.

Blog Summary: II

* * * * *

It's a while since the last summary, so here's another catch-up for n00bs.

THE REFUND FOR THE REPOINTING: Ashfords Solicitors have submitted their defence, comprising a broad denial of everything. The existence of Ms Parris has been confirmed by a rare sighting of her signature on the defence's "statement of truth". Mr Crawley has referred my request for statements from Ms Parris and the council technician to Ashfords, carefully avoiding any mention of the words "Ms Parris" or "statements".

THE LEAK IN THE COMMUNAL HALL: I've written to Mr Crawley telling him it's not necessary to "excavate" the hall because we know where the leak is, and pointing out that it's a buildings insurance claim so I'm not liable for the cost of repair/redecoration. I've asked him to send a loss assessor (as I previously asked Ms Parris to do in 2006). I await Mr Crawley's response. Not hopeful and assume all my points will be ignored.

LANDLORD'S CONSENT: Mind games time. I wrote to the Chief Executive, Gerald Jones, and he replied saying it wasn't a "Step 3" complaint because the Director of Housing, Roy Evans, (Mr Step 2), hadn't replied to my "Step 2" complaint to him dated July 2008, Mr Crawley had (but he's not Mr Step 2), so he was forwarding my letter to the Mr Evans (yes, I know it doesn't make sense). I'd naively assumed that Mr Crawley had been replying on Mr Evans' behalf over the past seven months since Mr Evans himself hadn't replied to my July 2008 letter. Anyway this all means that Mr Crawley was just "Step 1" so the two years of Ms Parris not replying to my letters don't count and my complaint only began in July 2008, as there is no "Step 0" in council complaints procedure-land. Mr Evans has yet to acknowledge receipt of the letter forwarded to him by Mr Jones nine days ago and I am unimpressed, but resigned.

This is because, following Mr Jones' letter, it finally sank in that they are all zombies and I am not dealing with reasonable people with any desire to resolve the issues. It's increasingly clear that the council's primary concern is to avoid admitting any maladministration and moreover they have the supreme confidence that, as council employees, normal consequences like getting the sack for being crap at your job don't apply. Look at how much Sharon Shoesmith bleated about it.

In other news, I've started a satirical twitter called Crawley's Tweets [EDIT: tweets now deleted]. Ashfords Solicitors have discovered my blog which means there may be a time lag in some of what I post for strategic reasons. I'm reviewing my options in terms of machete-ing a way through this maze of incompetence and bureaucracy, TBA at a later date.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

No word from Roy Evans

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You'll remember that the last I heard from Gerald Jones, Chief Executive of Wandsworth Council, he'd completely ignored my complaints and passed the buck back to Roy Evans, Director of Housing?  The very same Roy Evans who I already wrote to back in July 2008. Mr Jones' letter was dated 16th March; today is 25th March and I have yet to receive any response from Mr Evans. You'd think that if you were Mr Evans, and you got a letter forwarded to you from your Chief Exec, you might just bother to send a two line acknowledgment. (That is, unless it arrived on your desk with a Post-It note stuck on it saying "This is low priority").

I have, however, had an acknowledgment from the Mr Crawley dated 17th March which I assume has to be for my letter about the leak dated 12th March. Can't say for certain as Wandsworth's acknowledgments don't give the date of your letter, just the date it was received into the bowels of the inferno. 

Monday, 23 March 2009

Sian Gibbon's middle name

I noticed that the covering letter which came with Wandsworth's defence from Sian Gibbon at Ashfords Solicitors has the reference "SLG/SLG 123456" so I think it's not unreasonable to assume that her middle name begins with an L.

I've created a *fun poll* in the sidebar where you can vote on what Ms Gibbon's middle name is. Choices include Louise, Ludmilla (suggested by fellow blogger Robert Bonnett), Lucinda, Lola, LaToya, Linda, Lorraine, Laura, Lesley, Lindsay, Lisa,  and Lynette. 

If you want to put a face to the name before deciding, Google Ashfords Solicitors and click on the "Our Partners" button. There's a photo of her there.

Edit: No, we'll never know the answer to what Sian Gibbon's middle name is, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun guessing. 

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Blue custard thinking

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I've decided not to reply to Gerald Jones' letter;  I realized it would be a complete waste of time when he's made it obvious he doesn't give a fuck. Instead I'm going to go to Martin Linton MP's next surgery and hopefully get him on side. Meanwhile, I will continue to go through the motions of corresponding with Wandsworth regarding the leak and the landlord's consent, but with extremely lowered expectations of getting anywhere. I haven't ruled out contacting the local press, chaining myself to the wheelchair ramp handrail outside the town hall, or blue custard. 

I've also decided to have more behind-the-scenes fun, to alleviate the debilitating effects of dealing with the council. To this end, inspired by the banality of twitter and of local government, I've started a twitter called CrawleysTweets (with an anonymous co-author), which you can follow here, or in the sidebar (bear in mind it's early days and we're just getting the hang of it). 

And tomorrow I will be posting *a new fun poll*.

On the subject of polls, we have an outcome for the last one:  "Do you think Mr Crawley's reply to my letter dated 24th February will...etc." Mr Crawley finally replied this week saying, 
"As you rightly point out the issue of the roof pointing is now the subject of a court claim. This matter has been referred to our solicitors, Ashfords, and they will contact you regarding this claim in due course."
Yup, no acknowledgment of Ms Parris' existence; not even an acknowledgment of the existence of my request for written statements. Maybe Ms Parris should be added to the list of banned words compiled by the Local Government Association.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Wandsworth "number one for service and value"

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Every letter that is spewed forth from the fifth bolgia of the eighth circle of Hell a.k.a. Wandsworth Borough Council has this tagline at the bottom: "number one for service and value" in oh-so-accessible lower case. Over time, I've come to view this with extreme cynicism. I don't care what the Audit Commission says, or how many stars it has awarded to Wandsworth, a more accurate slogan would be "we don't care so don't fucking bother". They could use the universally despised Comic Sans font.

I've been too bored and dispirited with the whole thing to write back to the Chief Executive yet. I know that's the whole point of the complaints procedure, to grind you down, so I think I need to step back and examine strategy before proceeding. The matter of the refund is at least under control, as it's up to the judge to decide, not the council. But aside from the trio of unresolved issues, one must also consider the context of maladministration as well as the implications of Ms Parris' signature on the statement of truth. This isn't something that anyone employed by the council is likely ever to address, judging by the total absence of interest shown by Gerald Jones, the Chief Executive.

I've discovered that the MP for Battersea, Martin Linton, with a majority of 163, is Labour, not Conservative as I'd assumed (given the overwhelmingly Conservative council). He may well take an interest in maladministration in Wandsworth Council. It depends what sort of man he is, I suppose, but his being Labour is surely an advantage. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dreams of blue custard

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As you probably gathered, I was in a rage this morning. Part of it was sheer disappointment; I'd been hoping - foolishly, it turns out - that I'd finally get somewhere with Gerald Jones looking into my complaints, after months of going round in circles with Mr Crawley. Instead, his letter was entirely focussed on buck-passing on the spurious premise that my letter of July 2008 to the Director of Housing, Roy Evans, was not a Step 2 complaint because Mr Crawley replied to it and not Mr Evans himself. I can't entirely get my head around this; if Mr Crawley wasn't replying to my letter on behalf of Mr Evans, then the only alternative explanations are:
1) Mr Crawley has been secretly opening and responding to the Director of Housing's post behind his back.

2) It's part of the council's unwritten complaints procedure whereby complainants are fooled into thinking they've made a Step 2 complaint, because sending them back to square one will usually result in the complainant losing the will to live, thus 'solving' the complaint and removing the inconvenience of having to deal with it.
I'll be writing to Mr Jones tomorrow. 

Le sigh.

Reply from Gerald Jones, Chief Executive of Wandsworth Council

Would you agree I've been really patient up to now? Like, really, really patient and reasonable in the circumstances and you can't believe how reasonable and patient I've been considering this has all been going on for three years? Yes? Okay. Read on. 

This is Gerald Jones' reply to my letter of 13th March. 
"You have requested that your complaint be considered as a Step 3 complaint. However, from your letter you say that you made a Step 2 complaint in July 2008 and that you received a response from Mr Crawley and not the Director. Accordingly a copy of your correspondence has been forwarded to the Director of Housing asking him to arrange for the matter you raise to be investigated and a reply sent to you direct."
Yes, I wrote to the fucking Director of Housing in July 2008 and Mr fucking Crawley replied. The Director of Housing did not fucking reply. I therefore fucking assumed that Mr fucking Crawley was fucking replying on behalf of the fucking Director of Housing. If he wasn't, then how come the fucking Director of Housing didn't fucking reply?

Gerald Jones can go fuck himself. 

That is all.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

"The definition of a complaint is as follows: A clear expression of dissatisfaction in connection with either a council provided service or policy"

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Following a Freedom of Information request submitted via the awesome What Do They Know website, I am in possession of a copy of the Complaints Recording guidelines reissued to Wandsworth Housing Department staff following the alarming discovery "early in 2007/2008" that "a number of items were being recorded as complaints in error". [Quoted from the Annual Complaints Report, Paper 08-513, available to download here]. 

Here's an extract from the guidelines specifically relating to my experiences with Ms Ann Parris and Mr Tom Crawley. It's part of a breakdown of what constitutes - in Councilspeak  - a "Service Delivery Failure." Kudos for bravely employing the word failure instead of a euphemism, however I can't help noticing that lying and dishonesty are omitted from the list of failures. 

I've underlined/bolded all the bits that apply to Ms Parris and Mr Crawley:
Staff Error - Where the complaint is the result of an error or omission by a member of staff. Examples include:
  • Complaint not dealt with in set time scale (speed of response)
  • Telephone calls/letters not responded to (keeping client informed)
  • Adopting incorrect procedures
  • Failing to pass on information requested
  • Failing to undertake general tasks
  • Failing to keep appointments
  • Any action/non-action creating gaps in service delivery
  • Incorrect assessment of housing register and other similar application forms
Staff Attitude - Where the complaint is the result of the way in which a member of staff has dealt with an issue. Examples include:
  • Rudeness
  • Unhelpful
  • Obstructive
  • Arrogant
  • Making racist or sexist comments
  • Fairness [presumably they mean unfairness]
  • Not listening to problems
  • General staff conduct
It's rather a lot of fails, isn't it? Even excluding lying. In the private sector, this many fails would result, at the very least, in a warning, not a promotion.