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

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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

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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.