Changes have long been required at the quango, and at least we can now have dialogue with someone who has publicly and repeatedly acknowledged that there are defects in the sector.
Roger has spoken out specifically about insurance commissions in the past and references Carlex as supporting his reforming initiatives on his Wikipedia page. Melissa Briggs, then running Carlex (and still a director), did have meetings with him in 2010/11.
Roger believes that there have been improvements in leasehold standards and service delivery, “but there is further to go”.
He also supports ways “how we raise the game of those not delivering a good service and remove those who never will deliver a good service”.
Roger founded Chainbow in 1989, employs 29 full-time staff who manage 90 developments, or the homes of 3,850 leaseholders.
He is a colourful character among the professionals in the leasehold sector – which is not a hotly contested field – combining tailor-made purple suits with winkle-pickers and a bow tie. These displays appear to echo the corporate livery of Chainbow.
Roger’s biography can be read on his personal website here
Carlex: Many congratulations for taking on the role of chairman of the Leasehold Advisory Service. Can you explain what made you apply for the role?
RS: Thank you and it is a role I am immensely proud to be appointed to. I applied because I wanted to use my experience of the leasehold market to work with the organisation. We are at a time where there is a lot of focus on housing and leasehold and it is incumbent on all involved in any way shape or form to stand up and work together to improve the market.
Carlex: What do you hope to achieve as chairman of LEASE?
RS: I have no set goals or aspirations at this stage. As with anything I do I will lead from the front and provide support, leadership and guidance to allow the LEASE team to deliver the best possible service in all they do.
Carlex: Politicians, and the public, believe LEASE was set up to help ordinary leaseholders. But it has been repeatedly made clear by LEASE that this is not the case. LEASE’s role is to provide free, impartial legal advice on leasehold law to all: leaseholders, freeholders and leasehold professionals.
RS: We are going through a triennial review and the outcome of which will set the focus and direction of the organisation for the next chapter. We are clear that the central focus of LEASE is the free advisory service to leaseholders; the other parts and delivery are all formed off that central premise.
Carlex: Do you see LEASE’s role solely as a legal advice service, or does it have some policy or advisory role with government on the leasehold sector and regulation/legislation?
RS: The legal advisory service is central but naturally there is a role in guidance given the wealth of experience and knowledge formed within the organisation. However, we have to be careful to ensure that we keep our audiences clear at all times.
Carlex: If the role of LEASE is purely to provide legal advice, are you comfortable with it advising on procedures for lease forfeiture?
RS: Giving advice is not a problem, the problem would be if we started excluding areas of the law and decided what parts of the leasehold arena we did not want to give advice on if able [to do so].
Carlex: This is a highly controversial aspect of leasehold law that can, and does, render someone homeless and destitute. No one in the sector, to our knowledge, justifies the loss of all equity in a property over and above whatever sum a court rules is owed.
RS: This is a big topic and not one that can be covered in a short question and answer session, but broadly the central service of LEASE is to advise on legal matters and that is what they do.
Forfeiture is an area far wider than residential leasehold and also arises more in the mortgage market than that of property management. Therefore it is a debate of its own to ensure protection of both freeholders and mortgagees to receive their money and leaseholders to maintain their asset.
Carlex: Is forfeiture an issue where LEASE might support a revision in the law (it has been considered by the Law Commission)?
RS: It is something I am happy to debate and discuss but to give a conclusion before looking at all areas and aspects would be precipitous.
Carlex: LEASE is instructed by DCLG to raise private funding in order to help provide its free service to leaseholders.
As the money comes at present from commercial interests in the sector, is this a desirable state of affairs?
RS: If I could waive a magic wand and have a fully funded advisory service [that] would be the ideal. However, when there are the economic constraints and restrictions coming across Government we have to react and perform to maintain our core service.
It is not undesirable, we have to make sure our core service is maintained and that all times we perform to the 7 principles of public service.
Carlex: Many other quangos very strictly undertake no commercial activity at all because of potential conflicts of interest. Shouldn’t LEASE do the same?
RS: I am happy for everyone to lobby for LEASE to be fully funded by Government.
Carlex: LEASE carries advertising for practitioners, most importantly in its “professional directory”. Although it is made clear – owing to LKP – that inclusion is paid for, do you agree that leaseholders will inevitably see such adverts on a government-funded web site as an endorsement?
RS: There is no reason why they should, it is stated as a directory and not endorsement. I am always happy to look at any area to make sure it is clear as can be.
Carlex: It also took eight months to remove the advertising of Trust Property Management after Benjamin Mire was found not to have met the standards expected of a judicial office holder. Will you encourage more speedy procedures if another advertiser needs to be removed?
RS: I was not involved at that time and have never spent my time looking backwards. I will deal with points and items as they arise and as we see appropriate in the circumstances. No organisation can please all the people all the time and in any walk of life people will have different perspectives on how to handle or react to any given situation. Time will tell, but I would hope that at any point in time we can stand and explain why something was done and have most people understand and appreciate the reason.
Carlex: Isn’t LEASE’s annual conference a misnomer and really a trade show for professionals in the sector? Attendees pay to attend (c£300) lectures from the most senior figures in the leasehold residential sector.
Leaseholders – only invited over the past two years – attend a free evening session, where relatively junior figures in leasehold hold discussions.
Is this state of affairs satisfactory?
RS: I am happy that we hold a conference for all sectors with one specifically for leaseholders. Each year it is right we take stock and assess in the planning for the next year. We have the conferences coming up and once finished we will look at the planning for 2016.
Carlex: At present, there is no recognisable leaseholder representative on the board of LEASE. All board members are professionals in the sector, including you, although you are in fact a leaseholder. Do you not think it inevitable that leaseholders will perceive this as the sector – yet again – deciding that it knows best what leaseholder need?
RS: Well, I am a leaseholder and lived in leasehold for 14 years, but as you pointed out to me “I am the wrong sort of leaseholder!” [In fact, these are Roger’s words; Carlex merely indicated that he was untypical being a professional in the sector.]
The DCLG make the board appointments and organise the process so this is not something we have control over. I have no idea what recognisable leaseholders apply. What is a “recognisable leaseholder”? We are not deciding, we are advising.
Carlex: You are a successful block manager and entrepreneur within the leasehold sector, yet you have spoken out about abuses in the past. Your Wikipedia entry mentions support for Carlex. What are your main concerns now and what do you think can and should be fixed most urgently in residential leasehold?
RS: Another very big question and not one that can be covered adequately in a Q&A session. Broadly, progress has been made in standards and service delivery, but there is further to go.
It is important we celebrate the best in class and look at how we raise the game of those not delivering a good service and remove those who never will deliver a good service.
This has to be objective benchmarks, however, and not subjective or anecdotal measures.
Getting client money protection for all monies held by agents and freeholders is important and how we make sure all operating in the management sector have minimum standards.
Thank you for the questions.