The long-running saga for right to manage at Metcalfe Court, in Romiley in Cheshire, has at last come to an end and the pensioner residents are now rid of the Tchenguiz-appointed Peverel / FirstPort management.
On February 20, the management of the site passed to family-run Macclesfield firm Jones Associates, which is accredited to the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.
Louise Smith, of the Tchenguiz freehold company Fairhold, took up the cause of one or perhaps several Metcalfe Court residents who had concerns about the RTM company.
Maureen Young, one of the RTM directors, says that she was bombarded by eight to ten attempts to telephone her after she had twice put the phone down on Miss Smith, believing her calls to be intimidatory.
Ms Smith strongly denies that she was “intimidatory, unpleasant or aggressive”. She was attempting to discuss a questionnaire put out by the RTM directors to the residents concerning the hours worked by the visiting house manager.
“I was contacted by a very concerned resident, who is extremely unhappy, not just with the potential reduction in the House Manager’s hours and presence on site, but also the level of communication from the RTM Directors to other residents, and the transparency of their decision making,” Ms Smith explained to Carlex.
“This resident has tried to contact the RTM Company Directors directly but has not had a satisfactory response to the issues raised, and therefore turned to me.”
Separately, three working days before the RTM company took over management of the site, Peverel / FirstPort’s area manager Sam Else announced that it was going to remove and destroy files relating to the residents – including emergency contact numbers and medical details required on site – rather than hand them over to the new management company.
This meant that the RTM company had to place a notice on the Metcalfe Court board asking residents whether they wanted their records kept and handed over to Jones Associates. By the hand-over date of February 20 all but one resident had agreed to this.
That evening, after Carlex had also taken this issue up, Peverel / FirstPort’s head of legal Russell Tillison overruled Ms Else, accepting what at that point had already been accomplished by the residents. Or, as he preferred to put it to Pauline Jones, of Jones Associates:
“ … we have further reflected upon how best to ensure that our handover to you of Metcalfe Court was undertaken in a way which did not compromise the safety of the residents”.
He added that “our stance in relation to the residents’ emergency contact information and personal details was purely motivated by a desire to protect the confidentiality of the residents”.
In response to Ms Smith, Sebastian O’Kelly of Carlex wrote:
“I am surprised that you feel qualified to lecture the resident RTM directors of a retirement site on transparent dealings, employed as you are by a highly complex property group ultimately owned offshore.
“I also note the contrast between the enthusiasm with which you adopt the cause of dissenting residents to a democratically and lawfully constituted RTM company, and the manner in which your myriad freehold-owing companies deal with complaints from residents.
“The majority of residents at Metcalfe Court have had a number of issues with the interests that you represent, and have exercised their right to terminate your authority to appoint the management.
“Mischief-making is well documented during these management handovers, particularly in raising concerns among employees at the site, and was publicly deprecated by the chairman of ARMA only last week [at the LEASE annual conference on February 4].
“I do not suggest that that is the case here.
“If you have been contacted by residents with concerns you should direct inquiries in office hours to the property manager, Pauline Jones, of Jones Associates …”
Ms Smith replied to Carlex: “I made a representation to Ms Young in her capacity as an RTM director on behalf of a number of her fellow residents, who complained to me about the RTM company’s choice of agent.
“As you will know, it is not the agent, but the RTM company and its director who have the responsibility for the management of the property after the handover date. This responsibility also includes choosing and supervising the agent.
“On this basis, it is important for other residents and the landlord to be able to speak to the RTM directors if they require.”
Sir Peter Bottomley informed Ms Smith that he wished to see the “substantive response” in this matter “for a possible Commons debate”. As a result, Carlex publishes her full email below.
Peverel Retirement has applied to join ARMA (Association of Residential Managing Agents), but its application has been referred to the consideration of ARMA regulator, former Labour housing minister Keith Hill.
In December 2013, Peverel’s subsidiary Cirrus was found to have systematically cheated elderly residents at 65 retirement sites by the Office of Fair Trading.
Mo Beech, a director of the RTM, wrote to Carlex yesterday:
“Metcalfe Court is up and running and what a happy lovely feeling it is.
“Every poster, notice, leaflets to do with house sales and all the [Peverel] leaflets they had on the notice board have gone and it is as if they had never been here.
“The house manager has a new computer, printer and shredder so he can keep in touch with Jones Associates all the time.
“Maureen and I wish to thank you so very much for all the help and time you have spent on us. It is most appreciated.
“Without your help we would have had many more sleepless nights.”
Both Mrs Beech and Mrs Young are happy to be contacted by any retirement site considering RTM, or related issues. Please address inquiries via firstname.lastname@example.org
Louise Smith email to Carlex expressing her concerns at Metcalfe Court
February 10 2015, 18.36
Dear Mr O’Kelly
Thank you for your e-mail.
For clarity I act for Fairhold Homes (No. 7) Limited, the freehold owner and Landlord of Metcalfe Court. I work in a liaison role as a Landlord point of contact for residents of the retirement properties owned or managed by companies forming part of the Consensus Business Group. I also work with the managing agents appointed to manage these retirement properties and other Management Companies (Residents as well as RTM) which are responsible for various properties. As part of my role I had met with a large number of Metcalfe Court residents on site even before the RTM process began.
As you say, the residents of the property have exercised their right to acquire RTM, as from 20 February. I understand that one of the things the RTM Company, of which not all the residents are members, has wanted to do is reduce the hours of the House Manager and presence on site in order to save costs.
There is a provision in the leases of the flats which states that, in summary, services should not be reduced or amended without the support of the residents, and in particular, if more than 25% of the residents object to the proposed change.For the avoidance of doubt, the outgoing managing agent, Peverel Retirement, is only the agent of the Landlord.
The obligation to provide a House Manager to be available to residents during “reasonable daytime hours” is the Landlord’s, and prior to the RTM taking over, Peverel as agent have been performing this obligation on the Landlord’s behalf. When the RTM Company take over, it will become responsible for this obligation.
Following the questionnaire circulated by the RTM Company, I was contacted by a very concerned resident, who is extremely unhappy, not just with the potential reduction in the House Manager’s hours and presence on site, but also the level of communication from the RTM Directors to other residents, and the transparency of their decision making.
This resident has tried to contact the RTM Company Directors directly but has not had a satisfactory response to the issues raised, and therefore turned to me. In particular, the concerns expressed to me (which I am told are shared by other residents/family members – a further 6 have telephoned me personally with very similar issues) are as follows:
a. The new managing agents selected by the RTM Company are inexperienced in managing retirement properties;
b. Reducing the House Manager’s hours, availability on site, and thus his service to residents would be detrimental to the property and a number of the residents feel strongly that the current hours and service should be maintained;
c. The results of the questionnaire were only communicated to residents who attended a meeting in the lounge on site, and although the residents present were told around 35% had objected to the change, the RTM Directors appear to be determined to proceed despite the restriction in the leases;
d. It is felt that the RTM Directors are unfairly pressuring the House Manager to accept a reduction in working hours;
e. The RTM Directors seem determined to push this change through, not just ignoring the restriction in the leases but also without regard for the views of other residents, particularly the more elderly, who feel reassured by having the House Manager available;
f. The ballot process was not conducted in a way so as to given confidence to all residents in its fairness or transparency.
I hope you will appreciate, in light of this information, that these are issues which the Landlord is right to be concerned about, and contact the RTM Directors to discuss, particularly because it has been asked to become involved by residents themselves. You should also be aware that the Landlord was not sent a copy of the questionnaire even though it is also a leaseholder of a flat at Metcalfe Court.
What I therefore tried to do was to speak to Ms. Young to discuss the matter. I telephoned her on her landline and tried to put some of the concerns above to her, but as you say she then cut me off rather than engage with me. I did try to ring her back on her mobile later in the morning after attending a meeting, and my recollection is that she told me she had “been told not to speak to me”. After that conversation I did not call her again. I take exception to the suggestion that I was either intimidatory, unpleasant or aggressive to Ms. Young, which is completely untrue. Secondly, please note that Ms. Young has previously provided her mobile number to us for contact purposes and this is held on our property database.
As you rightly say, the RTM Company taking over obligations of the Landlord is a serious responsibility regulated by law. Not all residents are always happy with what RTM Companies do, just as with Landlords and their appointed agents, and in this case, residents have contacted me, as a representative of the Landlord, to help them. I hope you will now understand why it is right for the RTM Directors to be asked to give some explanation to both the Landlord and the residents who are worried about what they wish to do and the potential impact on their wellbeing and their homes.
If you are able to assist with getting reassurances and some explanation from the RTM Directors, I am sure the concerned residents would be grateful.