16 January 2018

Hattersley, Hyde, Tameside, Greater Manchester towards the end of the second decade

'Young Andrew Sole jumps for joy!' it says on the imprint page of this 96-page book. It is called Fresh Hope Fresh Air: Starting a New Life in Hattersley, was published in 2008 by Mancunian Reunion Project, and was written by Rachel Gee, Sharron Power, and Dick Richardson. The photo is taken from Werneth Low in the 1960s, with the new builds of Hattersley (an extension of Hyde) in the background.

The new property in Hattersley was a council estate, one of the overspills designed to rehouse those in dwellings in central Manchester classed as 'unfit for human habitation'. The move began in 1963, with most of the tenants coming from the east of Manchester. The book is a largely pictorial guide from the cramped streets of Manchester to Hattersley, with locals providing memories of its schools, its celebrations, its pubs and clubs, etc.

What the book omits is what happened to Hattersley between its creation and its rebirth. It is not too easy to find results by Googling "Hattersley" and "right to buy" because the name of Roy Hattersley (an opponent) inevitably gets in the way, but Margaret Thatcher successfully introduced her 'Right to Buy' bill in 1979, meaning that those living in council houses (today usually called 'social housing') could fulfill their dream: to buy the house they lived in. This was but one of Thatcher's (or rather her advisors') privatisation schemes – such as the right to buy shares in newly privatised gas and electricity – whose 'divide and rule' policies split the working classes down the middle, thus allowing her to remain in power for so many years.

Meanwhile, Hattersley became a 'sink estate', riddled with drugs and crime in general. Its name became synonymous with exclusion from mainstream society. In a few pages at the end of Fresh Hope Fresh Air, trumpeting the re-rebirth of Hattersley, John Armitage, of Hattersley, says:

'On the positive side, crime is down, modernisation of the houses is almost on schedule [...] [e]xcept for a few people with long memories, Hattersley has outlived its previous disreputable stigma, and has a brighter future.'

These seem fine, confident words. However, the reality is very different: the tower blocks have all gone, new houses and flats have gone up and look very pretty perhaps, but Barratt, who as far as I know have built all the houses on the new estate in Hattersley, have handed the management on to Residential Management Group (RMG), who have no interest in property management at all, and are in fact no more than a Mafia-type syndicate created (via a legal loophole) to in effect steal and extort as much money as possible from their unsuspecting leaseholders or 'freeholders' (who aren't in reality free at all).

How about this devastating reaction by 'tenant' Emma Winterbottom, whose full email to Jonathan Reynolds MP (Stalybridge and Hyde (Lab/Co-op)), sent 8 January 2018, I post below with her permission:

'Dear Jonathan Reynolds

I am writing this email to you regarding my concerns and worries regarding RMG who manages the block of apartments where I live on Ashby Gardens in Hyde.

When I first moved into my apartment which will be 5 years in May I was only paying £70 a month. Last year I have been paying £130 a month which is astronomical, that’s almost doubled in the time I have been here. This greatly concerns me financially especially with me living alone. Over the years I have enquired to what exactly I am paying for each month. To which they list jobs that are very rarely carried out if at all. The cleaning is of a very poor standard the doors aren’t even wiped down. They are suppose to look after the car park area which as far as I can see is very irregular. Once the weeds were that bad that they were pushing up the paving in the car park. This did eventually get seen to but after me complaining several times.

It seems to me that I have to phone to complain about something before anything is done which is what I am paying a large amount of money for each month anyway.

The problems I have previously had with regards to the gates for the car park which seems not to have been a problem recently but previously when I hadn’t been here that long they were constantly stuck open. This infuriated me that nothing kept getting done about it despite my numerous calls and calls my neighbours had made regarding this problem, as my car insurance would have been affected if anything had happened to my car as my car is covered as being kept in a private gated car park overnight.

Previously I have also had problems with shoddy workmanship in the apartment. I understand that this isn’t RMG’s fault but this falls with Barratt’s. But what I am about to tell you was daylight robbery on RMG’s part.

I came in from work one evening to find a water leak in the communal hallway downstairs. I went to check my bathroom as this was above and there was a leak coming from the cistern which is the poor workmanship I’m talking about. I had only lived here at that time just over 2 years so Barratts weren’t liable for anything as it had just gone over the 2 years cover with them. I turned off the water and didn’t know what to do. My neighbour upstairs phoned RMG and I tried to contact a plumber which I couldn’t do. An hour or so later a workman from RMG turned up came in and said there was nothing he could do and that it was poor workmanship. He was here no more than ten minutes and was unable to do anything. I then had to get someone in myself the next day to sort out the problem. About 6 months later I received a final demand letter from RMG for £300 which was what they were charging me for the call out. Not only is this an obscene amount of money for absolutely nothing but this letter stated final demand when I had not received any other correspondence previously to this regarding this £300. Living on my own and not earning thousands of pounds a year I was extremely worried and upset as the letter unsettled me as it was quite threatening with regards to taking action if this was not paid as soon as possible. I haven’t got that kind of money lying around. I paid the money with great difficulty but was worried what the further action would be. I had a meeting with the new site manager which I think was early last year I was told there was little he could do about it.

Any correspondence I do receive from RMG is never clear and very confusing. They just pluck large amounts of money out of thin air and demand to be paid.

I recently misplaced my car park fob and phoned up to order another one. I knew there would be a charge for this and with it being my fault for misplacing it there was little I could say but nevertheless was shocked to find out this would be £58. I needed it so I paid for it. A few days later I found the lost fob and contacted them that same day which was a Friday. I was told this could be cancelled and refunded but would have to ring back on Monday. I phoned back on the Monday and was told that this couldn’t be done that the fob had been already been posted and sent out recorded delivery. A week went by and the fob still hadn’t arrived. I didn’t need it as I had found the old one but I had paid £58 for this new one and I wanted it. I then contacted the site manager directly. He said that it had been processed and sent but on this occasion he would refund me the £58. A week later this refund still hadn’t been sent so I had to contact him again. I had to do this numerous times till eventually I did get the refund but the key fob never turned up so they clearly never sent it.

I phoned them early December regarding the monthly charges as I was concerned they were going to go up even further. He informed me they will now be £100 a month instead of £130 due to him agreeing better contracts with other companies. I will believe this when I see it.

I spoke to the neighbours opposite who also own their property and they had received correspondence from RMG with regards to decorating the communal areas and internal repairs. At this point I had not received anything of the sort. I got 2 letters from them between Christmas and new year. These letters are very confusing and misleading. With a final date we all have to speak up about it by the 13th January 2018. Why I got one letter for the properties across the road I have no idea but this seems to state that their repairs will be covered with what they already pay from what I can make out. But speaking to the neighbours facing their correspondence looks like they are wanting over £600 per apartment.

The letter regarding my apartment and the others in the block states they will need approximately £80 each apartment for them to carry out unnecessary work. I pay them enough each month without added extras as well as my yearly ground rent.

I dread getting correspondence from them as I know it is going to cost me. Living alone I have barely any disposable income a month as it is. It is making me ill the constant worries about charges. £80 might not seem a lot of money to most but I won’t get anything for it when already paying £130 a month which I get absolutely nothing for.

My anxiety is through the roof, I’m having many a sleepless night as I can’t afford to pay these ever increasing charges, they just decide what they feel like. What will happen if I simply can’t afford to pay it and keep up with their payment demands? Will I lose my property? I have a very low income as it is hard enough working out the money outgoing without extras like this unnecessarily popping up and I find it very unlikely it will be only £80 there are some very large figures on the paperwork I recently received.

What I find most interesting when I had the meeting with the site manager and I expressed my concerns about the cleaning and marked walls and I asked if decorating was included and was told any decorating is carried out only every ten years. So why is this being carried out now after I have only been here less than 5 years.

I just really hope something can be done about all this as I’m at my wits end.

Please find attached photos of the 2 letters I recently received for my apartment block and the one facing.

I look forward to hearing from you

Emma Winterbottom'

On 21 December 2017 Jonathan Reynolds, in a debate on leasehold and commonhold reform in Westminster Hall, said before reading from a few lines of an email he had received from a constituent in Ashby Gardens, Hattersley:

'I am genuinely shocked by the stories I hear in my constituency and that we have heard in this debate. I am not a man prone to hyperbole, but I would go so far as to say that the only fair description of some of the practices we have heard about in this debate is legalised extortion. There is simply no relationship between the services being rendered and the costs charged for them.'

He mentioned another constituent, and added:

'Colleagues who know a little bit about Greater Manchester might know that Hattersley is one of the most successful urban regeneration housing schemes in the country. It took a huge amount of resources under the last Labour Government, and was originally one of the overspill estates from Manchester City Council. It is a fabulous story of urban regeneration and success, and activities such as this are frankly blighting that very successful legacy, which is extremely distressing to hear.'

Speaking in general about such legalised criminals as RMG of Hoddesdon, Jonathan Reynolds concluded:

'The time is clearly ripe for action, and there is clearly a consensus for strong action. My only plea to the Minister would be this: for many constituents, this matter is urgent. It is blighting their lives and affecting their quality of life. It is clearly affecting the liquidity of the housing market, and whether people can make reasonable decisions about their households going forward. We need the action to be as swift as possible. Clearly, it is not straightforward and there are issues to resolve, but I cannot believe that anyone who has listened to today’s debate, or others that have taken place, would not agree that there is consensus for political action. Please, Minister—let us get on with that as soon as possible.'

ADDENDUM: On the Facebook sites National Leasehold Campaign and HORNet (Home Owners Rights Network), I note this inclusion, along with a link to my above post: 'RMG has decided – in spite of our vociferous protests supported by our MP Jonathan Reynolds, and against all logic (apart from their own purpose to screw more money out of us) – to make 'essential' (for which read profit-making) 'Internal Repairs and Redecorations' to properties in Pudding Fold, Hare Hill Hill Road and Ashby Gardens, Hyde SK14. This is under the name of the freeholder Aviva Investors Ground Rent GP Limited. It is a public outrage, and no repairs whatsoever need doing to five-year-old properties. It's interesting that these robbing bastards are becoming more aggressive, more verbally violent, trying to make as much money as possible before the new regulations come through early next year.'

2 comments:

David Cade said...

Thanks for covering this matter. Managing Agents in the UK are getting away with providing appalling or little service while charging highly for it. In addition, Managing Agents in the UK are completely unregulated. The government has to bring them to heel. In addition any home-owners who are required to pay service-charges levied by Managing Agents must be able to easily contest every annual service-charge demanded of them.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

And thank you, David, for your comments. I welcome more contributions in the same vein.