Arms Length Management organisations almos return to council control

I have just received an advance notice of a consultation on bringing my local “arms length management organisation” (ALMO), which is called “Lewisham Homes”, back under the control of Lewisham Council.

ARMS LENGTH MANAGEMENT ORGANISATIONS (ALMOs) RETURN TO COUNCIL CONTROL

The ALMO provide the management services for a leasehold property I own in the borough – so, they provide things like maintenance, communal gardening and service charge collection on behalf of Lewisham Council, who own the freehold.

Apparently, lots of councils have been doing the same thing – and many ALMOs have already gone back to council control. Only four London boroughs – including Lewisham – still have an arms length management organisation.

Lewisham Homes, like many ALMOs, was set up in 2007 under the Labour government. They were able to claim extra grants that councils could not, mainly to access the Decent Homes Programme cash money, but this funding is no longer available and has not been since 2012.

The stated aim of the consultation, according to the letter, is to “improve services for residents, provide a more joined-up service (linking housing and other council services that residents rely on) and strengthen resident voices”.

Reading that statement, it sounds like a done deal to me that the ALMO will go back to Lewisham Council!

Following the Grenfell tragedy, which was managed by an ALMO in West London called the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, there was a new concern about the effectiveness of the ALMOs. Clearly, in the case of Grenfell, the ALMO had failed to keep residents safe though of course, no one will ever know if the disaster would have happened if the local council had retained full control.

Grenfell led to new regulations coming into force which would give the freehold landowners extra responsibilities and which must be carried out by the council and which cannot be transferred to the ALMOs.

The letter I have been sent says, “We take these responsibilities very seriously; bringing services in-house would give the council direct control over their delivery and provide residents with increased democratic oversight”.

It goes on to say, “We also think that bringing the service back in-house can provide better value for money” and “Currently some costs are duplicated, so bringing housing management back in-house could result in some efficiencies”. Apparently, we would have the same caretakers and repairs staff though.

Despite it being an “open consultation”, it is sounding even more like a done deal to me with the letter itself heavily biased to getting the residents to back the plan to dump the ALMO set up.

So why the rush to close this and other arms length management organisations?

Interestingly, there is no claim from Lewisham Homes that this ALMO has achieved their Decent Homes programme objective.

Could it just be that their service is not very good?

I would say this is the real reason.

I have had multiple issues with Lewisham Homes as a leaseholder ever since it was set up. Before it was in existence I had no issues, but that may have been that for four of those years my property was let out under a rent guarantee scheme to a local housing association.

My complaints are numerous.

But in essence, they are utterly unable to get maintenance jobs done is a fast, efficient way.

The latest example was when I told them about possible asbestos found in an outside cupboard at my flat. Asbestos is a potentially hazardous material if broken up and for some sorts of asbestos, in all cases.

This basic job, concerning a hazardous material no less, took them almost three months to investigate, with me pushing all the way.

Typical problems over the years are these:

  • Their systems often did not work – you could log an issue on the system OK, but you rarely got an acknowledgement, despite being promised one by return email. So no acknowledgment would mean no issue log number, which created its own problems.
  • Their staff could often not work out which jobs fell under their remit and which under Lewisham Council, though in the last two years they got a little better at that.
  • Naturally, their systems were not linked, so a job could not be passed over to the council if it was not in their remit.
  • You could not track your issue on their system at all – surely this is basic stuff and normal for most businesses now.
  • You usually had to wait at least 20 minutes for your call to be answered.
  • There was never any follow up by their system or by a person of your issue. Normally, you would have to call again, spend more time waiting on the phone. When you get did eventually get through, they often could not find your original issue log number, so you had to start from scratch.
  • Naturally, their call centre could not tell you where you were in the queue, so you had no idea how long it would be.
  • “Because of Covid” (yawn) and still today, they have not re-opened their office where you used to be able to get things done faster face to face.
  • Their various CEOs over the years seemed to be permanently on holiday or on courses. I know this because often the only way to get things done was to complain to the CEO directly, with the complaint being picked up by their PA.

It is a joke.

I feel rather sorry for their lower grade staff because when you finally get through to them at the call centre, they were usually helpful and polite (and they must sure get a lot of stick due to their lousy systems). And their maintenance men and women are good, when you can finally get through to speak to them too. Perhaps they enjoy driving about in the always-immaculate vans?

In their early days they would send a newsletter saying how good their service was. I could never believe it because it was far removed from my lived experience with them. This stopped about three years ago.

In the last two years they ran a leaseholder sounding off online session. This seemed good and the moderator cared and took notes, but after about a year, this too has been dumped, I see.

But what annoyed me most was when, in the last three years, I would receive regular texts about some course they were putting on. These would range from help with university applications to caring for your dog to how to do a good CV and much else in between.

OK, I understand they arguably may have a wider remit to help people who are their council tenants living in their properties with other stuff to justify their existence, but come on, if they can’t get the basics of managing their property estate right, then what is the purpose of all this ancillary stuff?

I will be glad to see the back of this arms length management organisation and control returned to the council. It could hardly be worse.

And if it can save some duplication by cutting some over salaried executives out, then it is a good thing.

Do you have any experiences with ALMOs, good or bad? If so, don’t be shy, please comment.

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