Speech to Wandsworth Council by councillor Candida Jones, December 9 2015
I first came across Investing Solutions and Fresh Start Housing in March through constituency case work. Both names were cropping up in relation to complaints about poor housing.
Investing Solutions is a property company and Fresh Start describes itself as a charity which specialises in housing the homeless.
I did some investigation. Fresh Start Housing finds homeless people accommodation by passing them to Investing Solutions, a company which sources properties from the private sector.
In the absence of any provision for housing single homeless people in the borough, this model might appear to be a noble one. If it weren’t for the detail of how this is done and what money is made.
Both organisations are based in the same industrial unit in Battersea and are run by, or were set up, the same person, a man called Samir Patel.
Fresh Start functions like a “shop window” for a property company; the charity feeds Investing Solutions with clients. The properties found that I have seen are in a very poor state; mould, damp, filth, no heating, no hot water…
It’s a very profitable model. For each homeless person housed in a single room, the Council paid Investing Solutions up to £260 in housing benefit per week. Investing Solutions would house up to 4 people in one property, equivalent to an income of up to £4,000 per property per month. The amount charged by the landlord would be around half that, allowing Investing Solutions to make as much as £24,000 profit per property per year.
Over the last 2 years Wandsworth has paid Investing Solutions over £2.1m.
It’s a very nice little earner for Samir Patel, but not a good deal for the tax payer who funds it.
I first raised my concerns about the condition of an Investing Solutions property with the Council in April, via email and in then in person. That case was complicated by the fact that the tenant was allegedly being subjected to retaliatory eviction for having requested repairs.
In June the Council confirmed that they considered Fresh Start and Investing Solutions as “the same organisation” for the purposes of the Housing Benefit they paid out. The Council’s housing and environmental departments received complaints; one tenant was told that to deal with his rat problem he should pay a private exterminator and he should be “grateful to have a roof over his head”.
On June 2, I requested a list of all houses managed by Investing Solutions. My request was ignored for a month and then declined.
No routine investigations were carried out.
Indeed, over the last 5 years Wandsworth has inspected on average just 2 Investing Solutions properties a year, across 194 benefit claims.
5 weeks ago the BBC’s News at 6, News at 10, Radio 4 and the Evening Standard covered this scandal. But although the BBC found this housing model worthy of investigation, Wandsworth still has not.
Paying out £2.1m without first having a look at what you’re buying is a cavalier use of public funds which has resulted in one man getting very rich on tax payers’ money and many people being housed in sub-standard homes.
Wandsworth’s record on supporting this landlord is much worse than any other London borough.
Of the £5.2m paid to Investing Solutions over the past 2 years by 7 London boroughs, Wandsworth paid out almost half; 4 times what neighbouring Merton and Lambeth paid and 15 times what Hammersmith and Fulham paid.
According to a former employee of Investing Solutions, this was deliberate business decision on behalf of Samir Patel who, I am told, targeted this borough because he knew he could rent out sub-standard properties without inspections and make lots of money.
Faced with a rip-off of this size and a potential proliferation of poor housing of this scale, a case-by-case response, which is all this Council if offering, is not good enough. The excuse that they didn’t know is either mendacious or indicative of a Housing department in disarray.
Their attempts to blame “individual councillors” when the blame lies squarely with their administration is cynical. There are 1,000 homeless families in Wandsworth this Christmas and this Council has its eyes and ears closed.