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Statement from Mears Group on Newham Council

We have a great deal of sympathy for the residents of the Customs House Estate who remain in temporary accommodation on the estate whilst the regeneration plans are developed.
We have a great deal of sympathy for the residents of the Customs House Estate who remain in temporary accommodation on the estate whilst the regeneration plans are developed.

The Mayor of Newham criticised the contract with Mears before her election in 2018 promising to help the residents. After a contract extension requested by the Council Mears has continued to manage the properties.

Newham Council promised to residents that they would be moved into new accommodation once demolition work was confirmed to start, unfortunately that has not been forthcoming.

These homes have been used as temporary accommodation to house local homeless households as they could not be used for permanent housing. This arrangement has been in place for many years between Mears and the Council following a tendering exercise. The arrangement is of benefit to the Council in that it avoids the use of Bed & Breakfast accommodation or temporary housing outside of the Borough. The contract is structured so that Newham Council receives a significant guaranteed quarterly rent payment from Mears. In exchange Mears manages the homes with all risk for repairs, voids and arrears of rent held by Mears.

The rent levels in the blocks were set by Newham Council, not by Mears and facilitated the guaranteed rent payment to Newham.

Mears have spent £400,000 annually on repairs to the flats even though they are earmarked for demolition by Newham Council.

Newham Council have now announced that the service will be council-run and Mears will commence a process of transferring the flats back to Newham over a period of time. The decisions as to the future housing of each resident rests with Newham Council and not Mears. Newham Council will inform Mears whether each flat is to be transferred with the resident in occupation or whether vacant possession is required

Where there are repairs needed Mears will continue to do everything we can to ensure this is done as quickly as possible. On a reactive basis we have been replacing major components in the properties such as boilers, windows, doors and kitchen repairs needed even though they are due to be decanted in the coming months / years. During this phased handover Mears will maintain its duty to repair and ensure each home is fit for purpose as best as possible given the condition of the buildings.

Alan Long, Executive Director of Mears said:

First and foremost, I am deeply saddened that the residents of Customs House have been the victims of political indecision and electoral promises which could not have been delivered. I hope that Newham will now be able to start the much needed regeneration of the area to develop the homes needed in their borough.

Whilst we are sad to be leaving our relationship with the tenants, I am thankful that this may be an opportunity for Newham to finally create new homes that the residents of Customs House deserve. Mears believes it has met its contractual obligations to residents and the Council over the past 9 years and have delivered the best service possible in the circumstances.

Brown Water Disrepair

In relation to the claim of brown water this was not reported until 2nd July. Our housing officer contacted this resident last on 4th May regarding other matters and the tenant did not report this issue during this call.

However there has had been issues with boiler previously. We were called out in February after reports of no heating or hot water - on this visit we found that the thermostat was not being used correctly so reset it and advised the tenant on correct usage.

Following reports of brown water on July 2nd an operative attended on July 3rd. His notes state that no fault was found however as a precaution he contacted the manufacturer of the boiler who recommended that we replace the diverter valve. This was ordered and when received form the supplier the operative returned on 24th July to install it.

We can confirm that the brown water was an intermitted issue that that was affecting the hot supply only and occurred if the boiler had not been in use for some time.

We have further checked the water to confirm there are no metallic elements in this and are replacing and cleaning all components as per the manufacture instructions.

Disrepair in the blocks

There have been reports in the past of asbestos and sewerage issues. Due to the poor fabric of the building we have experienced issues with plumbing, roof and window leaks, where asbestos has been reported the appropriate action has been taken to remove this by certified contractor.

Mears have had some difficulties in making repairs due to issues being caused by communal parts we do not have responsibility for. As the freeholder of the buildings many of the roof issues have been the responsibility of Newham Council. Where we have found our properties are adversely affected by matters outside of our control we have acted quickly to move people to hotels and repaired the damage immediately but this offer of alternative accommodation has not always been accepted.

In relation to the sewage this is an intermittent communal stack issue connected to property managed and owned by Newham council who are dealing with this matter. We have agreed appropriate settlement offer to the affected resident and the Council is looking to resolve the issue.

In 2019 Newham Council commissioned a condition survey of all properties and found the majority of the properties to be in an acceptable standard there were approx ten properties that had repair issues which were highlighted to Mears these repairs have been actioned.

Mears' contract with Newham

Mears were appointed in 2011 for a 5year contract. After this contract ended Newham Council invited Mears to extend the contract and we are now in our 9th year. Clearly it was never intended that these homes schedules for demolition should be used for such a period of time. Due to the severe housing shortage in London Newham have been unable to move residents of the Customs House estate into longer term social housing reflecting the very real shortage in housing supply across London.

During this time no planned maintenance order has been received from Newham meaning that Mears is only contracted to maintain the leasehold to a 'habitable' level. As we are not freeholder only Newham Council has the power to authorise further planned works to the fabric of the estate or blocks as a whole.

Given that the council's original intention was for this to be a 5 year contract with new housing coming on stream no funds for longer-term maintenance have been provided and Mears was only appointed to maintain the properties for a short life span.

Rent Levels

Rent levels for temporary accommodation are rightly set by the council. All residents are in receipt of housing benefit so no one would pay the full rent, indeed for many all rent would be covered by benefits.  In fact Mears took the decision to freeze rents at 2019 Local Housing Allowance levels or lower which mean the average rents are significantly lower than the current 2020 LHA rates.

             Ave Rent Charged               Current LHA

1 Bed      £191.95                                 £241.64

2 Bed      £233.85                                £299.18

3 Bed      £288.57                                £356.71

4 Bed      £335.41                                £414.25