April 28, 2017

Janet Entwistle: ‘There are problems with Peverel’s reputation, but new owners are in it for the long term’

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Janet Entwistle has published a digest of the questions and answers either emailed to her or asked at her public meetings with Peverel’s leaseholders on June 12.

The comments are a frank admission that the company has “problems of reputation” and address fraught issues such as insurance commissions, sub-letting fees and service charges – subjects that have been raised repeatedly on Carlex.

She even concedes that – historically – some insurance commissions have been too high.

This is a more serious – and encouraging – engagement with leaseholders’ issues than Carlex was expecting. Our initial reaction can be read here

Peverel was bought from administrators three months ago by the private equity firms Chamonix and Electra, and Entwistle was appointed chief executive. She says they are “in it for the long term”.

The Q&As are published on the Peverel website:

http://www.peverel.co.uk/news/questions-from-the-customer-forums/1

A selection are reproduced (unedited) here:

Q: How will you rebuild Peverel’s reputation so people feel confident buying properties in the developments you manage?

A: I recognise there are problems with the reputation, but we are not here to just look at changing the brand.  That isn’t a long term solution.  What we need to do is make sure that the customer service gets better. This is the best way to change people’s perceptions of Peverel.

Q: Where does Estates & Management fit into the Peverel structure?

A: Estates & Management is not part of the Peverel Group. It is a company that acts as an agent for the landlord of some of the properties we manage and is owned by Consensus Business Group, part of the Tchenguiz Family Trust (TFT) and previously we were also owned by TFT. We do manage many of its developments still, but on a commercial basis – just as we manage developments for Berkeley Homes, Barratt Homes and other housebuilders.

Q: My lease still has ‘Peverel’ on it but now Estates & Management (E&M) refer to GR Proxima Properties. I thought you said you weren’t a landlord?

A: The Peverel Group is not a landlord and doesn’t own any freeholds. In 2007 our previous owner, Consensus Business Group (CBG), split the managing agent arm of the Peverel business away from the landlord side, so although the Peverel name will still be on many leases, the landlord is now GR Proxima Properties which is another CBG-owned landlord company and E&M act as its agent.

CBG is ultimately owned by the Tchenguiz Family Trust (TFT).

Q: We have asked before whether independent quotes were taken to obtain insurance.  Does our buildings insurance come through a Tchenguiz owned company or a Peverel related party? Can we change our insurer?

A: Much of the insurance at the developments we manage is handled by Kingsborough, which is effectively the insurance division of Peverel (not owned by the Tchenguiz Family Trust).  Technically, Kingsborough is a financial intermediary which gets quotes for insurance through brokers. It is important to compare like-for-like. We do get independent quotes for insurance and we will get quotes from organisations suggested by our customers. We often do this.

Q: What’s going to change? Will there be service charge transparency?

A: I meant what I said at the beginning. I do actually want to listen. I’m aware things have to change and the team is too. The new ownership gives us an opportunity to change, but we will not rush in and will make sure all the customer research we are currently undertaking is used in the process. This is a large business – we manage over 200,000 homes – and we’ve received all kinds of feedback, good and bad. We need to carefully consider everything. I can reassure you we will communicate changes when we make them – this is something we perhaps haven’t been so good at in the past.

While we could clearly do better in some areas, I do think that we also do a lot of things well. Clearly we can change some things more easily which will improve things for customers – in particular, improving communication and transparency.  What I would also say is that when things do go wrong, we don’t always handle them well and could manage that a lot better.

Q: Isn’t £400 for a sublet fee too high? I don’t see how it can be justified?

A: This is not always a straightforward question to answer as we often collect these fees on behalf of the landlord as set out in the lease. It is a complicated industry-wide issue. What I can say is that in future when we charge a fee for a service we will make sure this fee is proportionate and we will explain clearly what we have done to earn it.

Q: I can’t resolve my problems with Estates & Management (E&M). Can you help?

A: We have regular, senior level meetings with landlord companies like E&M and we work very hard to resolve any issues that our customers have raised. We are also looking at ways we can improve the management of these relationships.

Q: I have a problem with the insurance commissions charged at my development and am considering whether to take this to a tribunal. Would you care to comment on this?

A: Historically, some insurance commissions have been too high. These were lowered a couple of years ago to a level I am comfortable with and that tribunals have deemed as reasonable.  We will certainly make the commissions we receive much more clear to our customers. With regard to your particular dilemma to take this to a tribunal, that really is something I want to stop.  We must look to try and resolve all matters constructively far earlier in the process so it doesn’t get to that.

The LVT process can be confrontational and our experience is that resolution of disputes by independent mediation is quicker for customers, and it comes at less cost than litigation.

Q: Do you take a handling charge from contractors?

A: No, we don’t. Where we take commissions, we declare that. It is an area where there has been a lot of controversy and I also know there has been some cynicism. In future, if we receive fees/commissions eg for negotiating volume discounts, we will make sure people know about them upfront (and I don’t mean in the small print at the bottom of an invoice!)

    …

Q: Your staff don’t even know who they work for. We keep getting passed from one company to another.

A: I have to apologise to start with and I take your point totally. This is a classic symptom of a service business not working as it should. We will be looking at ways of making different parts of the business work better. We need to make sure that our people are clear about roles and responsibilities but also communicating properly. I will take this away and look at this further.

Comments

  1. Lynda Robertson says:

    How much of Janet Entwistle’s words can we believe? Its the same assurances we have already been given and we need to see action not words.

  2. This thoughtful contribution came via email from Janet B, in South London:

    Entwhistle is quoted as saying that “a lot of the emotion that arises is
    because people are surprised when they realise that they have these fees to
    pay, and its often the relatives of people who have died”. Quite apart from
    the clumsy wording of this utterance, it does seem that her understanding
    of the current situation is far from complete. I hope somebody (yourself?)
    will be able to enlighten her further.

    I paid the full price for my flat, which was bought off-plan for something
    like £250,000. A similar flat in my development is currently with a local
    estate agent at an asking price of £75,000. It has remained unsold for
    MONTHS. The proceeds from the sale of my flat will constitute my only
    legacy to my children – I am not a rich person. Were I to depart this life
    tomorrow, my children would be saddled with my maintenance charge of about
    £2K per annum for an unspecifiable and possibly lengthy period of time
    while they wait for it to be sold. They are both middle-class professionals
    with children of their own who face an uncertain future and I had hoped my
    legacy to them would be useful – NOT a burden.

    The baby-boomers who are currently retiring – unlike those people who
    bought McCarthy and Stone flats a decade ago at the height of the
    house-price boom – do not have spare cash and are very wary of moving into
    an environment where maintenance charges “keep going up” – as the common
    perception would have it. They will not be unduly keen to buy into an
    unregulated sector which could have unpleasant surprises in store for their
    own heirs and successors. The word has got around! The “retirement
    business” may seem “lucrative” to Entwhistle.