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Janet Responds

This is a scrape of the News page from Peverel's website www.peverel.co.uk taken on 24 June 2012.  It admits to excessive insurance commissions and seems to invite applications for refunds.

 

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Questions from the Customer Forums

Customers raised a wide variety of questions for Janet at our recent customer forums. We promised that we'd publish those that were of general interest and here they are:

SOLIHULL

Q: Why is Peverel Retirement charging us fees for an outside company to carry out risk assessments? Surely you’re big enough to do that yourselves and include it under the service charge?

A: We want to make sure that we adopt best practice in the way we manage the developments.  We used to conduct these assessments ourselves but many homeowners told us they preferred the service to be provided by someone independent of the company. It seems to give homeowners reassurance and provides a good system of checks and balances.

The provider we use specialises in fire assessment which is an increasingly complicated and regulated environment and it’s better to outsource this work.  We do actually carry out some of the generic risk assessment ourselves, but we use these third party experts for specialised areas.

Q: How did Peverel Retirement choose Cardinus?  Did you interview several companies?

A: We did.  We looked at a number of providers including some who had been used by our sister division, Peverel Property Management (PPM).  Last year, PPM went through a selection process looking at a whole range of specialist providers for fire risk assessment and was very pleased with the work carried out by Cardinus.  The feedback so far is that the reports are very comprehensive and thorough. Whether we continue to use this company will of course be subject to periodic, performance based reviews.

Q: Are there too many management layers? We had a contractor who was based too far away and spread too thin, but the House Manager had to go through the Area Manager to change contactors. Will using the ‘Ask Janet A Question’ email speed things up?

A: ‘Ask Janet A Question’ was set up on day one as an additional channel of communication directly to Janet, but we need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the usual channels. Getting the balance right in roles and responsibilities is important and I will take that away and look at it.

Q: We seem to have new Property Managers every year and there’s absolutely no continuity. What are you going to do about loyalty?

A: Thank you for the useful feedback. Continuity is important and we know homeowners will judge us by the experience they have with our people on the ground. I am very conscious about the disruption caused by any changes. Sometimes people will move on and there will be a certain amount of disruption, but we must make sure we do all we can to keep this to a minimum. We are also trying to make sure we keep good people.  I am disappointed to hear that you have had so much change and I don’t know whether this is due to particular circumstances or the individuals involved. Either way, it’s important that when there is change, we make sure that the handover is as smooth as possible and we need to get better at this. I will take this away and consider if we need to change the way in which we deal with this today.

Q: The service charges seem to keep rising, but I’m not always sure what I’m paying for. Would you like to comment?

A: What a Property Manager does and what services the business provides is one of the areas of communication that we don’t do as well as we might.  We will try to be more open in communications so that you can see very clearly what it is that you are paying for and what you are getting. Our aim will be to present this in a way that is much more user friendly than perhaps just getting a detailed set of accounts with limited explanation.

Q: I think having a residents’ association is absolutely vital to running a development. Do you agree?

A: If you were writing a book on how to get the best out of a managing agent, chapter one would be to get a strong, proactive, organised, constructive residents’ association. We encourage residents to organise one so that we can have a structured dialogue which is often very beneficial, but we have to recognise that it is people’s choice in terms of how they wish to be involved and we must communicate with all residents, not just residents’ associations.

Q: Do you find there are differing attitudes between owner occupiers and renters?

A: It does cause issues but not as marked as perhaps you may imagine. Customers who are tenants of sublet properties (renters) sometimes feel they don’t have the same status as our homeowning customers when it comes to things such as residents’ associations. In turn, homeowners can be resentful if a relatively frequent turnover of renters means increased wear and tear on decoration in the communal areas. But both groups have to live under exactly the same set of conditions and are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their home. As managing agent, it’s our job to make sure we deliver high levels of service to everyone.

In the private residential sector, tenants of sublet properties tend to be more short term than in the retirement sector. This can cause a challenge for many residents’ associations and some don’t allow non-property owners to join them. I do think this is a shame because a residents’ association isn’t just a conduit for the manager to help customers, but it also helps create a sense of real community.

Q: What ideas have you got for the future?

A: At the moment I’m still listening to what our customers are saying, and learning a lot in the process. What I have found so far is that there is a huge amount of expertise and knowledge within Peverel.  We also have a lot of people committed to delivering good service.

I think it is a good business with good people but one that has grown through acquisition, so we need to think about the best way to organise things. What has also struck me is that there are some reoccurring themes which we would be able to improve simply through better communication.  We could also be better at managing issues as a business, which will allow the managers to get on with their day job.  Finally, we must make sure that the managers have the necessary support they need.

One thing I’m keen to do is think outside the ‘property manager’ box. We are good at providing services to people in their homes, but I want to hear what we could do better. Communication is a key issue, so we’ll be looking at ways we can improve this. We could also make things easier by improving our processes and systems and help our people on the front line deliver a better service.

Q: How do you ensure value for money and performance from contractors?

A: A key part of our role is to make sure that we get value for money when we employ contractors. That means getting the balance right between quality and cost, and what we source locally and nationally.  In terms of performance, obviously we look to our property management teams to understand the level of service provided and feedback from customers who live in the developments is clearly a crucial part of that too.

As a minimum, any contractor we use has to conform to standards on insurance, health and safety and competency, and they have to deliver a consistently good service. If they don’t, we won’t use them again.  When we employ contractors at the national level, it is important that we make sure we get the best contractors for each region.

Work carried out on our unmanned sites will be checked on the property manager’s monthly visit, but we also ask customers to rate the work contractors do, and this sort of feedback will continue to be an important part of the way we manage contractors.

LONDON

Q: Why isn’t there just one brand? Why can’t one company look after everything?

A: The reason we have the company structure we have today is largely because Peverel was built through the acquisition of other companies.  I am told that there were even more brands not that long ago.  While many customers do identify with the different businesses, my personal aspiration is to make things more straightforward and the new ownership gives us an opportunity to look at ways of doing that.

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: Who are the new owners of the Peverel Group? If they are private equity, won’t they just sell the business on in a couple of years?

A: The new owners are Chamonix and Electra and are both private equity firms who rescued the business from administration in March. They have a portfolio of businesses and are in this for the long term. They understand that it is in the interests of everyone that we make sure Peverel’s customer service get better.

Q: What is your background? Are you from private equity?

A: No. I ran BT Fleet which is a fleet management company owned by BT Group.  I think the important thing for the new owners was that they were able to recognise this is a services business and my background is services, not property.  My aim is to blend the property expertise within the business and hopefully I can bring that independent perspective with the end result being that we are more customer-focused.

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: Are my funds secure?

A: Your funds are completely secure.  They are ring fenced.  Each development has its own bank account, held under the terms of a statutory trust, and those funds can only be used toward that development.

Q: We’ve had six different Property Managers in 10 years and we have to repeat ourselves each time. It seems that there is no handover of information from when one replaces the other. We also have a good Caretaker but he can never get through to the Property Manager. What are you going to do about this?

A: Thank you for your feedback. I held a session this morning and some of the customers there raised similar issues so that is something I have learnt today and I very much want to capture. We are a big enough company to have the processes to make this sort of communication much smoother than it is currently.  We need to make sure that we handle the handover of Property Managers so that the disruption for customers is as minimal as possible. You also mentioned that your Caretaker is very good but doesn’t have the right support. This is very helpful for me to make decisions about how to move forward.

Q: Why do we have to pay an improvement charge?

A: Your lease will say you can’t make changes to the flat without the landlord’s permission. If you do make changes and you can’t produce the permission, you will have real problems when you come to sell the property. We charge a fee to receive the request, liaise with the landlord, obtain the written permission and supply you with the official paperwork confirming permission has been granted.

In future, where we charge for services like this we will look at ways to make it clearer what we actually charging for.

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: It took me two months to get a password and username from the Pembertons website. What are you going to do about it?

A: This is new feedback, so thank you. I note that you want to communicate online and if people want to do on this, I will take that back to look at making it work better.

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.

Q: Our Development Manager works in office hours when most of us aren’t there. Could their hours be more flexible?

A: I recognise this feedback as I have had received similar comments. Thank you for your constructive suggestion; this isn’t always about people working more hours but perhaps about more flexible working which may work better for some of our staff as well as our customers. We would need to look at on a development by development basis but I will take this away to consider.

Q: My Estate Manager is overloaded – he looks after 40 properties.

A: Thank you for your feedback – this is also similar to other comments I’ve received and is something I will look at. I think the average number of properties per Property Manager in Peverel Property Management are about 30, but this does vary. I don’t think the answer is necessarily to lower the number of properties per manager, it’s also about the nature of their responsibilities and we need to look at both together.

Q: Shouldn’t you be getting good economies of scale from your suppliers?

A: Procurement is definitely an opportunity for us and for our customers. This is a subject where I get different feedback but it seems for things like lift maintenance, customers are less concerned about the supplier as long as the lift works. But customers are more interested in knowing that the person who is maintaining their grounds is from a local company. This is absolutely an opportunity for us and our customers. This is an area that I want to look at but it is about getting the balance right between cost and service.

Q: Who are the Trustees of our development account?

A: There aren’t any. This is a ‘statutory trust’ account.  I understand that the title is confusing as the term ‘trust fund’ has been used by people to describe these accounts but this doesn’t mean that there are Trustees.  It is simply a bank account where the funds are completely secure and ring fenced for a particular development .

Q: Aren’t you overstretching yourself going after new business when you can’t manage the developments you already have?

A: We will continue to grow the business and take on new developments but I am not about to launch a major push for significant growth at this point. My immediate priority is to focus on improving the service we deliver today to our customers. We will then have a very solid platform to grow from.

Q: With regard to your plans to address some of the issues discussed, when will we hear what your plans are? Are you going to spend the next 6 months listening?

A: What I said at the beginning is that I want to listen to what customers say so I have good information to make informed decisions. It has been a really useful process so far.

In terms of plans going forward, we are carrying out extensive customer research at the moment with focus groups and customer satisfaction surveys. We will pull together all of this feedback by the end of the month. We will be open about where we want to go, even if we acknowledge we are not there today. I expect to do this in a matter of weeks, not months.


Thank you for your questions. If you have any more questions, please contact me directly: askjanetaquestion@peverel.co.uk




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