Janet Responds Again
This is the full text of the considered responses given by Janet Entwistle following customer meetings in London and Manchester in late 2012. The original was posted on the Peverel website on 21 December 2012.
Questions from our recent 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:
Q: My development accounts are impossible to understand and don’t seem to add up. What are you doing about this?
A: While some of our developments give us positive feedback on our accounts, it is certainly true that others don’t. While our accounts are always technically correct, we recognise they are not always easy to understand and this is an area we will be improving.
Q: Tell us a bit about you and why you took the job? What is your connection to Peverel’s previous owner?
A: I see Peverel as a services business, and I have a lot of experience in this area. That means I can work with the property experts we have in the Group and empower them to do a great job for our homeowners. I have a track record of transforming businesses through a relentless focus on customer service, and as Managing Director of BT Fleet, built it into one of the UK’s leading fleet management companies.
I was hired by Peverel’s new owners who used a leading recruitment firm, and have no connection to the Group’s previous owner.
Q: Isn’t there a conflict of interest between how you respond to the needs of the landlord and the needs of the leaseholders? Surely you actually work for the landlord, so how can you call the leaseholders “customers”?
A: We are a services business, providing services to the homeowner. That means we manage properties in accordance with the terms of their lease.
The important thing is not who the freeholder is, but that homeowners get excellent service from the property manager and this is what landlords want as well. The property manager acts as a link between the freeholder and their leaseholder and it’s our job to make this as easy as possible.
Q: Why doesn’t the starter pack given to Peverel Retirement customers have more information? Some of the things you’ve told us today about the structure of Peverel and its change of ownership would be really useful, as would information about developments, such as the name of the freeholder
A: That is an excellent point and we would be more than happy to include more information in the starter pack. I’ll take your comments on board and get the team to review the things we include in the starter packs.
Q: The timing and location of this forum isn’t convenient for a lot of people. How will you make sure other people get to have their say?
A: This forum is the third one we have done since June and is something we will continue to do, however, this is not the only way we will communicate. Different times of day and evening are convenient for different customers so we will continue to hold them at different times and in different locations.
Q: We’ve pointed out lots of small jobs that need doing but they never seem to get done and there’s no easy way of checking on their progress.
A: Smaller jobs often get grouped together to make them more cost effective. We recognise that we need to get better at communicating with you and we will be looking at how we do this effectively as part of our Service Improvement Programme.
Q: Some of your developments are run very well and others are not. Why can’t you be consistent and how long will it take before we can have confidence in Peverel?
A: We acknowledge that our customer service has not always been up to scratch in the past, but my focus is on improving things for the long-term, not just a quick fix, and this takes time. I wouldn’t expect you to have confidence in us until we have provided you with a consistently good service, but all the work we have done up to this point is designed to provide you with exactly that.
Q: Why do you think it’s reasonable to threaten people with legal action when they are disputing service charge payments?
A: I think there might be situations where it is appropriate to do so but certainly if we have got a genuine dispute I would expect us to continue those conversations, not to be threatening legal action.
I am aware that we are not as joined up as an organisation as we might be and it is important to make sure that the different parts of our business talk to each other so that we communicate in a more coordinated way with our customers.
Q: Your property management staff have too many developments to manage don’t they?
A: It is not necessarily about the number of properties our staff manage, but the number of things we ask them to do and the ways we help them to manage properties. Our focus is to look at ways to support our Property Managers. We should also make the responsibilities of that role, and the role of our central office support clear, to make sure that we provide the best customer service possible.
Q: Can’t you make your email response times quicker?
A: We’re now actively logging and tracking complaints in a consistent way across the business to ensure timely responses and to better understand what’s causing problems so that we can tackle the root causes.
In November, we introduced a new, more robust, centralised reporting system. Managers in the business now have much better visibility than before so we are now able to track complaints much better. Going forwards we will work on improving response times.
Q: Can’t you find a way of providing better protection for owner occupiers than is provided for renters
A: The people who rent are bound by exactly the same restrictions about occupying and not causing a nuisance as any homeowner.
We find most people who rent actually move into the accommodation for exactly the same reasons as someone buying. We recognise there can be local tensions, but as a general comment we don’t find a marked difference between how people handle themselves whether they are renting or whether they are homeowners.
Q: What about the leasehold system? Will you be trying to change that?
A: The structure of the legal framework is not a priority for us – our focus is on our customers. There is clearly no appetite from the Government to improve regulation or introduce legislation. We, and you, are obliged to work within whatever legal structure is currently in place.
Whatever the legal structure is, the challenge is how best to manage people living communally, taking in to account everyone’s view.
I actually think it is a cop-out to say that Government won’t legislate so there is nothing I can do, or to say “let’s put all our efforts into trying to get Government to legislate”. I think what we should do is to look at what we can do better to work within the set up we have because whatever the legislation is, you are still going to have people in a mixed environment, or people who live together, who perhaps have different priorities.
Q: The cost of our insurance seems to be going up and we don’t know why. Can you give us more transparency?
A: Landlords are responsible for arranging insurance but often task this to their managing agents. We use Kingsborough Insurance Services, which became part of the Peverel Group in July. It is an FSA-regulated insurance broker and effectively Peverel’s insurance department.
Kingsborough Insurance Services have historically arranged insurance on a portfolio basis which should give better value for money across the board, but this makes transparency difficult for us as it is not arranged separately for each development. I think we have got to be transparent to people in the future and we will do that.
One of the things that we are looking at is how we can deliver best value going forward. If this is to arrange insurance on an individual development basis, this will help us to be more transparent.
Q: Doesn’t Cirrus have a monopoly over Peverel Retirement?
A: Not at all. Of the work that Peverel Retirement puts out to tender, Cirrus often doesn’t win. In fact, during the last 12 months, Cirrus won only 33% of Peverel Retirement business tenders for upgraded warden call systems and fire systems.
Q: Can we use local tradespeople? It seems ridiculous that a central contractor has to come from miles away when a perfectly good local one is based just down the road.
A: We would always want to use contractors that offer good value for money and meet the appropriate Health and Safety standards. Our aim is to use the best people for the job, and we need to find a balance between good value national contractors or smaller local ones. We recognise that how we do this will be a challenge but this is a focus for our Service Improvement Programme.
Q: There have been some recent changes to exit fees. Can you clarify what Peverel Retirement charges?
A: To clarify, Peverel Retirement does not make any charges, nor benefit from them in any way. These fees are set out in the lease by the developer when the property is built and Peverel Retirement, as the property manager, is obliged to collect any transfer fees and pass them direct to the landlord.
The fees will vary by individual lease but most leases provide for a contribution of 1% to the contingency fund for the development and a 1% transfer fee payable to the landlord upon sale or sublet of the property. Peverel Retirement, as the property manager, is obliged to collect these fees and pay the contingency fee in to the development’s bank account and pass the transfer fee directly to the landlord.
You may have heard that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have been investigating and although the investigation continues, they recently announced a settlement with Fairhold Homes, who are the landlords for many of your properties. Although there were changes made as part of this settlement, the core requirement to pay exit fees continues.
Q: Your Property Managers need to spend more time on site
A: Some of our Property Managers would agree with you. What we are trying to do is cut down on the amount of administration they have to do and free up their time to visit developments and talk to customers.
Q: How do you decide House Manager salaries and bonuses?
A: One of the things we need to do is to look at factors such as the cost of living and what similar roles pay across the industry.
House Managers don’t get bonuses. They do get commission on any flats sold via Retirement Homesearch if they have shown people around the development, but we will make this clearer in future and make a balanced judgement.
Q: You say you want to avoid LVTs, but we have been left with no choice because of your position on insurance commissions.
A: Where we can avoid LVTs and reach an amicable settlement we will do.
The industry structure is that firms which arrange insurance receive a commission from the broker for the work that they do to arrange insurance. There is a range of commission levels in the market and the commissions of 12-14% we now receive put us at the lower end of that.
I am aware that the commissions were higher prior to 2010, while Kingsborough Insurance Services Insurance Services was under previous ownership. We intend to stick with the lower commission levels we have today but I’m not going to recalculate payments from over two years ago.
Q: Our Residents’ Association committee seems to be managing our development. Do you think this is right?
A: Your Residents’ Association is not managing your development. We are.
We will work with Residents’ Associations and want to support them but we provide services to all residents. In the same way that our challenge is to make sure we engage with everyone, we would always encourage Residents’ Association committees to be representative.
[In response to other members of the audience explaining how their Residents’ Association worked and how effective they were, there was a discussion about how we may be able to promote best practice]: If they are not, we would suggest you get them to meet once a month, inviting all residents, so everyone has a chance to air their views.
Q: Do you have systems in place for choosing contractors, and checking they have done the work properly and within an acceptable timeframe?
A: We do have systems for choosing and managing contractors but we acknowledge that they could be better.
It is a challenge to check work when we don’t have a team on site and one of the things we are looking at is finding ways to give our Property Managers more time to visit their developments.
If things haven’t gone well, residents should be able to feedback on contractors and we are looking at ways of making this easier and making sure the feedback we get reaches the right people.
Q: Is there a time limit on dealing with maintenance issues?
A: It depends on the issue. Sometimes it might make more financial sense to group smaller jobs together, but the important thing is to keep people informed and explain how we are dealing with things and why we are doing it in that way.
Q: Why do we get demands for payments from one part of the company, when another part of the company has already sent us an acknowledgement that it has been paid?
A: We’re a big company and it’s true the left hand hasn’t always known what the right hand is doing. A big part of our current Service Improvement Programme is revamping our customer complaints and feedback process so that information is stored centrally, in one place.
Q: When will Peverel Retirement House Managers get computers?
A: I recognise that we need to give our people the right technology and we are looking at how best to do that. We acknowledge that we are behind the times but this gives us the opportunity to use the latest technology.
This is an example of where I thought it was a simple solution – to get a load of computers for House Managers. But when I spent time with House Managers, I realised that they spend a lot of their time walking around the development writing notes, so my simple solution here might not be the right one.
We have just started a project to look at how we can best support our House Managers in giving the best service possible.
Q: Will you be installing Wi-Fi in Peverel Retirement communal lounges?
A: This is something that would form part of the project I outlined in the project above. I will feed in this request so they can look at this too.
Q: This year our landlord started collecting things like insurance, ground rent and permission charges directly. Is Peverel offloading responsibilities, or are landlords simply deciding to take them back?
A: The lease will set out that the landlord is entitled to collect these items and that they may instruct a managing agent to do this on their behalf.
When the Peverel Group was bought by new owners in March 2012, it was no longer owned by the same company as the landlord companies. At this point the landlord decided to take back their responsibility (as is their right) to collect monies due to them.
Q: Are landlords likely to start taking back property management too?
A: We have contracts in place to manage the developments. Once these contracts expire then the landlord could decide to appoint a different manager – as could residents at any stage if they exercise the Right To Manage their development.
You are talking specifically about Estates and Management, (the agent for your landlord Fairhold) which doesn’t have a property management business; therefore it is unlikely that they would want to take on property management responsibility.
Q: You charges aren’t clear and we can’t work out your accounts
A: Moving forward we will make sure our charges are much clearer and we will be improving the way in which we present our accounts.
Q: Can a copy of this presentation be sent to customers?
A: Yes. This will be sent to all those who attended the forums and can also be downloaded HERE
Q: We have had several issues with our landlord, so what is the role of Peverel when it comes to a landlord? Are you toothless when it comes to getting the landlord to do things?
A: Peverel’s role is to be your property manager. Where there are issues between the leaseholder and the landlord that are not about property management, we have no formal role.
That said, we obviously have a commercial relationship with the landlord and there is no reason we can’t make representations on behalf of leaseholders and try to help.
You’ve raised some issues of concern today. It would not be appropriate for your local Property Manager to raise these with the landlord, but I am happy to take these forward.
I also think that we can help by being clear about our role and responsibilities and those of the landlord.
Q: What is your definition of customer excellence? What targets will you be setting and will we be able to see them?
A: Our customers will decide what excellent service looks like. We will continue to commission independent customer research that asks our customers to rate our services. So we will ask our customers what they think and that is how we define excellence.
One of the things that I am actually very passionate about is about being open and transparent. I don’t think we should be frightened to share information. One of the reasons that we chose to give you a Customer Charter was because I felt it was important that we were clear what we wanted to be and we recognise we are not there yet.
We have got individual milestones to hit based on the things that we know that people want from our research. Do I think we are going to hit 100% of them within the timescales? No. And if we did I don’t think it would be real or credible. We will publish the results of customer feedback and our progress against our Customer Charter. If we don’t hit some of the milestones, we’ll explain why and tell you what we’re doing about it.