St Michael’s Gate is just south of parish border. Tenants at 74 homes are being evicted by a private firm which did a deal with the council to move its homeless people into the properties. The story hit national news and Peterborough MP has asked for a debate around the subject in The House of Commons. Below is a transcript of the Radio interview taken on Friday 21 October 2016.
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire – Paul Stainton
Paul: Not good news for the tenants in Peterborough. Remember we broke the story a couple of weeks ago now brought it to you that they were being evicted from their houses just before Christmas for no reason really other than profit. Buts there’s been another weeks of twists and turns in the saga. You remember around 70 families in Parnell faced eviction from their homes after this deal had been struck by Peterborough City Council with a property provider. Well the deal we see residents thrown out and replaced with homeless people who are currently being put up in travel lodges across the city. Then the property developer will slice up the houses and make more accommodation and make more money.
Well earlier this week the deal was called in by local councillors from Labour and the Lib Dems, this motion was thrown out by conservative councillors who said the council had little choice and warned that if they didn’t take the offer up another authority would. Lib Dem councillor Darren Fower said the residents were being let down by cities Conservative party, “Amazement because the Conservative MP in Peterborough didn’t turn up, amazement because the senior officer that gets paid well over £100,000 who put their name on the decision didn’t turn up and amazement that two conservative ward councillors that work for the area once again had zero to say and the bottom line is councillors are supposed to give a voice to their community.”
Well yesterday the was another twist in the saga, the government has pledged to look at the evictions after MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson raised the issue in the House of Commons. “I am concerned to hear from our friend what is happening in Peterborough. If he would care to provide me with the details I draw that to the attention of the responsible Minister straight away.” Well that was the leader of the commons David Lidington saying the issue would be looked at.
The council have now confirmed that 11 families from St Michael’s Gate have now approached them for help in finding a new home. Another resident has told us they have racked up hundreds of pounds in debt trying to secure a new home before Christmas. Now it’s also been revealed that Peterborough City Council will pay a million pounds a year to this company so it can put homeless people in St Michael’s Gate. So what we want to know is this morning is are private housing companies exploiting our homeless problem. Is there a sort of homeless black market going on here. Homeless people being treated like a commodity. We hear of councils like Luton, Milton Keynes and various London Boroughs shipping homeless people to other parts of the country like cattle.
We’ve had people on this show saying, from the council, they didn’t even know these houses were for sale. Yet since that we’ve had councillors and officers saying they did know they were for sale. There’s all sorts going on in this story.
First was an interview with Tony Roberts a resident of St Michaels Gate.
Paul: Tony Roberts was the man that brought this issue to our attention first of all. Tony, welcome back to the show. Lots of things going on and lots of facts and figures coming out. Nobody has broken any laws, this is all legal, it might be morally repugnant, and as one councillor said “it may stink of yesterday’s fish” but it’s not illegal. Brought up in the house of commons yesterday but it’s too late for a lot of people.
Tony: It is for a lot of people. But those people have moved out purely because of the pressure that has been put upon them and fear because of all the lies that have been told since we first found out about this up until now. They have had vision of bailiffs turning up and just turning them out on the streets so obviously they got children so parents are going to put their children first. They’ve either gone into massive debt to move out and move somewhere else or there now living in friends or some of them we don’t know where they have gone. So it’s purely due to fear that they’ve moved out
Paul: Seems to be fear surrounding this whole story. You must appreciate the situation Peterborough City Council are in as well, they are over a barrel here as well aren’t they because you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If they didn’t sign the contract the other threat was there from this company that we’ll just ship people in from Luton, London, wherever.
Tony: I can kind of understand their point but it’s not so much that, it’s the way this whole deal has been done. So much was done behind closed doors, you know very secretively and hoping that people that people won’t notice or make a noise so it can all go over smoothly. So then people can make loads of money or save loads of money which at the end of the day is what this is all about.
Paul: It’s about money, not people?
Tony: No, people don’t come into it, people’s feelings, emotions, lives don’t come into it. Its all about money.
“No, people don’t come into it, people’s feelings, emotions, lives don’t come into it. Its all about money.”
Paul: People in the middle making money out of homeless people, is that morally right? Its lawfully correct, it fine you can have that business model if you want. You can come in, chop your houses up, stick some more people in, make more money. It’s absolutely above the law, but morally?
Tony: It is but myself and loads of other people, we’re thinking the law needs to change because this sort of thing starting to get more widespread and starting to happen all over the country. And if it keeps going then we are going to see more cases of this happening.
Paul: I didn’t realise until we lifted the lid that councils are literally shifting people around the country and middle men at property companies are making money off the back of these people and its happening just about everywhere.
Tony: Yes, just off this one, Steff and Phillips are to make half a million pound a year off Peterborough council. So it is big money. 74 properties there at the moment and they are saying that they are going to turn them into 98 and by doing this they are not building anymore properties, what they are doing is they are going in and just putting up cheap partition walls. We’re not even sure they are following housing regulations because nothings been checked and they are completing a full house re-model in one day. So there are a couple of houses on this estate that they have turned from two bed to four, five bedroom houses so it’s quite clear they are trying to cram as many people into these houses as they can get.
Paul: You mention the communication from Peterborough City Council as well. When we first broke this story you brought it to our attention a couple of weeks ago and we had the gentlemen on from Peterborough City Council saying that they didn’t even know the houses were for sale and they couldn’t of brought them then. Other people have said they were not worth what they are asking, so communication all over the place and due diligence doesn’t seem to have been done at all.
Tony: On the point you touch there about Peterborough Council saying that they recently found out about this and went into the deal. Over time we have since found out, and they’ve said themselves that as far back as May, maybe even April they actually looked into purchasing the houses themselves. So we actually put the question to them then if Peterborough Council purchased the houses would they still have gone ahead with evicting everyone else which would of then put them in the same situation. So one of my questions was did Peterborough City Council then let Steff and Phillips buy them so that they then could lease them off them and not be total bad people but can’t all be seen to be doing a good thing which we still haven’t got an answer for.
Paul: Well we’ve got the council on the show later on so we will ask him that very question. Was there some sort of deal done behind the counter and I’ll ask him that question later.
Tony: The council have now sent letters to all the families offering help as such. And this is a bit late considering they have known this was going to happen since May. They sent the letters out on October 12 so it’s only five months behind and we are kinda wondering if this due to the pressure of the media exposure and the press and everything else. And they have appointed one person to deal with all this. But even the help they are offering is basically a loan.
Paul: Does the government getting involved give you any hope whatsoever?
Tony: I don’t know because we thought we had a bit of hope at the call in meeting, when the vote started coming out and we had people arguing the case. Once the votes started, obviously the conservative people were going to vote against the call-in. But then people started voting for it so we began to think maybe we stand a chance here, we might be able to put forward another case. And then there was a seventh person on the table who we didn’t know at the time didn’t actually have a vote so when it was tied at three, three we thought we could actually get the fourth vote.
Paul: But even if they called it in or thrown it out this company would have gone ahead and shipped people in. We’ve seen the letter, we’ve seen the email, you’d have still been out.
Tony: What the council is saying is getting quite confusing. Every time we have a meeting they strongly suggested that Luton Borough Council were going to ship up their homeless.
Paul: But that’s not true. We’ve spoken to Luton.
Tony: They also said because Luton they didn’t take the flats up in Luton, Milton Keynes went in there. At the last meeting they actually changed that and said it was people from Barnet in London that came up. So kind of conflicting their own stories.
Next was an interview with Beverly Nichols another resident of St Michaels Gate who is facing eviction.
Paul: What’s your position, where are you at the moment?
Beverly: My son and I have lived here in St Michaels Gate for over 10 years.
Paul: You’ve made your life there?
Beverly: The first we know about this was when on August Bank Holiday Saturday when an envelope turned up through the post. We opened the envelope and in it was the notice of possession. There was no covering letter, no explanation, nothing.
Paul: Get out!
Beverly: Exactly. The date of the possession was the 31 of October, so literally in 10 days’ time. I tried to contact Paul Simon who are our actual landlords.
Paul: They’ve not always been your Landlords have they?
Beverly: No they haven’t. Over the 10 years that I’ve been here we’ve had four or five different Landlords.
Paul: A social housing company sold them to Paul Simon.
Beverly: They did indeed. Paul Simon only purchased the houses earlier on this year. There was no indication that, we know that the houses would be refurbished. We had had prior warning that we may have to leave the property or at least vacate for six weeks while the property was refurbished and consequently or rent would increase.
Paul: Are the properties falling down then, are they in need of refurbishment or was this just an excuse to fit more people in?
Beverly: I think it is. Basically what happened with the previous landlords, every time someone leaves they come in and they refurbish the property. They put in new kitchens, now bathrooms, they decorate etc. And we thought that was going to happen to us. Because I’ve been here 10 years it is slightly out-dated, so refurbish it, increase the rent, OK we live with that.
Paul: You moved there under a housing association banner which is essentially a council house. You thought that you were under that housing association banner and you’d be looked after, but then that house was then sold off.
Beverly: But with no prior warning. When the notice of possession turned up I though perhaps it was because they were handing over to a new landlord, it may be a paper exercise, it maybe to do with the refurbishment.
Paul: Have you looked into legality of it or taken advice? I know it isn’t easy.
Beverly: It isn’t easy, but to be quite honest we are so far down the line on this notice of possession that we are in the process of finding somewhere else. Hopefully we’ve got somewhere secured.
Paul: How have you done that?
Beverly: Literally by hard work and slogging and going round letting agents and contacting friends and family, do they know anyone that has any property to rent because the letting market is just huge. Especially in Peterborough where you go to letting agents your advised that there are probably 30 people looking at each property that comes up. So actually trying to secure somewhere is a real battle.
Paul: And you need the money as well. Deposits and everything else. How difficult has that been?
Beverly: Very very difficult. And unfortunately due to company restructuring I lost my job in September and so I’m currently looking for work but obviously unemployed at the moment. That makes things even harder.
Paul: Where are you getting deposits from then?
“It’s not hundred’s, we are looking at thousands of pounds to be able to secure a property.”
Beverly: I’m having to borrow money, we are getting into debt. It’s not hundred’s, we are looking at thousands of pounds to be able to secure a property. Especially in my personal circumstances. Landlords are looking for rent in advance. It’s not just the deposit, it’s not just the month’s rent, we’re looking for a couple of months. Its thousands of pounds.
Paul: Are you going to be able to manage?
Beverly: It’s a case of having to or being homeless. And this is where the ironic thing is. I contacted the council and for assistance and they said because of the current housing situation in Peterborough they wouldn’t be able to rehouse us by the 31 of October. So I asked come the 31 of October what then will happen to us. And they said we will put you into homeless accommodation…
Paul: But you’ve had to go through all this stress, get yourself in debt but you thought you were living in a housing association house. You’ve been there 10 years, you’ve made it your home, you were sorted.
Beverly: Yes, when you rent a property none of us here on St Michaels Gate are stupid, when rent a house you know that at any time you could be asked to vacate the property. You know that.
Paul: Chances are when you are in a housing association property you’re ok, they will look after you. As long as you pay your rent, look after it you’re alright.
Beverly: Exactly, you’ve got that little bit more security. When you’ve been here 10 years to suddenly get that with no prior warning, no communication and we were not supported by the council. We’ve not been contacted by the council or the people dealing with the possession of the property or our landlords until this story hit the media. This is the only time that anyone has come forward and offered us any assistance at all is in the last couple of weeks when you guys picked up the story and run with it and for that I thank you. I thank all the media for all the support they’ve given us and if it wasn’t for you guys we would be getting nothing. We are collateral damage as far as this exercise is concerned.
” We are collateral damage as far as this exercise is concerned.”
Paul: You think you would have been ignored?
Beverly: Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt. Our circumstances are not easy but there are people on the estate that are in a lot worse situation than we are. There are people that have lived here over 20 years, there are vulnerable adults, there are people that have had housed adapted for disabled children. There are young families, yes our situation is not ideal but in the grand scheme of things we are probably better off than a lot of people here and nobody has been consulted, considered. As I said we are collateral damage for the council and organisation such as Steff and Phillips and Paul Simon to make money.
Paul: My heart goes out to you Beverly and all we can do is what we are doing. I hope there is a better outcome for you.
Beverly: Personally I don’t think that the situation in St Michaels Gate is going to change. I think that we are all going to have to leave, however if we publicise what has happened to us here perhaps we can prevent is happening to other people.
Paul: Maybe the law needs to change?
Beverly: I think that it will happen to other people. This is the way social housing is going to go. It’s going to be privatised and then who knows what will happen to tenants. It’s going to happen elsewhere if we don’t make a stand, we don’t make a noise and we don’t get the law changed.