Friday, 18 April 2014

20 councils accused of a lack of consultation in test case over care cuts

Court fight to keep live-in wardens

Residents of sheltered housing developments have begun a legal fight to retain their live-in wardens.

A solicitor for tenants of around 50 schemes in more than 20 local authorities has issued papers to bring a judicial review of the decisions or proposals to remove the wardens.

Yvonne Hossack served papers on Barnet Council on 4 September. The council plans to remove live-in wardens from some schemes and replace them with visiting staff. Bradford, Hackney and Devon councils, which have all removed live-in staff from some schemes, will also be challenged as part of the test case.

Ms Hossack said: ‘The court can see what happens in practice by having cases from people who have been without a warden for longest.’
Papers against the remaining councils will be issued this week. The cases are funded by legal aid.

Ms Hossack has also asked the court to consider an application to stop Barnet from making further changes to the service until the case concludes.She is waiting for a court date for the judicial review. Her assistant Louise Kirk said they would argue that the residents expected a live-in warden when they moved in and that there was a lack of proper consultation about a change to the service.

The Essential Role of Sheltered Housing, which represents sheltered housing landlords, said restrictions under the European working time directive made it difficult to employ resident wardens, some schemes struggled to attract live-in staff and some residents did not want them. Instead it backed visiting staff based on the needs of the residents.

Meanwhile, a disciplinary case between Ms Hossack and watchdog the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal will be heard this week. Three councils against which she had brought legal cases over care cuts reported her, saying her standard of work must suffer because of the long hours she works.

Readers' comments (29)

  • Joe Halewood

    Is the ERoSH argument of any relevance at all?

    If you agree to move to and accept a service that has a resident warden and largely if not wholly because of that service, then a change in the law unbeknown to you (as the tenant) surely should not affect that.

    The issue is not principle it is cost of supplying that warden here - a service the tenant and the landlord has agreed to ahead of the Working Time Directive.

    So why is the tenant penalised with the clearly lesser service and much reduced reassurance of having the resident warden withdrawn. The added fact that this has been done without any consultation is a separate and additional issue.

    Surely a tenancy has to be a contract or implied contract and the commitment and obligation of the landlord to deliver its services overrides any 'difficulties' in recruitment and must include a responsibility to respond to any changes in the law. Hence it seems to me that unless the landlord(s) can argue that a visiting warden provides the same or better level of service than a resident warden - and thats not the case - then the landlords are delivering a lesser service, reducing its own (contractual) obligation to the tenant and doing so without any consultation.

    I also find the last paragraph of this article quite offensive and incredibly biased reporting.

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  • I find my self in agreement with you Joe - at least on the last sentance of your comment.

    The rest I have to say while sounding pretty right to me will be diecided in due course by a Judge. It's reasonably clear that a Tenancy Agreement IS a contract - after all Landlrds argue that all the time when they want their rent don't they - it would be difficult for them to now argue otherwise. The key is going to be whether a resident warden forms part of the 'agreement' or is a seperate issue.

    The last paragraph I too found offensive in its tone - and I thought totally irrelevant to this story. However, I would like to see a piece done by Inside Housing lambasting the councils concerned who brought this complaint, which on the face of it is at best sour grapes and at worst a crass attempt to pervert the course of justice for Tenants.

    I will hold my breath and see what IH say on the matter....

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  • "...The Essential Role of Sheltered Housing, which represents sheltered housing landlords, said restrictions under the European working time directive made it difficult to employ resident wardens.... "

    Listen to these landlords quoting european directives now!... Could they explain why live-in wardens have never been a problem in most european countries (well, germany, spain, france, italy --- I have no energy to inquire further than these at the moment) then? don't the european directives apply to all european countries or do they maintain, like some political parties, these directives have been created by the rest of europe with no other purpose than to penalise British sheltered housing landlords?...

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  • Joe Halewood

    Essex man - yes a legal decision will decide but "...is whether a resident warden forms a part of the Agreement..."

    I disagree on that point alone. The provision of a "resident" warden is and was clearly a key factor in the tenants choice of accepting the tenure, whether or not it is specifically stipulated in the Agreement. Hence this is a separate issue to whether a resident warden is stipulated or not.

    It is stating the bloody obvious that a resident warden provides more reassurance to a prospective tenant than a non-resident or visiting one. That was the basis of the contract or Agreement when it was entered into and obviously a key factor in the decision of the tenant to enter into that Agreement.

    To then have your contractual right diminished is bad enough, to have it diminished without any consultation is and can never be acceptable in law in my view and definitively not morally.

    What has happened here is an agreement to deliver 10 apples, a contract signed then the supplier says apples have gone up in price and are more scarce so i'll give you three instead....and no argument or discussion.

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  • This issue seems to me very much like a the Gurkha case, with Joanna Lumley leading it. It is co clear as daylight that these councils and landlords are being wrong, and still they have to waste public time and public resources and shatter the peace of thousands and thousands of older residents in trying to achieve what from all points of view is completely wrong... I would very much urge Ms Yvonne Hossack to approach a celebrity to help her campaign. Believe me there will be many of them ready to help such a cause... A celebrity would raise the issue to Prime MInister level and we can all have a laugh at these mindless sheltered housing landlords.

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  • I couldn't agree more with what Joe Halewood has written. When this case goes to the High Court, the Councils will definately lose. Then they will have eggs on their faces and everyone is going to fight these Councils on every little thing. If they do win, the press will get them.

    An old person is going to get robbed and die in their home. Only then will they review their stupid decision. These Councils are going to give themselves serious headaches.

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  • Joe: I'm on your side in this my friend, while common sense would suggest that the 'resident' warden forms part of the contract how often have you known the Law to use common sense in its deliberations??

    As for your last statement, I can only refer you to recent (and ongoing) discussions between the NFU and the big supermarkets - the Supermarkets will often enter a contract with a farmer to supply so many apples at a specified price only to turn around at the point of delivery and say - the recession has hit hard therefore we're making your apples part of our value range and will pay you less...

    All that said though I am in complete disagreement with the recent moves by authorities to remove sheltered csheme wardens without adequate consultation - and by that I mean consultation NOT presentation as happens in many cases.

    The fact is the tenant moved to a propoerty with a resdent warden, removal of that should in my view constitute a breach of agreement however, I stand by my assertion that that will be a key point in the legal arguement - one side will say it part of the agreement and the other will say it isn't and was merely a 'service' offered in addition to the tenancy agreement...

    Like I say, only a Judge can decide and I think that the outcome will prove contentious regardless of what that decision actually is.....

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  • I worked as a Scheme Manager for several years and I was residential. I think it is very important that a Scheme Manager lives on site as it makes the residents feel safer and more confident. The company I worked with wanted to replace me with a non residentail Scheme Manager and the residents went mad and complained. They said that is why they came into sheltered housing in the first place - to have a warden on site 24 hours a day.

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  • In defense of the landlords and councils i would like to say that the idea of non residential warden / managers is one that has been pushed by government and Supporting People in the never ending drive to cut costs.
    Also as a residential scheme manager whos post is soon to become non residential I support the move towards non resident wardens.
    This is because there is no such thing as 24hr on site cover any more anyway and hasen't been for some time i.e. when you are off duty / on holiday you are not obliged to remain on site. There is a 24hr call system which covers these periods.
    If the level of service i.e the hours delivered to the tenants remains the same then there is no difference between on or off site. However where things have been going wrong is when residential wardens are replaced with floating support. This is in my view a substantial change to the service and one which can not be justified.

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  • What most people have failed to recognise is the change in funding for housing related support services such as sheltered housing. The Governments Supporting People programme introduced in 2003 is now the main source of funding for scheme managers / wardens as these costs are no longer met by housing benefit.

    Each Local Authority’s Supporting People teams have to ensure that the grants they pay to providers (such as RSL’s) are used for a cost effective delivery of housing related support. Scheme Managers roles are much more defined. This means that a multitude of forms, health & safety checks and support plans have to be completed by the scheme manager and have to be evidenced by the Local Authority to ensure that grant is continued to be paid. Scheme managers no longer have time to sit down and have copious cups of tea or discuss the weather, etc but have to concentrate on providing housing related support to those that need it.

    I work for a housing provider which you can probably gather from the content of this. I personally think that technology is the way forward – not replacing scheme managers per se but in addition to. A fall sensor, for example will detect at any time of day or night if a resident has fallen and will once and for all put a stop to the unnecessary pressure felt by most scheme managers that they may not have been in the flat when a resident fell. The Government should perhaps provide more grant funding for assistive technology, redefine sheltered housing and bring it into the 21st Century.

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