Monday, 24 November 2014

Swan in HCA cash probe

One of England’s biggest developing landlords has suspended three members of staff over allegations they falsified documents to receive premature grant payment from the Homes and Communities Agency.

Essex-based Swan Housing Group was forced to temporarily return grant to the HCA that had been drawn down early after the allegations came to light in December.

It is undergoing an internal investigation into the allegations alongside a simultaneous probe being carried out by the HCA assisted by law firm Devonshires.

Deputy chief executive Mark Thompson is one of three staff to have been suspended.

The 10,000-home organisation has also terminated a contract with an unnamed consultant over the allegations.

The decision to suspend staff was made after an interim report by Devonshires included allegations that the staff ‘had deliberately subverted the operating system’ to claim grant prematurely.

It is understood that the grant payments were drawn down early in an attempt to meet internal targets at Swan. The landlord said there was ‘no evidence’ that the alleged practices were undertaken for personal gain or that public money was misused.

It would not reveal how much grant was involved.

A spokesperson for Swan said the organisation was looking into ‘a number of projects that may have been affected over the last few years’.

He said: ‘We do not think there’s much that’s been affected but we have to check through every potential area that can be looked at.’ He added that any funding drawn incorrectly had been returned to the HCA and there were no plans to involve the police.

The alleged incidents relate to HCA grant for projects under the previous national affordable homes programme, for which Swan received £116.9 million in grant to build 2,136 homes. Under the NAHP, some grant was paid up front to housing associations when developments were started, with a further tranche paid on completion.

The HCA said it could not comment on the situation until its investigation was over. It is thought the HCA and Swan investigations will both be completed later this year.

Swan has one of the most ambitious programmes under the current £1.8 billion affordable homes programme. It will receive £38.7 million in grant to build 1,500 homes, adding 15 per cent to its housing stock.

Inside Housing’s survey of the top developing housing associations in June placed Swan in 16th position having completed 822 new homes and received more than £6.5 million in HCA funding.

Readers' comments (25)

  • Can you believe it an "allegation of the big F"- aka the big elephant in the room word that dare not say it's name - surely fraud only exists amongst the benefits claiments eh?

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  • Rick Campbell

    Surely the Sun and the Daily Wail can step in and apportion the blame where it belongs -- it's the tenants' fault ... it always is.

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  • Tony Cook

    "The landlord said there was ‘no evidence’ that the alleged practices were undertaken for personal gain or that public money was misused."

    Whilst I appreciate the falsification of documents, even with the best of intentions, once accepted, becomes the thin end of the wedge and therefore not to condoned, I do have a certain sympathy for their actions. Government red tape is exasperating at the best of times but on occasion it can seem almost malefic?

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  • Tenants who falsify their housing allocation get evicted and prosecuted. Now let's see what happens if this allegation is proved true, they will get the same ruthless treatment or whether there is a law for us and one for them.

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  • Tony Cook,
    As an ex Development Diector myself I have ZERO sympathy with the three alledged miscreants, fiddling start on site dates so that you can draw down grant and thereby reduce your own interest bill presents a false picture of how efficient your organisation is and would tend to help you when bidding against other RPs for grant money.
    IT IS THEREFORE WRONG.
    If found culpable they should be thrown out of the industry. Having said that this kind of thing tends to be cultural, how on earth did they manage to do this without other members of staff becoming aware of it?

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  • the problem with fraud in the public sector as opposed to the private is that there is the political minefield where councillors ( many of whom proceed to MP and ministerial level) are technically in the frame either by virtue of ommission or commission-hence the sweep it under the carpet syndrome dominates -which is the key strategy of the fraudsters who know they are untouchable

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  • Chris

    Why has everyone missed the point that this means even fewer completions than the miserable total Shapps claims for a success of his policy.

    What needs to be asked is did the HCA encourage early reporting to boost the dismal results of the failed initiative in much the same way as the Treasury encouraged massaging of the Libor rate? Of course not, in both cases - after all we can depend on our government to be honest and fair, can't we?

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  • I am a Swan tenant and it has been obvious (since the ink was dry on the stock transfer) that this organisation is way too sharp for its own good; certainly for the tenants. All their energies are directed at enlarging their business and the attention they afford residents is minimal.
    Unfortunately they have turned the TRA against itself and we now only have only four elected representatives (after a fixed AGM) to supposedly maintain our interests.

    This is certainly not a good landlord and needs to be governed properly.
    Their effect, on what was originally a close community, has been most depressing and frustrating.

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  • Gavin Rider

    Chris - you are pretty good at throwing completely unsubstantiated accusations around, aren't you?

    You seem to think you can get away with doing this by posting your assertion as a question, but be very careful because just like Chris Kilby's comment about Swan, you can be "way too sharp for your own good".

    You have stated as a fact that the Treasury encouraged the massaging of the Libor rate.

    Where is your evidence for this... or is it just another of your "blatently untrue, propaganderistic and politically motivated" comments?

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  • Gavin Rider

    Chris - You said "did the HCA encourage early reporting to boost the dismal results of the failed initiative in much the same way as the Treasury encouraged massaging of the Libor rate?"

    So you were not "asking" whether the Treasury had encouraged the massaging of the Libor rate in your usual "rhetorical question stylee", you were "asking" whether the HCA had done what you assert the Treasury had previously done.

    Like I say, you are trying to be too sharp for your own good, and cutting yourself in the process.

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