Friday, 27 March 2015

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.

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