Flagship Housing: Incompetence & Lack of compassion

Flagship Housing

On Friday 20th October 2017 our family received the devastating news that my uncle (mums brother) passed away at his home in Newmarket. He was found by a close friend late on Thursday 19th October. The police were called to the property and of course, it was their duty to inform his family in Coventry.

Tony moved away from his hometown in Coventry many years ago to pursue his career as a professional Jockey. All of his relatives still reside in Coventry, almost 100 miles away. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to witness is my mother and uncle (Tony’s brother) having to wake my grandmother up early Friday morning and break this awful news to her.

Within an hour we were all on the road to Newmarket. We were initially advised by Mildenhall Police of his death and were instructed to pick up the keys to his property from Mildenhall police station. They had concluded their business and had no further need to hold on to them.

We headed straight to the police station, initially it took them about 20 minutes to finally let us know that the keys to Tony’s property had been returned to Flagship housing just moments before our arrival. This was extremely frustrating because they knew we were travelling from Coventry to collect them.

Next stop Flagship…

We headed to the Flagship housing office on Chiswick Avenue in Mildenhall. The offices looked closed and according to their opening times they were. It looked like they were only open to the public for something silly like 2 hours per week.

We could see people inside so tried our luck with the doorbell and someone answered. We were greeted by a lady and explained the situation and Tony had passed away. We explained that we were his immediate family and that we had travelled 100 miles or so to deal with matters.

We asked for the keys to his property so that we could start sorting out his affairs and retrieve his property. We wanted to try and get as much done as possible as it wasn’t going to be easy to do living so far away.

We were escorted to a private room where we were told to wait. With me in the room was my mother, my uncle and my grandmother. All of us had identification to prove who we were and show that we were the closest relatives to him. We were asked to write down on a piece of paper who were were, our address and our relation to him. My grandmother went on to inform the staff member that she was his next of kin and provided her ID.

We were kept waiting in this room for around 25 minutes which as I’m sure you can imagine felt like so much longer given the circumstance. My relatives became overwhelmed with upset whilst in the room, in particular, my grandmother who broke down in tears. I think the reality hit at that point. Given that we had just travelled the long distance it would have been really nice if they would have offered us a hot drink but…..little did we know this was going to be the least of our issues.

Finally, the original lady we spoke to emerged and informed us quite bluntly that we were not allowed the keys to the property due to legalities although they couldn’t provide any information to support this. We were only told that because there was no will (at this point, no-one knew if there was a will) we were not allowed access just in case it was against his wishes and were told we would need to contact the public trustee for advice.

I asked if there was any next of kin listed on his paperwork or tenancy agreement but we were told this would be irrelevant if there was. We stressed that we lived far away and that we only really had the chance that day to deal with things but they really were not interested and totally lacked any form of compassion. We were disgusted.

Well, that was that! All we could do was visit his friends some of whom live in the same street which was just more heartache. Being so close to his property where he passed, where his life was and where his possessions were was really sad.

Tony had a pet dog too who was swiftly taken in by a friend but we were not allowed to get the dogs belongings and comforts either. We did go over to the property which was a bungalow. All we could do was look through the window.

Things went from bad to worse

We were at a loss with all of this and in the coming weeks, things just went from bad to worse. We were extremely busy with making arrangements for his funeral. We were struggling to fund the funeral so as you can imagine – any other costs at this point would just put a further strain on the family and not be affordable, such as – paying for a public trustee or even legal advice.

My mother made contact with a lady called Ali Beckett at Flagship Housing to find out if they had any further information for us or if they had found a solution to us being able to retrieve Tony’s belongings. At the beginning of the call, Ali stated: ” You do know that Mr Skingle has passed away?” How on earth my mother held herself I do not know. My mother replied, ” Yes I do, he’s my brother” in which Ali replied with a giggle….she GIGGLED! Simply disgusting behaviour from a professional.

The only point of contact from Flagship following this call was when someone called my mother to ask her for Tony’s death certificate. We did ask that if we provided this would it allow us to collect his belongings. The answer was no. They simply needed it for their records and to end his tenancy. Therefore we refused to provide the death certificate. I thought it was quite a cheek to ask US for documents to make their life easier. From this point onwards we never heard from Flagship.

TORTS NOTICE

A few weeks later we were still no further forward with retrieving his belongings. We were unable to provide him with an outfit for his funeral and any personal artefacts. We were unable to contact his utility companies, banks or anyone else that needed to know about his passing because we just simply didn’t have the information.

We had a phone call from Tony’s closest friend who lived in the same street to inform us that Flagship had put a notice on his front door. The noticed was dated 24th November and titled: TORTS (INTERFERENCE WITH GOODS) ACT 1977 NOTICE IMPOSING OBLIGATION TO COLLECT GOODS.

You couldn’t make it up!

We would never have known about this notice if his friend didn’t inform us. Flagship was very sly in doing this because they would have known that none of his family would see this notice.

The notice on the door was address to the legal representative of my uncle and was informing us that they had taken back possession of the property and that his belongings were being held for a period of 7 days and that after this date any items that were not collected would be disposed of by Flagship. So, we immediately got in touch and offered to collect the items at the earliest convenience as per the notice and were happy for a Flagship representative to be present whilst we did so but guess what……. we were STILL not allowed in.

(I have since found out that from the date of removal they are legally bound to store his belongings for a period of 28 days )

After asking online for some help I had a man contact me from a private investigation company who offered to help. He called the number on the notice and spoke to Sarah and introduced himself. He asked her to provide evidence of the Flagship Policy they were working to and also provide evidence of the legal document they are also referring to. He was told that she was uncomfortable speaking about our families situation to him he explained that he wasn’t asking her to divulge any personal information nor did he want to discuss personal information he just wanted to see the policy which should be publicly available on request – She put the phone down on him!! As far as I am aware, company policy’s should be made available either readily or on request. I have tried to find their policies online but I cannot locate any at all.

I immediately called her myself but there was no answer.

That was it. we’d exhausted all avenues possible to us within our financial means. We tried and we got no-where and through all of this. Flagship housing did not give an ounce of shit or compassion.

To twist the knife a bit further. Flagship Housing extended the notice by a further 7 days again knowing that we had no way of accessing my uncle’s belongings.

Deadline Day

On 12th December 2017 – 12 days before Christmas. My uncle’s whole life and belongings were removed from his property and thrown away. My family and I have absolutely nothing to remember him by. We were unable to dress him in his own clothes for his funeral. We. Had. Nothing.

This inconsiderate action prompted this post on my social media and it went viral within hours. The post has reached over 115,000 people and also attracted the attention of the media.

The Newmarket Journal wrote this post and also made contact with Andrea Rutterford, head of housing at Flagship who made comment. Cambridge News also covered the story with this article.

The support from the public has been phenomenal and extremely overwhelming and my family and I thank you all from the bottom of our heart. It’s also very clear that Flagship housing is a very incompetent housing association given the other stories I’ve heard from current tenants and even ex-employees.

Investigation

I’ve since been advised that upon clearing the property of my uncle’s belongings, Flagship should have taken a legally binding inventory of items removed, they then should have been put into storage for 28 days.

On Monday 18th December I received a call from Nick Bunn, Operations manager at Flagship Housing. He spoke to me regarding the incident and was the first member of staff to show any amount of compassion. He explained that he is launching an internal investigation into the matter. At this point, I asked him to provide me with copies of all the policies that were followed during the process. I also asked him where my unce’s belongings where at that moment in time (They were supposed to be in storage) That information was not readily available and was told her wuld email me with the information.

It was brought to my attention via the ex-employee who reached out to me that Flagship Housing was currently under investigation by the ombudsman for their bereavement policy and previous fraudulent action.

Update: 8th January 2018

Nick Bunn at Flagship housing has been carrying out an internal investigation. His findings were that they didn’t act totally correctly however we still have many questions.  Ali at Flagship has admitted laughing down the phone her response to this was that it was a nervous laugh and wasn’t sure who she was speaking to. My question here is, if she didn’t know who she was speaking to should she be divulging personal information? “Mr Skingle has passed away” is that not data protection? Nick agreed with this, apologised and suggested a possible training issue. I should think so too!

In Nick’s finding’s we were told that the original Tort’s notice that was served on the property was in correct as he states:

“As there was no executor to the estate, we served a Notice to Quit and sent a copy to the public trustee. Which is standard practice to end a tenancy where there is no executor. The Notice to Quit was served on 27.10.2017”

He also said “A notice known as a Torts notice was served which allowed 7 days for the collection of the goods, providing the relevant information was obtained. In this case we would have needed to see grant of probate or proof of representation. At this stage, our legal team advised that we needed to give 14 days rather than the 7 days on the original Tort notice. This was then amended by the Housing team, giving another 7 days. We apologise that we did not give the correct amount of notice on the initial notice, this is a training issue that we have identified and are correcting. We should have also made you aware that we had served the Torts notice, I would like to apologise that this wasn’t done.

Nick agreed that Flagship should have made us aware that they had served the notice on the property.

Interestingly also, Nick states ” “The notes from our system show that the Sister advised, they probably wouldn’t pursue instructing a solicitor, as there wasn’t much in the property” This is NOT true as you can see in a screenshot of the actual E-mail below. She stated clearly that we could not afford the expense of going via a legal route.

The email

The final outcome.

We were never allowed in the property to collect the belongings. The belongings were never retrieved. Nick Bunn’s final comments were

A very small number of personal items were found, which we have kept. When we carried out the removal of items, care was taken to look for any personal belongings. The only personal belongings we have found are listed below.

  • 3 Provident Payment books
  • 4 Photographs
  • Empty Lloyds bank deposit envelope”
The only belongings that were retrieved

This is what Flagship thought to be the only retrievable items from Tony’s property. Even though, we had asked for his clothing, paperwork, the dog’s belongings.

The belongings they retrieved were sent to us by Flagship and are the ONLY belongings of my Uncle that we have. Even this was inconsistent as we have only been sent 3 of the 4 photographs (As well as the other items). It’s almost insulting.

Nick told us that Tony’s food had been donated to a local food bank and his furniture had been disposed of. When I asked where his clothes were and personal laptop, Nick could not answer this.

Tony had some rental appliances from Hughs, it has been confirmed that the rental company was given access to the property to retrieve their goods.

Investigation Findings

The summary of Nick’s report is as follows:

Findings

“Following the investigation into the actions we have taken, I am satisfied that the correct advice was given to the family regarding access to the property and the belongings. I know that this must be a distressing time and I am sorry if this has caused you additional worry which was not our intention.

Whilst I am satisfied that we have given the correct advice, we could have made the current situation clearer to you by following up our conversations in writing. Although we did verbally advise what steps needed to be taken in order to gain the relevant legal representation, I do understand that the family would have had lots going on that needed to be sorted, combined with not living locally would have made this difficult task even harder. Especially as this involved seeking legal advice at a time where the family would have had to sort many matters out. I do accept that we could have done more. 

Learnings

  • We will provide Housing staff with refresher training to highlight the importance of taking photos of all rooms when clearing a property in future, so that we have a full record. Whilst this is done on the majority of cases we need to ensure it is done for all, even if there are only a few possessions.
  • We will provide refresher training to our staff regarding the legalities surrounding access to property and personal belongings when there has been a bereavement.
  • We will follow up conversations in writing, that have important information, or actions as a result.
  • We will re-iterate the importance of ensuring that staff communication is compassionate, supportive and reflects the situation.

We do understand that this is a very difficult time for families.  We will from time to time encounter situations which are uncommon and we may need to seek further guidance. This is not an excuse not to be compassionate and sympathetic in what is a distressing time for the family.

Whilst there are some obvious learnings, and we accept some communication could have been carried out better, the advice we have given was correct. However, going forwards we will take steps that enable staff to seek the correct advice more quickly, minimising the impact on families.

I would like to sincerely apologise for any distress that we may have caused. As mentioned above, I can send the personal belongings to the relevant address, I will send this recorded delivery to ensure the safe arrival. I would be thankful if you could confirm when you have the items in your possession.”

 

I sincerely hope that this is a huge learning curve for Flagship Housing and really hope that no other family has to endure this situation. Tony had a fantastic send-off in Newmarket. He is forever loved and missed by all who knew him.

5 replies
  1. PENNY WOOSTER
    PENNY WOOSTER says:

    It’s despicable the insensitive way in which you were dealt with. And there are no excuses for the pig ignorance AND arrogance of the staff. These people should now be out of a job. I say boycott this company; it’s the least they deserve

    Reply
    • SavvyMumUK
      SavvyMumUK says:

      I’ve heard so much negativity about them. It would be great if people could boycott the company but sadly they hold the trump card on housing in that area and the demand for housing is more of a need. This is why they can get away with it because people will always need a property and they would never turn one down due to moral – I wouldn’t expect them to either.
      Fingers crossed this triggers an audit and a big shakeup. If it means no-one else goes through this then our job is done. xx

      Reply
  2. Rebecca johnston
    Rebecca johnston says:

    No account of where his clothes and electrical items are?
    They were not in the property?
    Furniture was destroyed? Surely it’d be donated?! The cost of destroying it would surely be more for them?
    Sound like a bunch of incompetent immoral THIEVES if you ask me! Makes you wonder how many people have gone through the same treatment but not had the opportunity to share like you via Facebook etc.
    Well done for exposing them and demanding answers! Thoughts are with you, your mum, your man and rest of your family xx

    Reply
    • SavvyMumUK
      SavvyMumUK says:

      Thank you Rebecca, I’ve heard so much negativity about them since I have exposed them.
      I am still waiting to hear where his clothes are let alone the rest of the items. xx

      Reply
  3. Jean Vaughan
    Jean Vaughan says:

    Words cannot convey my true feelings on this issue but without a doubt action needs to be taken. Personally, I would contact my local MP when he/she next holds a public surgery, take copies of everything and share with them. They are elected to work on your behalf, let them do their job.

    Reply

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