The following is intended to provide information about Property Guardian companies, what they do and the abuses they perpetuate. The growth of property guardian companies in England & Wales, and the Netherlands, coincides with the criminalisation of squatting in both countries, and the two events are intimately related. Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH), a pro-squatting lobby, would like to make the following statement to clarify its position regarding Property Guardian (PG) companies:
“Property Guardian companies are exploitative enterprises, opportunists preying on the scandal of thousands of empty buildings, fear of squatters, and housing desperation. Their business model relies on stripping their residents/“workers” of their tenancy rights, getting taxpayer subsidy through government contracts and lack of regulation, and using any means to make a quick buck. In so doing, they undermine the rights of all tenants, stop squatters using empty buildings for social purpose, and create a situation where their residents are robbed of their rights and money. Property guardianships are NOT “legalised squatting”, they are fundamentally Exploitative, Undermining and Abusive arrangements, whose influence is insidious and goes largely unnoticed.”
Property Guardian companies are:
Companies charge landlords (often local authorities & housing associations) for providing their services, namely placing live-in guardians (or “caretakers”) in empty properties. Live-in guardians are expected to live in the property continuously and forbidden to leave for more than 3 days at a time; they essentially become unpaid security guards. Property Guardian (PG) companies charge guardians near market rents for living in the often barely serviced properties. Live-in guardians are not tenants, but licensees, which means they have no rights; for example company representatives can enter guardians’ rooms whenever they choose, without notification, and eviction takes little more than 2 weeks, no reason required.
PG companies are known to use the following to extract additional money from its guardians:
- Withholding and keeping deposits, without any reason;
- Charging guardians arbitrary fees or fines, eg for disobeying the rules;
- Demanding guardians organise events, keeping all profits from drink sales, entrance, etc for themselves; see Tidemill Case Study below.
Property guardianship is a “loophole” in the housing market, with no regulation or oversight for what companies do, and guardians are not protected under the Landlord and Tenant Act. This enables private private companies, acting as middle-men, to make large profits for doing very little, at the expense of everyone else. The UK government’s position on property guardianship is that it is a private matter between the landlord and the guardian companies, and it is not a form of housing (see “Government’s Position” below). PG companies portray themselves as the solution to empty properties, following the criminalisation of residential squatting in 2012. PG companies prey on the young and homeless seeking somewhere to live, and landlords’ fears about squatters. They undermine tenancy rights for everyone, making precarity the norm, and are actively involved in the “commodification of empty property”; that is, making money out of a national scandal.
In addition, Property Guardian companies:
- Exclude many people in serious housing need by requiring guardians to give them landlord references, proof of income and job, and vetting potential guardians to ensure they will be compliant to the company’s demands;
- Prevent guardians from challenging their arbitrary rules, by forbidding guardians from speaking to landlords or the media, threatening eviction if they do speak up;
- Undermine more equitable solutions to empty property, such as squatting and short-life housing co-operatives; for example Orbis (a security & PG company) publishes the following nonsense statistics on squatting, and is lobbying for further criminalisation, with this Whitepaper – “Unwanted Guests: Squatting Law Whitepaper 2015”.
Property Guardian companies normally structure guardians into controllable units, overseen by a monitor or manager. These managers keep an eye on their fellow guardians, making sure they follow the PG company’s rules – eg not leaving for long periods – and report them if they do not. Company representatives harass guardians about such minor things as washing up, tidiness or leaving in timely manner. License fees (or “rent”) can be raised whenever companies want, and by whatever amount they see fit. Guardians live in fear of unannounced inspections, arbitrary fines, and speaking out about their conditions. Guardians are expected to do free work for the company, such as guarding and gardening, or face eviction. PG representatives can even use their power to coerce women/ men to sleep with them, threatening them if they do not – see Tidemill Case study below.
Overview of Property Guardianships
“Criminalising squatting, empty homes and property guardianship” [SQUASH, Feb 2013]: overview of the situation of property guardian companies and how they operate.
“Who’s guarding property guardians?” [Guardian, 09/07/10]: critical overview of property guardian companies before residential squatting was criminalised.
“The high price of cheap living: how the property guardianship dream soured” [Guardian, 24/12/2015]: recent coverage of property guardianship in the UK, highlighting conditions, profits and contracts with local authorities.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” [G. Peaker on Nearly Legal, November 2011]: legal analysis of property guardian licenses, and how they evade tenancy law.
“Who Guards the Guardians?” [G. Peaker on Anthony Gold, January 2013]: legal analysis of property guardian licenses, and how they evade tenancy law.
Contracts with Local Authorities
“Council pays £440,000 so security firm can exploit tenants” [J. Boehnert on SQUASH, April 2012]: Lambeth Council evicting short-life co-ops and squats, paid £440k to Camelot to occupy the evicted Clifton Mansions.
“In a guardian time” [C. Wiles on Inside Housing, September 2015]: Case study involving a local authority, social landlord and Camelot, leaving 150 guardians homeless.
Ad-Hoc Case Study: personal experience of someone who was in an Ad-Hoc property guardianship, their housing conditions, and the way they and their fellow guardians were treated by the company.
v Ad-Hoc Case Study v
“We occupied an office block on Downham Rd, Hackney. It’s owned by Hackney City Council. I don’t know how much Hackney pay Ad-Hoc for the management of the building but it would be interesting to know. There are 12 people living there paying £270p/m. I’ve been an ad-Hoc guardian for the past 16 months, having been at the current property for 2 and a half months.
We were re-housed after a year living at Landsdowne Dr, London Fields as the building was marked for renovation work. They kept 3 male guardians in the building to provide security for the initial building work. Ad-Hoc then had the job of re-housing 15 people which they managed on the last day of occupation when Downham Rd became available.
I was interested in the guardianship scheme as I wanted to live in unusual buildings, I believe that empty spaces should be used and had only not squatted before because of the short life of most newly opened buildings. I believed Ad-Hoc had some ethical motivation, that became obviously false. When I signed the contract with Ad-Hoc I was aware of the lack of rights we, as ‘guardians’ had but i was willing to overlook this for the cheap rent, lots of space and not having to worry about bills. I especially didn’t like that they had access to our rooms whenever they liked and that we were not allowed guests without their permission. Also, having only 2 weeks notice was a bit nerve racking. I knew other Ad-Hoc guardians and knew they didn’t enforce all their rules all the time and also knew that people had stayed in building for a couple of years before and had a handful of inspections. In our first building we were inspected a couple of times in a year once being rightfully warned that the kitchen was too dirty (we shared one between 15) which we dutifully sorted out.
Our experience for a year was good. We had parties, people staying over, others staying in spare rooms for months at a time, smoking in the building, pets… with Ad-Hoc knowing and without any complaint. At the same time. We maintained the building really well, looked after the garden and made sure it was always occupied.
When we moved to Downham Rd it was only a few days before they came round and inspected at which time they had just moved 13 people into a building with little notice, so of course everyones belongings were in the hallways. Since then we have been inspected constantly, on one occasion i returned home to find all my electrical items had been dug out of my belongings and PAT tested. I wouldn’t be opposed this if we’d had some warning, but the fact that our personal belongings were searched through felt invasive.
My experience of being a guardian has been very mixed. It has introduced me to some amazing people and I was lucky enough to live in some great buildings. For the first year, I didn’t feel any imposing presence from Ad-Hoc. Once at Downham Rd my experience was very different. I have felt harassed, bullied and feel my human rights have been infringed. I work in TV and Film art and costume departments, therefore the nature of my work calls for me to have lots of materials, tool, fabrics and props. This was singled out as the main problem as “The property was not being maintained to a high standard, and fell well short of Ad Hocs requirements”. I don’t feel this was at all reasonable as no one had ever had a problem before, there was no unhygienic mess and the opinion was purly subjective. I had left my unit in a respectable state and had other housemates check it over.
Ad-Hoc’s reason for eviction was that the Mayor Jules Pipes was personally disappointed with the condition of the property as were the other Hackney representatives present. I since have been in touch with one of these representatives who didn’t report any problems with the condition and apparently Jules Pipes as never at the visit. I feel completely cheated and undermined by Ad-Hoc as I’ve never had any problems before and didn’t have the chance for a warning or an appeal. I was very disappointed about the way the guardian managers treat the evictees after the eviction. Firstly a passport from a room where they suspected the guardian of subletting and didn’t notify the owner. I was told they understood that the situation was particularly unfair to me but reasoned that ‘life’s unfair’. I was also told that they considered re-housing me, but because I’d emailed questioning the motivation behind their decision, they decided not to. I was evicted on the 22nd August. I since have even had emails demanding this next months rent for the room.”
Tidemill and Newbould Guardians: personal experience of a property guardian living in a Newbould Guardian property, Tidemill, in SE London, addressing issues like abuse, exploitation and bullying.
v Tidemill Case Study v
“The practice at Newbould Guardian’s is unscrupulous and vindictive, insensitive to the requirements of the ‘licensees’, many of whom cannot afford to become tenants in the London housing market, and therefore forfeit their rights. I am now in consultations with Greenwich Housing Association, Lewisham Council, Squash Campaign, writers at The Guardian and pursuing as much media coverage as I can, as I believe the company has acted in bad faith towards me and I am more than aware than I am not the only licensee to be subject to the fleeting whims of MD Mr Joseph Askin’s insecurities. This is why I am bringing my situation into the light, however personally embarrassing & inopportune it is for me right now.[…] I lived from 2008 to 2012 to various squats in South East London, many of them with the permission of the owner. During this time we fixed the roofing, dilapidated flooring, plumbing & other basic requirements of the modern day bourgeois living. Facing eviction in 2012, and requiring the mental space to focus on the company I worked for I decided to move into property guardianship with Newbould Guardians.
Entranced by the glamorous façade of the company I work for (dynamic visual & costume designers) the MD Joseph Askins initially welcomed me enthusiastically, meeting me at my workplace, in my room once I had moved in, & becoming a friend of sorts. He asked me to help him stage a Jubilee Street Party from 2nd – 4th June, and assist with the event management, décor, promotion and booking of acts.
He also discussed that one of the imperatives of Newbould Guardian’s being granted tenure of Tidemill School was to engage with the local community, another reason why he was delighted to have me on board as the company I managed had been rooted in the area for 12 years, and established a close working relationship with the stallholders at Deptford market where most of their materials are sourced, and the colourful characters within the company are much loved & respected by the local residents.
The street party was engineered to create money, as well as promote Newbould Guardian’s to the local community.
Despite the Jubilee weekend being particularly busy for the company I managed I took off 2 days prior to the event to set up the accoutrements, providing a stage & décor that I would usually charge a minimum of £1000 for set up & take down (past clients include Bestival, Secret Garden Party, Hodder & Stoughton, Fabled Productions, Wonderland Events, Contraband, Beau Productions, etc) free of charge. I also assisted with booking acts, artist liason & management.
Unfortunately the inclusion of Mr Askins booking Saxon Sound System was not particularly well received by the local residents, neither was the practice of residents not being able to bring their own food or drink into the event, as Mr Askins wished to capitalise on the event by selling drinks (including champagne, in Deptford, a relatively deprived area), and his contract with Saxon Sound System was for them to make money as the sole providers of Food Stalls on the day in exchange for the provision of their soundsystem.This is detailed in a blog about the event by local resident.
During the Saturday evening, Mr Askin’s behaviour became somewhat lascivious towards me, and plying me with champagne he made flirtatious advances. I understand that everyone was tired from the amount of work that all had contributed to the event, as was I, and in hindsight my behaviour could have been moderated. However, being aware that he had previously engaged in a sexual relationship with a fellow tenant which had caused her some problems, after a few drinks, and being tired myself, I made a few vicious comments, and from here his behaviour towards me changed considerably.
Initially he blamed me for the lack of press coverage of the event, and that the amount of people in attendance was less than his estimate of 1500. Whilst I had promoted the event to press, and had received coverage in the South London Press, you can’t guarantee press coverage, especially on a busy public holiday weekend such as the Jubilee, which had a considerable amount of free family events. There were no conditions in my contract stipulating any amount of work I had to do on Newbould’s behalf, although I had verbally agreed to participate in engaging Newbould Guardian with the local community.
My full time role at the local business involved me mentoring a continuous stream of work experience students, in association with the work experience department of Lewisham Council, & with my studio premises being at Tidemill School I believe that this was sufficient to cover the verbal agreement. The students I mentor gain confidence in their artistic abilities, hands on experience in a hectic studio environment and supervision, and exit with passion, inspiration, a functional, relevant portfolio and industry contacts. I believe that using the premises at Tidemill School for this provides a far greater service to the local community than staging any party or event.
Mr Askins behaviour toward me now became actively hostile. Due to receiving noise complaints from local residents because of the party he was concerned that Newbould Guardian’s would lose favour in the eyes of Lewisham Council & have to forfeit their tenure. He called a house meeting on 21st June at Tidemill School. The timing of this clashed with my spiritual commitments, as a practising heathen I visit to Stonehenge to view the sunrise on the longest day of the year. I informed my house manager that I might not be able to attend the meeting, as I made my way from Stonehenge to my friend’s house nearby, rather than travelling straight back to London.
Mr Askins was irate that I did not attend the meeting and immediately served me with a notice to vacate the property. As an artist & set designer with a large studio I do not travel light, my work is formed from what I create. Struggling also with my large workload and multiple roles in a small creative company this cause me considerable distress. I had nowhere else to go, having lived in squats before, and having no family or financial support to fall upon I was at a loss as to where to place the next step. When someone consciously manipulates your home, which is actively engaged to your work and threatens everything that makes you secure and able to function it is quite nerve-wracking.
I called Mr Askins, made him aware of my situation, pleaded with him, apologised for being rude to him at the Jubilee event, he then eventually he agreed to a meeting in his office, with his (former) business partner Lars Newbould, an ex military officer. Here, after interrogating me for half an hour, which they collaboratively appeared to take pleasure in, they agreed between them to evict me & issued me with the necessary paperwork.
Despite generally being able to hold my own in a confrontation I was in such a state of panic and humiliation that I had a nervous breakdown, and then they took pity on me and reneged their decision. For me, by that point the damage had been done and it took a considerable amount of time for my mental health to recover.
The whole situation in hindsight was humiliating for all parties, living arrangements should not be subjected to power struggles and sexual politics, and artists, creatives and anybody for that matter should not have to forfeit their pride in order to keep a roof over their heads.
After this, Mr Askins shortly left for Thailand, where he stayed for the next 8 or so months. When he returned he increased my rental from £240 p/m to £500 p/m, via email, and told me that I had £2600 rent backdated and we could arrange an instalment plan to cover it. He said the reason for this was that I had agreed to engage Newbould Guardian’s with the local community and he could see no evidence of this. There was no mention of this stipulation in my contract, which I had even visited his offices to re-sign in his absence in February 2013, due to some small ammendments being made about paying water & council rates.
I showed him some evidence of what I had done for the local community. Having shot 3 films on Newbould’s premises on a not for profit basis, and nurturing work experience students from local colleges there on a weekly basis and providing them with high grade portfolio work, with accreditation to Newbould Guardian’s for use of the premises I believed was sufficient. I did not hear back from him. From 1st July I paid the higher rental fee.
In August, struggling to afford my rental I decided to make arrangement to live in Berlin for a few months, where the living costs are less expensive and I could focus on writing a play. By this time I had trained my colleagues to take over my role. It so happened that at this time Newbould had taken over a new property and were looking for residents to guard it on an immediate basis, so I made a tacit agreement with Berniece at Newbould to move into the property immediately, on 19th August, in exchange for me being able to forfeit my 28 days rental notice. She was offering a month’s free rental in exchange to whoever could move into the property with immediate effect. I moved in the next day.
The property was filthy and stale: individual bedsits with their windows completely boarded up to dissuade vandals, crackled jaundiced pink painted interiors, no fire equipment and only one running tap. The flooring had had its carpet peeled off & was jagged with tiny little carpets spikes. It was far more derelict than many of the properties I had lived in when I was squatting; and for me, more than anything, natural light is vital, even if it is just one window, its a human right!
Despite my drawbacks to the property I stayed there every night apart from one, whilst packing up my studio at the Tidemill School, moving the parched plants dying in the hallway entrance outside into the nearby park.
When I attended Newbould Guardian’s office to return the keys to the premises on 9th September I said a brief hello to Mr Askins, and discussed the return of my deposit with Berniece. I had lost a key fob, & agreed to the £50 charge for this. Berniece said that on inspection of my room a bond of £450 would be refunded, and that I should arrange for a friend to collect it from their offices if I was to go to Berlin, as they could not mail cheques process BACS transfers. There was a discrepancy with a broken handle in my room, which I paid to have fixed, other than that the house manager confirmed that all was in order. After moving to Berlin Newbould Guardians ignored my email requests for when my bond would be ready for collection, then after my consulting a legal advisor at Greenwich Housing Association they have informed me that they will not be returning my deposit as they believe I owe them £2600.
I have a number of queries; if I owe £2600 why is there no mention of this in my contract, which I signed to the effect of paying £240 per month?Why was I not pursued for the £2600 when I was in the UK? Why was this not mentioned when I visited their offices on 12th September & was informed I could have my deposit back?
I invite anyone else to share their views on property guardianship, and what action can be taken to increase safe, legal housing in London for those on low incomes; which proves a consistent problem for myself & many of my highly creative, talented friends to access. We don’t need much to live on, but we do need a place to live.”
Film from the Netherlands – “Carefree Vacant Property”:
An hour-long Dutch documentary about property guardianships, using interviews with company representatives, guardians, parliamentarians, and legal experts to address the many issues with guardianship – such as privacy, living in fear, arbitrary demands and the grey legal area PG companies inhabit.
Property Guardian Research offers “Information, critique and analysis of property guardianship in the UK”, perhaps the only UK housing research group working in this area; their website has excellent resources like:
- Introduction to property guardianship in the UK
- Information for Property Guardians blog and printable booklet: “Property Guardianship: Guide for current/ potential guardians” – useful guide for guardians, including information on what to expect, what to be aware of and how to organise against being exploited;
- List of reasons why property guardianship is harmful;
- Excellent archive list of general & legal articles on property guardianships, case studies and organisations.
Example of a License from a Property Guardian Company: the license agreement that property guardians sign when they move into a property, amounts to: “You have no legal rights, but you must pay for just about anything that goes wrong”.
UK Government Position on Property Guardianship:
The British government, like the Dutch, are reluctant to intervene in the exploitation of guardians by PG companies, and prefer to treat it as a “private arrangement”. The government does not see it as a form of tenure, or housing, and therefore exempt from tenancy regulations – eg Landlord and Tenant Act. The following extract has been taken from recent debates in Parliament around the Housing and Planning Bill, where Lord Beecham tried to raise the issue of regulating property guardian companies:
v Debates in Parliament – Housing and Planning Bill – April 2016 v
Amendment 38; Moved by Lord Beecham; 38: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—“Standards for guardianship schemes: Terms as to fitness for human habitation and repairing obligations set out in sections 8 to 17 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 for tenants of private landlords must also apply to guardianship scheme contracts.”
Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice):
My Lords, this amendment deals with property guardianship schemes, a term with which I was entirely unfamiliar until I read about them in, appropriately enough, the Guardian last December. The situation originally arose when the owners of properties—often commercial properties—who were unable to sell or improve them for the time being wanted them protected. The owners allowed people to go in unlicensed to live there on moderate terms until such time as they could proceed with redevelopment, demolition or whatever.
As a concept it was workable and satisfactory to many people. But latterly it has changed. It has now become a commercial enterprise in which, I have to say, a number of ruthless owners are exploiting people who are not tenants—they have no rights; they are merely licensees—charging quite considerable sums of money for them to live in places that are, very often, unsatisfactory from the point of view of the conditions in which they have to live, with absolutely no security of tenure of any kind.
This prompted me to put down an amendment in Committee, where I quoted the experience of some people who had been through this system. One guardian described rooms that were “like chicken coops” in a place in Kennington offered by a guardian company—that is the euphemistic phrase—for £500 a month. It was a single space with rows of plyboard walls and no natural light or ventilation. In another place, carpets had been worn and stained by thousands of shoes that had crossed the floor of what was a council’s now defunct one-stop shop. Office furniture was piled high next to windows caked with soot, letting in the gloom from Commercial Road. The toilet light did not work. To wash, the guardian had to descend two flights of stairs to a dirty, windowless room, where the guardian company had installed a temporary shower. Other people in the property also used it. The Government should—this amendment seeks to compel them to—apply the same terms as to fitness for human habitation and repairing obligations that apply to proper tenancies under the Landlord and Tenant Act to these guardianship scheme contracts.
The Minister who is to reply to this debate is a different Minister from before. The buck has been passed and I sympathise with the Minister who is replying to this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I had an exchange of views—our usual civilised correspondence—in which she acknowledged that,
“property guardianship schemes have a range of drawbacks. The properties that are used are frequently derelict commercial or industrial buildings that were never intended to be used as accommodation and may be in an unsafe condition with inadequate physical security. Occupiers pay a fee to occupy part of the building, are responsible for securing it and preventing damage. However, they are not tenants and do not therefore have the right to exclusive possession of any part of the building. In addition, they can be required to leave at very short notice. The Government does not encourage such schemes but I do recognise that recent media reports suggest they are becoming more widespread. It is very important that anyone considering living in such a building clearly understands the limitations of these schemes and that they will have very limited rights. My department will therefore publish a short factsheet on its website which highlights the fact that the Government does not endorse these schemes, explains
With all due respect to the Minister and perhaps those in the department who produced this response, it is very unsatisfactory given the kinds of conditions that I briefly described by quoting just a couple of examples.That follows a rather difficult exchange with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in Committee where she made much the same points about being sympathetic and concerned. She said then:
“The Government do not support the schemes, as the guardians can be asked to live in conditions which do not meet the standards expected in residential properties”.However, the reason given for not doing anything was that she did not believe—or, in all fairness, the Government did not believe— “that it would be appropriate to require that Sections 8 to 17 of the Landlord and Tenant Act should apply to guardianship agreements”.
I found that entirely puzzling. If the Government are sympathetic to the plight of the people in these places, applying Sections 8 to 17 would not convert them to the status of tenants but would simply apply to those people conditions which apply to the tenants of residential properties. When I challenged her on this, the Minister said,
“if the noble Lord is talking about the property guardianship schemes, it is because they are arrangements between a building owner and one or more individuals, and the arrangement is temporary. They are not intended to provide stable alternative accommodation”.
However, that does not exempt the Government from protecting people in that position. I find it inexplicable that the Minister was falling back on her brief, which she is entitled to do, but that the brief in turn simply asserted that as there is no tenancy agreement, the Government did, “not think that the Landlord and Tenant Act actually applies”.—[Official Report, 9/2/16; col. 2223.]
Well, it does not and would not without the Government legislating for that purpose. That is the point of the amendment. As the Government are so clearly aware of this growing problem—there are now reckoned to be more than 4,000 people living in these dreadful conditions—I cannot think why they cannot simply accept that these people should benefit from the limited but essential requirements of the relevant parts of the Landlord and Tenant Act which would be applied specifically by legislation for this purpose. I cannot think why the Government have so far declined to do that.
Unless there is an assurance from the Minister that she will take this issue back and return to it at Third Reading, I will seek to test the opinion of the House. I hope that we can make progress on this issue. It is not a party or divisive point. It is a simple enough matter which the Government should respond to more constructively and helpfully than they have done hitherto. I do not blame Ministers for that. I suspect that someone in the department has not grasped the reality of the situation. I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative: This is an extremely worrying situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, explained it. I am not at all clear about the fact that this provision appears to apply the tenancy provisions that are applicable to all guardianship contracts. The noble Lord has already explained clearly that these are not all residential properties; some are commercial. I wonder whether the guardianship arrangements are suitable for people who live in the accommodation, which cannot be of a very high standard to come under the guardianship scheme. Therefore, I wonder whether it is possible to build something satisfactory on a foundation so unsatisfactory as a guardianship scheme for residential property.
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip): My Lords, I reiterate the point made by my noble friend the Minister during our previous debates. We as a Government do not endorse these schemes and do not have any plans to introduce new regulation in this area as we believe that doing so could be regarded as tacitly endorsing the use of property guardianship schemes as a legitimate housing option. As the noble Lord said, while there has been some suggestion in the press that these schemes are becoming more widespread, we do not have any evidence that this is in fact a growing sector, nor has there been any pressure from campaign groups and others to take action in this area. People are free to make their own housing choices and the Government do not have any plans to stop the use of property guardianship schemes. Occupiers pay a fee to occupy part of a building and are responsible for securing it and preventing damage. However, they are not tenants and do not, therefore, have the right to exclusive possession of any part of the building. In addition, they can be required to leave at very short notice. However, it is very important that anyone considering living in such a building clearly understands the limitations of these schemes and that they will have very limited rights.
As the noble Lord said, my noble friend has proposed that the department will publish a factsheet on its website which highlights the fact that the Government do not endorse these schemes and draws attention to their clear drawbacks, including the fact that the buildings may frequently be unsuitable to be used as accommodation and that an occupier of such buildings has very limited rights. With that explanation, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice): I am sorry to say that I find that a completely unsatisfactory answer. Once again, I do not blame the Minister. That is clearly the department’s line and it is utterly unacceptable. The noble and learned Lord says that all these arrangements should be barred, in effect. They were working reasonably well because there can be a fair degree of common interest when a responsible owner with a building on his or its hands treats people reasonably, on the understanding that it is short term, with no security of tenure, but there is at least a basic, decent standard of accommodation. We now have people exploiting that situation partly on the basis, by the way, that the freeholders of the property no longer pay business rates because the property is not being used for business. That constitutes quite a significant financial loss to the local authority. That unfortunate consequence is a separate issue and one might not be too concerned about it.
We are left in the position that the Government are adamantly refusing to do anything other than warn people about the situation. That is, frankly, not good enough. I am sorry that the Government are taking that line. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 41, Noes 146.
The government’s position seems to be “We neither condemn nor condone property guardianships – no action required.”
Types of Property Guardian Companies:
There are four different types of property guardian companies, which offer live-in guardian services to institutional & private landlords. In addition, a selection of main players, their company values, number/type of properties under management, and contracts information has been included in tables below each of the categories (thanks PG Research for this):
1) Big international ones with multiple UK offices
|Logo||Company Name||Year Est.||Total Assets (£’000)||No. & Type of Property||Clients|
||Camelot Property Management Ltd||2001||3,650||250 +. Only 20% are residential properties.||Local authorities, housing associations, banks, private owners etc|
||AD HOC Property Management Limited||2006||2,300||Residential and commercial||–|
2) Ones that have evolved from security companies
|Logo||Company Name||Year Est.||Total Assets (£’000)||No. & Type of Property||Clients|
|Ambika Security Limited||1988||345||–||–|
3) ‘Start-ups’ that have been set up to manage properties
|Logo||Company Name||Year Est.||Total Assets (£’000)||No. & Type of Property||Clients|
|Guardians of London||2011||NR||Commercial landlords (5), also ‘quite a few’ small blocks of flats and some houses.||Local authorities (1), housing associations (1), ‘several’ private landlords.|
||Newbould Guardians Ltd||2009||315||Residential and commercial||Local authorities, private owners. Partnerships with LB Lewisham, Lambeth, Camden|
||Live-In Guardians||2009||108||–||Local authorities, private owners|
||Global Guardians Management Ltd||2011||283||–||Local authorities (eg Greenwich), developers, private owners|
4) Social enterprise/ ‘ethical’ organisations housing particular types of people
|Logo||Company Name||Year Est.||Total Assets (£’000)||No. & Type of Property||Clients|
||Dot Dot Dot Property||2011||214||–||Local authority , Housing Associations , private clients (?)|
Total Assets (in tables above): The total assets of the PG companies have been taken as a measure of their size and profitability, using data from Endole – links show useful information like directors, associated companies, financial performance, etc. NR – No financial records to date. Be aware that most PG companies do not report profits, and companies may be more profitable than they seem, using shell companies, and other methods, to siphon off profits to unreported accounts.
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