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Contractor branded "Cowboys" by Housing Tenant

News Article, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Article By: Dave Roberts

First Published: 3 December 2012

YESTERDAY I met up with Mary Walker who lives with her three teenage daughters in rented accommodation on Abbots Road, Whitby. Mary wanted to tell me about her recent experiences with her Housing Association landlord (Home Group Ltd) and their selected contractors 'Willmott Dixon' who she called "Cowboys".

Mary says that she and her family were recently left without heating or hot water for over eleven weeks, because the contractor repeatedly failed to keep appointments, which Mary believes resulted in herself and her children (one of whom is disabled) coming down with serious chest infections as a result of the cold and damp conditions they were left to endure. But to make matters worse, when the contractor did attend, one of the workers cut through a cold water pipe in her loft, causing flooding and damage to her home and possessions.

Mary told me she first contacted her landlord 19 weeks ago after the hot water boiler stopped working, then Willmott Dixon were contracted to fix the problem. She said Willmott Dixon sent out a surveyor who condemned the boiler, advising her that a new boiler was needed. She was told that it could take up to five days to source a new boiler, then another five days to fit it.

Mary told me the problems started when after a week without heating or water, she contacted Home Group Ltd, to enquire why she had not heard anything further from Willmott Dixon. An appointment was arranged through her landlord, but Willmott Dixon did not attend as planned. She said this was repeated on several occasions over a period of eleven weeks, and that Willmott Dixon failed to turn out to several appointments.

Mary said;
"They didn't even phone to let me know they weren't coming.

"I was phoning Home Group four or five times per day, every day. This went on for about five weeks.

"We had no heating and no hot water, bearing in mind they know one of my daughter's is disabled.

"We all ended up on antibiotics with major chest infections, all four of us.

"My disabled daughter had to stay at her aunties house because it was so cold here."

Mary then showed me photographic images she had taken using her mobile phone saying:

"You can see the state they left it in."

The images show her water damaged ceiling, a floorboard that appears to have been cut between supporting beams, which Mary said kept popping out when anyone stood on it. She also told me, that as part of the re-piping work carried out by Willmott Dixon, the wash hand basin and W.C had to be temporarily disconnected, which Mary told me Willmott Dixon left unsecured.

She said;
"My sink and my toilet, they didn't even fasten them back, when one of my daughters went to the toilet, it tipped over sideways."

A new combi-boiler was fitted in the kitchen, where Mary told me the plumber removed part of her kitchen units, which she was left to refit herself. More weeks past with all the pipework exposed, before a joiner came to box some of it in.

In her sitting room, she showed me a photo of her chimney breast with a huge hole exposed at the bottom, where the condemned fire and boiler had been previously located. Mary told me it was like that for several weeks, then eventually Willmott Dixon sent a worker out to seal it over. Adding that Willmott Dixon had taken over from the previous contractor for Home Group a few months back, she said the previous contractor was efficient and could be relied upon, she made it clear she had no faith in the service being provided through Willmott Dixon calling them "Cowboys".

She even had some sympathy with her landlord 'Home Group Ltd' of whom she said;
"They have been lovely, but even they couldn't get in touch with Willmott Dixon half of the time, because Willmott Dixon were not answering the phone."

On Willmott Dixon, Mary told me she had reported the matter to a local councillor who asked her if she had been offered any compensation, to which she had replied;
"An apology would have been alright, but they can't even apologise for the damage that has been done and the length of time I've waited, it's now nineteen weeks since this all started and they still haven't fixed the ceiling."

On that issue, I asked Mary if arrangements had been made to fix the water damaged ceiling. She told me there were plans to repair it, but she wasn't sure when, but hoped it would be before Christmas.

Mary told me that overall, she estimated her costs for replacing the damaged floors, extensive phone calls and the additional costs incurred using electric heaters - which she added were "next to useless" during the cold snap, all added up to about £1,000.

Over the weekend I spoke with other Home Group tenants, they too report similar experiences with Willmott Dixon, who they say consistently failed to turn up to appointments.

As I left Mary's home she said; "I don't want Willmott Dixon to do any more repairs for me again, I'd rather get my own contractor and send Home Group the bill."

This morning I contacted Home Group Ltd and spoke with Mike Parker, I asked Mike to investigate Ms Walker's problems with Willmott Dixon, which he assured me he would do.

At 1655 this afternoon, I received this statement from John Bowker, head of customer service property at Home Group Ltd. He said;
"The level of service Ms Walker has received has fallen far below the standards we set ourselves to deliver to our customers. We have apologised to her and made a commitment that any outstanding repairs work will be completed before the end of this week. Furthermore, we will make sure that she is compensated for heating and flooring costs incurred during the repair."

Mike Parker of Home Group Ltd told me late this afternoon, he'd raised the issue with Willmott Dixon and passed on my contact details. I have not received any comment at this time from Willmott Dixon. Should they choose to comment, I will update this article with the details.

This evening, in a follow up call to Mary Walker, I asked if anyone had spoken to her today from Home Group. She told me she'd received a call with an apology, an agreed date to carry out the works needed to complete the job and to repair the water damaged ceiling, and that the person she had spoken with confirmed there would be a compensation package too.

She thanked me for my efforts and said she could now look forward to a much happier Christmas with her family.

UPDATE - 4 December 2012
At just before 9am his morning, I received this statement in an email message from Andrew Geldard Head of Communications at Willmott Dixon Partnerships.

"Willmott Dixon Partnerships is giving the utmost urgency to resolving these issues. Two engineers are attending the property today to carry out plastering work and also look at the boiler and header tank issues so we can complete this work as quickly as possible."

I responded with this question: Any chance of an apology for the tenant?

An update will be provided if a response is received.





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