CityWest Homes, the ‘arms-length’ housing organisation for Westminster City Council, is set to return to council control after a string of complaints and investigations.
CityWest Homes includes a property management firm and an estate and lettings agency arm, CityWest Residential.
This part of the business has been under investigation for a second time within a year by Westminster’s own Trading Standards department, while the broader company has also been repeatedly probed over its property management.
The first investigation into CityWest Residential was into how it displayed its letting agent fees, and resulted in the agency being fined £15,000 in February for three breaches under the Consumer Rights Act.
It also meant the embarrassment to Westminster Council of its own agency going on to the London mayor’s publicly accessible “blacklist” of rogue agents and landlords.
The second investigation, which began in April, was apparently triggered by a series of Freedom of Information Requests asking whether double commission was charged on homes formerly sold off under Right to Buy, and being bought back by the council.
This investigation has been closed in the last few days, with advice apparently having been taken by the agency about disclosure of fees.
CityWest Homes, managing over 21,000 properties in Westminster, had a dossier of complaints compiled about it by the Labour party earlier this year in the run-up to local council elections.
One tenant said they had to ring 999 about a leak. In another case, a 70-year-old woman was left without electricity for six weeks.
CityWest Homes has since been under two further investigations over its standards of property management, according to a new statement by Tory-run Westminster Council.
This says: “Following concerns about CityWest Homes’ performance highlighted by residents and ward councillors, Westminster City Council commissioned an independent review into the issues.
“Whilst this review was under way, the council introduced immediate improvement action to address failings.
“This included changes to improve the customer contact centre and action to address issues with the repairs service such as a new team focused on fixing leaks.
“A task group of the Housing, Finance and Customer Services Policy and Scrutiny Committee also looked into the matter.
“Its report further confirms the issues at CityWest Homes raised by residents and ward councillors, including the need for a culture change and reform of the management board so that residents are at the heart of the service.”
EYE asked for clarification as to whether the estate agency part of CityWest Homes is also being brought back into council control.
A spokesperson said: “Current arrangements for all of CityWest Homes will remain in place until the formal decision is taken next month.
“We’ll be putting proposals for its longer term management to the cabinet to approve.”
EYE understands that the wrapping up of the second inquiry into CityWest Residential is not going unchallenged.