EXCLUSIVE: A family with a five-year-old child undergoing cancer treatment are among those whose house-owning dream has been turned into a nightmare. By BARRATT HOLMES, housing correspondent
A young family have been delayed for more than a year from moving into what was supposed to be their dream “new” home – and all because Brick by Brick continued to use the £600,000 property as a site office, where builders on the site casually strolled through the new kitchen to make themselves a cup of tea.
“Our experience has been terrible,” say the disappointed home-buyers, who relate that several other houses on the same site remain unoccupied because they have yet to get an NHBC certificate, from the National House-Building Council, providing the construction warranty and insurance usually expected by mortgage-lenders.
What makes this case particularly shocking is that the family concerned – who asked not to be identified – have a five-year-old child who is recovering from cancer treatment and needs to be shielded from coronavirus.
Brick by Brick is Croydon Council’s loss-making house-builder. Since it was formed in 2015, the council has borrowed £260million to provide Brick by Brick’s rookie developers with cash to develop “in-fill sites” and other council-owned properties into homes. To date, after five years, Brick by Brick has delivered just three purpose-built council homes.
It is nine months now since Inside Croydon was first approached by anxious potential house-buyers who had discovered, quite by accident, that despite offering some of its homes for “shared ownership”, Brick by Brick had failed to get themselves registered as a recognised provider of shared ownership homes.
As a consequence, no building society or bank would agree to mortgage the properties.
Croydon Council has this year bailed out Brick by Brick with tens of millions of public money to buy up the unsellable flats.
None of which has done anything to help the disappointed prospective shared ownership buyers.
In January, Brick by Brick asked them to be patient, to wait for six to nine months, and assured them that once the company’s missing paperwork had been done, then the homes of their dreams could be theirs after all.
But in the past month, some of those frustrated house-hunters have been in touch with Inside Croydon again.
Doubts persist about Brick by Brick’s status as a supplier of shared ownership homes. Some of the thwarted customers lost hundreds of pounds in conveyancing and other legal costs at the end of last year. They now fear that they are about to endure that experience all over again.
Some of Brick by Brick’s home-buying customers have been more fortunate. Their homes have been finished, the mortgage agreed and the sale gone through (usually with Help To Buy, the Tory government’s latest subsidy for house-builders).
But in one case, Inside Croydon was informed that the new home was uninhabitable because Brick by Brick’s contractors had left it with… no front door.
In this case, the house purchasers were left waiting for weeks for Brick by Brick to resolve the situation, even with the possibility of the deal falling through because they would not be able to exchange contracts with the people buying their existing home, as they had nowhere to move to.
There was some suggestion, from the site management, that the empty house had been the victim of a break-in when the only thing stolen was the front door.
Only after repeated, and increasingly desperate requests, and ultimately through the intervention of a deeply embarrassed ward councillor, was the situation resolved to the customers’ satisfaction, and great relief.
But the case of the house in Upper Norwood being used as a builders’site office raises several other causes of concern – not least because the rookie housing developers appear to regard their customers with utter contempt, and their new-build homes appear to be slow to get the necessary certification.
The home in question is part of the Ravensdale Gardens and Rushden Close development, which Brick by Brick started marketing as long ago as March 2019.
According to Brick by Brick’s own website, all 15 homes there have now been reserved or sold, seemingly for £595,000.
Brick by Brick’s marketing guff describes them as “a collection of 15 family houses nestled into an existing community in Upper Norwood. The homes are well-balanced…”, which is just as well. You wouldn’t want them to topple over, after all, “… with modern specifications and natural finishes, sensitively designed to fit into the neighbourhood.”
But to the prospective purchasers’ horror, even as recently as the end of last month, they discovered site workers, in their dusty overalls and muddy boots, traipsing through their new kitchen, with its “modern specifications and natural finishes”, while making themselves a cup of tea.
The overwhelming concern, though, at this time of the global pandemic, was moving into a new home to provide a stable environment for the health and welfare of the family’s young child.
“Brick by Brick have put us in greater danger because of their lack of transparency,” according to one parent, “which has caused great uncertainties in our living arrangements and worries for our child.
“There are many other families also buying in these plots that are also being affected.
“Our experience has been terrible. This had caused us massive stress.
“We have been living on a month-by-month notice with our landlord, but we even face losing our current home because the landlord here also needs certainty.
“We started the process in June 2019 and it still has not been resolved. We had everything ready to complete last year and there has just been lack of transparency from Brick by Brick, despite letting them know that we have a five-year-old who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time and is now in recovery.
“Quite a few of the properties in the development have not been occupied largely due to the inadequacy of Brick by Brick and their contractors,” the house-buyer told Inside Croydon.
“The houses have been built but can’t get NHBC sign-off.”
The National House-Building Council provides a recognised certification system for new-builds, offering construction warranties and insurance demanded by mortgage-lenders.
Speaking to Inside Croydon at the end of July, the prospective house-buyer said, “At the moment the property we are seeking to buy has been mostly built but it is being used as a site office to complete the other houses. It saves Brick by Brick or their contractors some money from the need to erect a site office.
“But we only found this out by driving to the site.
“We think Brick by Brick have lied to us over the last year and have not been transparent about this.”
Brick by Brick’s “chief executive”, Colm Lacey, had failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s questions by the time of publication.
- 2010 to 2020: Inside Croydon has been delivering local community service and local community news for 10 years. To support independent local journalism in Croydon, please sign up today as a supporter. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC London News
- Inside Croydon named Journalist of the Year at 2018 Anna Kennedy Online Autism Heroes Awards
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: For three consecutive years, 2017, 2018 and 2019, Inside Croydon has been the source for award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
- Inside Croydon had 1.6million pages viewed by 721,000 unique visitors in 2019
A reasonable and intelligent person would conclude that Colm Lacey should be suspended from duty, while these allegations and the many others concerning the incompetent way Brick by Brick is being run by him, are investigated. Then instead of paying him off in the fashion Croydon Council has used in the past to dispose of undesirables and incompetents, he could be sacked if he didn’t jump before being pushed. The organisation should then be wound up. It’s clearly not fit for purpose, isn’t delivering its objectives and is a burden on the taxpayer.
After that we can do to Butler and Scott what the District Auditor did to Shirley “homes for votes” Porter, and take them to the cleaners.
Look at a private developer like Berkeley Homes – I know and have worked with them over many years. You will see two things at the heart of their organisation: the customer (the occupant) and their profit margin. This private company is smart enough to realise both are intrinsically related. Keep one happy and the other benefits.
Brick by Brick aren’t even at first base; they would fail miserably in Berkeley Home’s core test. They have no respect for their customers (occupants) and they are delivering bugger all profit to the council.
It’s hard to understand how a Labour Council, a Labour council, can come up with a scheme which not only fails to provide social housing for those who desperately need but also damages the credibility of local authorities as social home providers.
Couldn’t put it better myself. In any other local authority, a clear statement such as yours would at least elicit a response from some in-house press office at the council……in Croydon, it’s just silence………
It’s criminal but they belong to the side that makes the laws, we just live by them. This is the law of do as I tell you and not do as I do.
With respect I seriously believe that your final paragraph should actually simply read:
‘Brick by Brick’s “chief executive”, Colm Lacey, had failed.’
Nothing further is necessary!