Optivo plays blame game by gas-lighting Addiscombe residents

Residents of shared-ownership homes in Addiscombe, who have spent the past 18 months trying to get an external door lock fixed by their landlords, have angrily accused the housing association responsible of trying to diminish the extent of the issues and now resorting to gas-lighting them.

Inside Croydon reader Ken Towl yesterday outlined how he and his neighbours’ homes had been placed at risk of burglary, or worse, since June 2021 because of the failures of Optivo, now Southern Housing, to replace or repair their front door. Fire alarms had been triggered in the middle of the night and the common areas had become regular haunts for drinkers and cannabis smokers, who were able to access the unlocked building.

Southern Housing’s response to our coverage was to blame their 18-month delay in fixing the door lock by claiming that the residents had broken an emergency break glass – something the residents firmly dispute.

Southern Housing also lied over the length of time the door had been broken and even falsified when it was fixed.

Towl had approached the press office at Southern Housing a week ago for a comment on the situation. They failed to provide any response – except an attempt to delay us reporting on the situation – until after we published our report.

Given the obvious concerns over security at the property, or the lack of it, Inside Croydon had taken care in its reporting to avoid identifying the exact location of the affected homes.

The press officers at Southern Housing managed to identify the location in the first sentence of the statement issued to iC.

Unimpressed: long-suffering Optivo resident Ken Towl

It was also the first public apology that Southern Housing, one of the country’s biggest housing associations, had offered for the 18 months of inconvenience and insecurity that the affected residents had suffered.

The second sentence of the statement made the false claim that the issue had been fixed in November last year, when in fact the lock was not properly repaied until last week – after the residents had had to go through a second Christmas insecure in their homes.

Southern Housing’s statement then tried to pin the blame on the residents for the lengthy delay in the housing association dealing with the disrepair.

They said that their contractors, DSSL, have “…tested the system and it’s now working as it should. They’ve also replaced emergency break glass, which was compromised and repaired on several occasions during 2022.”

Residents say that this is categorically false.

“This is the first reference to the break glass being broken by residents that I have ever seen,” Towl told Inside Croydon today.

He even has correspondence from one of Southern Housing’s customer service advisers from as recently as December 28 which states, “DSSL have advised that the new break glass button will resolve the issues with the door not locking, as the old button was causing the locking issue.” Our italics.

It is then that the Southern Housing statement delves deeper still into the blame game.

“We understand residents’ frustrations regarding visitors and deliveries, but we hope they will not feel the need to break this again as it leaves the communal door open. This is a security concern for everyone in the building.

“We’ll continue to monitor this situation and we’re happy to look into a more robust handle if residents are unhappy with the current model.”

Blame game: housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa has seen landlords try this trick before

Southern say that they will “investigate what went wrong in this case to ensure it doesn’t happen again”. “That’s something they could have done any time since June 2021,” Towl said.

The statement failed to address at all the issue of asbestos having been discovered in a shed near to the homes.

The Southern statement concluded: “Residents are at the heart of our service and we’ll be working closely with them, as well as our door entry and security specialists, to see if there’s anything else we can do to ensure the security of this building is maintained.”

Kwajo Tweneboa, the nationally recognised housing campaigner, responded to Southern Housing placing their statement on Twitter by commenting, “‘They’? So what they’re implying in that it is the tenants breaking it? I’m hoping they have CCTV evidence to back up that.

“The default is always to blame the tenants.”

Other residents of the same housing association from across London were quick to recognise the tactics being used.

“Blaming residents is always their go to!” said one. “They use the same excuses for all different blocks.

“We had this very problem last year and Optivo also claimed it was residents causing the damage. We asked them to check CCTV. They didn’t. The damage was actually caused by evacuation marshals, which they refuted.”

Another resident, on seeing the statement, said, “Are they blaming residents for the breaking of the door? It is always our fault, they’re always looking to blame when the culprit is the half-arsed bodged repairs, woeful communication and attitude they have.

“Nobody has any attention to detail or knowledge of the buildings.”

Said another, “Interesting to note that a housing association seems more interested in telling people what to post on their social media than actually providing a decent service.”

And tonight Towl said, “This is gaslighting.

“I never heard of anyone who lives here feeling the need to break the emergency break glass. Why would they? That’s not what this is about and Optivo certainly never mentioned that before now.

“The fact is Optivo left us without a working front door for 18 months, up until last week.”

Towl is thought to be considering a further complaint, to Southern Housing’s chief executive, over the way the situation has been handled by the housing association’s “media team”.

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Read more: BINMAGEDDON!: The six-month saga to get one bin changed

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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