Like we said way back in May 2018, P & R may have been charging the owners of EKH fraudently. Now it comes to light there has been £1,479,000 worth of overcharging by P & R, the contractor who was responsible for the Gas Servicing & Maintenance contract for all four East Kent Council, managed by East Kent Housing. £530,000 has been repaid by P & R and £949,000 remains in dispute between P & R and the Councils of Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe and Thanet.
We believe the overcharging may well show in time there was a pattern of overcharging which could be considered as systemic fraud. We are sure that as the councils come to investigate further, our belief will be upheld.
Gas safety issues at East Kent Housing (EKH) (first reported by us); which manages around 17,000 homes on behalf of Canterbury, Dover, Thanet, and Folkestone & Hythe councils – emerged in early April 2019.
Hundreds of gas safety checks were not done in the time required by law after the breakdown of a contract with heating maintenance firm P&R Installations Company in early April.
A further review of the contract by Gas Contract Services identified EKH’s “failure to identify overcharging by P&R for works completed and instances where works have been completed but adequate paperwork [was] not provided”, the report added.
It said there were three overpayments – one of £530,000, which was accepted by P&R, and two worth a combined £949,000, which the contractor disputes.
The councils are now seeking legal advice on “whether the overcharging would constitute fraud”.
The report added: “This process may lead to formal legal or criminal action or independent arbitration, depending upon the advice and the strength of the evidence upon detailed examination.”
Meanwhile, the council said £530,000 has not been “fully recovered”, and P&R has “asserted that there are amounts outstanding and written to all four councils demanding payment for sums that do not appear to have been invoiced”.
A report by Thanet Council’s monitoring officer said failing to have up-to-date gas safety certificates in place could be a criminal offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but that the Health and Safety Executive “have not indicated whether they intend to undertake a full investigation”.
In a letter sent to the Regulator of Social Housing by Thanet in June, the council’s chief executive said that during the contract notice period P&R “failed to meet their contractual obligations” to carry out the checks.
Thanet Council’s cabinet is expected to follow Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council & Folkestone & Hythe District Council and approve a “detailed options appraisal” of its future housing management structure, including closing down EKH.
In the meantime, officers are investigating the health and safety processes at EKH and their findings will help the councils decide whether to replace its management or strip the ALMO of some responsibilities.
A new permanent gas contractor is not expected to start until November, after “delays” to the re-tendering process meant the councils and EKH missed their initial 3 July deadline.
The Shepwayvox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime
Most of this blog post first appeared in Inside Housing