by Dan Trivedi
11:16 AM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago 25
So like many landlords in the UK, I’ve been presented with the Serco offer to house asylum seekers in my houses. They make a pretty good case; large company, strong covenant, high rent paid monthly and up to 7 years tenancy term.
Sounds good, right? WRONG!
After a full-blown refurb converting a 3-bed to a 4-bed student house, I thought I’d try this deal out. All Serco claim they want is an HMO standard house and they’ll pay HMO market rates.
When I met the local BDM (let’s call him Dave) he was a nice guy, very personal, professional and complimentary of my house. Statements such as ‘this is too nice for an HMO’ & ‘the finish is of a much higher spec than we require for our houses’ were all very nice to hear.
What I now know is the poor-quality HMOs for this model work very well. But luxury student houses have one fate – and it isn’t a good one!
After some minor tweaks to hit their requirements (numbers on rooms, extra fire escapes sign) we handed the 7, YES SEVEN, sets of keys over.
Our rent then came two months later because Serco pay in arrears after 28 days “but it’s ok Dan because when we vacate you are paid the rent owed” – hmmm sounds a bit fishy?
Then there’s the rent itself. So for a 4-bed incl bills, I’ll get £2200 but this refurb was finished in Jan, meaning I had to wait til sep if wanted students. Or give it to Serco now and get £1400 exc bills? Plus it’s one less student house to fill and change over each year – so I thought why not!
Now, I’m a hard negotiator but Serco told me they have 1 higher rate banding and it’s the same for everyone – which I accepted. So it was a little disappointing when a friend of mine who co-owns one of the biggest letting agents in Norwich contacts me and says “Dan we have a company looking for HMO and they pay £91 maybe more for multiple properties”! Hmmm this was around £10 per room per week more than the supposedly top rate I was getting.
But no worries, I guess it was my fault for accepting the sales pitch if “you have the highest room rate”
So almost a year in, I thought it was time to inspect the house which my guys had newly refurbished and make sure Serco was looking after as they say they do….. this is when the cracks started to appear. Being passed from pillar to post is an understatement trying to get access to my own property and after two weeks of failed promises of a reply, I gave the 24 hours notice required by email & post.
The next day I knocked on the door and found 5 men living in my 4-bed house.
On entering the house, it made my worst student houses look like a Next show home. the house reeked of cigaret smoke, the kitchen was like. 1960 nuclear test site (after the bomb had landed) and the rooms, hallways, bathrooms and garden clearly were not being taken care of.
I decided it was in my best interest to give the required 6 months’ notice before my house turn into the feature of episode 7 of slum landlords – and get it back!
Now I emailed the notice in, but the computer says no virus which seems to infect all public sector workers, all utility company representatives & most large Corporate companies was rife! After serving the notice to the 4th person, I got a reply from someone who clearly was in the department dealing with this.
First I got the “can we change your mind” – ermm no!
Then I got ‘well we can be out in 1 month if you like’ – erm no you asked for 6 months so I’m giving you 6 months.
Fast forward to 4 weeks before the date I was due my house back – and the guy who had emailed had now left and phone call and email after phone call and email left me with zero confidence anyone was going to deal with this, let alone get my house back on the agreed date.
The date came and went and after several threats – I finally got someone to deal with this. Who met me at the house, which had been left with enough clothes, food, and rubbish to fill a good 12-yard skip. Then the repairs – (remember this was a brand new refurbished house) doors hanging off the hinges, beds broken, carpets stained, kitchen cupboard was broken etc etc the list goes on and on.
However, we agreed a £2,500 fee to cover everything, which meant I could get this house ready for my group of students moving in a weeks time. I was told this would be paid along with the rent owed (as of the time of writing this article I have not received the rent or this fund 27.11.22)
But here comes the fun part. Serco moved out, I took meter readings and set up the utilities ready for my students. However, at the end of November, the door was forced open by a bailiff who had a warrant to remove the gas and electric meter and replace it with a prepayment – all due to non-payment.
After spending all day back and forth on the phone – it turns out Scottish Power has NEVER had one payment from Serco for ANY utilities!!!
The bill was over £5k. And in order to stop the meters from being swapped – they required the payment today.
Straight away I got on the phone with Serco and after a few promises of this would be sorted the bailiff didn’t get paid and conducted the swap.
Now Scottish power deserves their own warning article because I couldn’t get an answer as to why the bill wasn’t simply being chased as I had been paying for the last 3 months, and the amount of computer says no people I had to speak to was a joke.
But Serco clearly had made an error and I and my tenants were now going to suffer – their last email to me was “can you take me out of this email chain because it’s now with the utilities & legal department” which is just more Corporate passing of the buck.
I gave them a further week to resolve this, and I’ve had no contact
I’m sure they are hoping this will just go away.
But the hard truth is; after 18 months they almost destroyed my newly refurbished house, have not paid me the rent owed; the money to repair the damages and have left my house now requiring a manual top-up at a much higher rate per kwh.
So was it worth it? Absolutely not! The rent was lower than I could have got, the hassle high, the promises false & aftermath permanent
I’m my opinion you should avoid this company, but if you do consider them
Give them a poor, low-quality house, old carpets, old furniture, a kitchen and bathroom you want to replace & walls which could already do with re-painting.
Then ask for
I think with low quantity houses and the above 3 points – you can make the Serco maze of failed promises work with a good return.
If not contact your local council for HMO benefit tenants
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Helen @ Like-Clockwork
12:41 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
Really sorry to hear of your experience with SERCO, Dan. I've assisted two property investors with similar train wrecks at the end of a SERCO contract. I would never recommend a landlord does business with them, based on the contracts I've seen and the way SERCO respond to the situation.
12:46 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
Thanks for the tip. Was thinking of going that way
12:48 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
Hi, has anyone got any feedback to working with Clearsprings/ReadyHomes who have the contract covering the South?
12:50 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
And to think they have been handed £1.9bn...yes, BILLION of taxpayers money to provide a service of housing illegals (which is bad enough in itself) but, it would seem, are just pocketing the bulk of that money!!
13:00 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
OMG!! I am literally about to sign a ;newly refurbished 5 bed HMO over and 2 x 2 family houses.
I had my doubts but this has set them in stone. AVOID AVOID AVOID.
Their staff are literally full of BS on the calls, emails etc. TBH I think I would avoid all these kind of companies as they must be working the same model.
Thanks Dan for this article that has arrived in the nick of time.
13:04 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
Reply to the comment left by Stuart at 05/12/2022 - 12:48
there is no difference with the contract the government offer Serco or any other regional provider...ergo the contract Ready Homes will offer you will as a LL will be essentially no different than the ones offered by Serco to LL's....my advice - avoid like the plague.
13:11 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
the reality is that the contracts they are offering LL are just to show that the HO are doing 'something' about the problem - and by employing Serco (and the regional like) it ticks that box.
Serco's contract is so bad they know that only the really naive LL's will take up the 'offer'.
It will all end up as a total blame spiral with the private LL being shafted at the end.
There is no way that every asylum seeker is going to keep a property in the same condition as a self paying tenant or even one on benefits would keep it - there is NO incentive. Are Serco going to move them on? Serco dont even have that ability. If they have come across to fraudulently claim asylum then they know they will be found out so will either abscond or sub let to others. Neither you or Serco have any control of who's in there and who isn't. And when the poop hits the fan? The LA will be looking to find the property owner to hold them to account for every issue not the agent....
Put it this way...hotels that have been used for this purpose have 24 hr security....yet the HO want to have your house for housing the same people....
13:22 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
Reply to the comment left by Chris Jordan at 05/12/2022 - 13:00
seriously avoid like the plague. The worse bit is that any issues AT ALL and the Local Authority will be looking to you as the ultimate LL to sort it all out. (HMO licencing in YOUR name remember!!) Plus the added 'bonus' of being the perfect person to prosecute/fine for anything.
Consider yourself saved!
13:52 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
So sorry to hear of your experience, Dan.
Have you also shared this on SM and CC'd people like Shelter and the govt ministers for 'Levelling-Up' in it? They should know. If I have your permission, I would like to share it in my accounts....
14:04 PM, 5th December 2022, About 4 months ago
I downloaded a copy of the Serco "offer" more out of curiosity than anything else, but was astounded to see their onerous requirements upon the owner landlord, e.g. full redecoration and replace all floor coverings and furnishings every 3 years, replace kitchens, bathrooms, windows, and fencing, after 6 years, and replace gutters, fascias, soffits, rendering, and doors, after 7 years.
All of this would cost the owner landlord a small fortune, and in most lettings this frequency of renewals would not be required.