Eastbourne councillor resigns from property company after it’s criticised for alleged 113 per cent fee rise
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The alleged move by Dot Dot Dot Property, which had Josh Babarinde on its board, has led to a Change.org petition being set up.
Councillor Babarinde said, “Over the last several days I have been alerted to difficulties some Dot Dot Dot property guardians in London are going through.
“As a former Dot Dot Dot property guardian myself, I’m especially concerned by these issues.
“While short-term property guardianship helped me afford to live while volunteering when I was in London, the issues raised highlight that this approach is not the long-term solution to the current housing crisis that I’m committed to working towards.
“I’ve therefore resigned from Dot Dot Dot’s board, having urged that robust support is in place for those property guardians who need it.”
A London Renters Union (LRU) spokesperson said, “Property guardians occupy substandard ‘temporarily vacant’ buildings to supposedly keep them secure for building owners.
“In exchange for rents that are supposed to be lower than market, they sign contracts that give fewer rights and impose oppressive restrictions.”
One renter was left hospitalised following the stress from a proposed increase, according to LRU.
Abbey Wood Guardian Committee, which set up the petition, said, “At a time when many of us are struggling to cope with the loss, social isolation and/or ongoing uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, Dot Dot Dot Property is set to increase Abbey Wood guardians’ licence fees (equivalent to rent) by up to 113 per cent per month with just six weeks’ notice!”
The group said many members have already started looking for support and legal advice from organisations and people such as Acorn Community Union, Shelter, Bexley London Borough Council, MPs and councillors.
Back in March, LRU said property guardians protested by Dot Dot Dot’s offices.
A Dot Dot Dot spokesperson said, “We have continued to liaise with affected guardians in the weeks since LRU raised their concerns with us.
“We are committed to working constructively with guardians who find themselves in positions of hardship.”
The company also thanked Councillor Babarinde.
They said, “We would like to thank Josh for his work as a non-executive director at Dot Dot Dot.
“He has been a valuable member of our board during a period of unprecedented challenge for small businesses and housing organisations.
“We share Josh’s view that the lack of affordable housing requires serious work and attention from the UK government, and we respect his need to contribute freely to discussion and debate on this issue.
“Until the housing landscape changes significantly, we will continue our work to be a commercially sustainable social enterprise that provides homes for guardians.”
The company said its fees are set at 50–70 per cent of local private rental prices.
The spokesperson added, “We have reviewed the fees charged to guardians over the past quarter to bring them into line with this.
“Our new fees range from £325 to £880 per month, with the higher fees being charged to people living alone in houses and flats with several bedrooms in London – enabling one person to live by themself in a large space.
“Guardians have had at least ten weeks notice of these changes.
“For some guardians who have paid very low fees for a long period, the fee changes are significant.
“Other guardians are paying fees that are already in a sustainable range and will not see any change.”
The company said the fee increases are something it does not take lightly and listed its reasons for the change.
The spokesperson added, “We need to set fees at a level that is inexpensive but which allows us to operate safely and sustainably.
“Some fees were previously set at very low levels - many guardians had fees in the range of £300-400 p/m for single occupancy of houses in London.
“A fee review planned for early 2020 was suspended because of the covid-19 pandemic - many fees have remained static at low levels for three (or more) years.
“Many guardians are already paying fees that are appropriately priced in relation to local rental markets - it is not fair that these guardians should subsidise very low fees for a small number of guardians.”
Dot Dot Dot’s chief executive Mark Ackroyd said, “By setting fees in a consistent way we can continue to offer housing that is cheaper than other private sector rental options. In turn, that will allow us to house guardians who contribute positively through volunteering and in other ways.”
Founder Katharine Hibbert added, “In the context of the ongoing housing crisis, Dot Dot Dot is doing what we can to provide inexpensive housing to people who want to use their time to help others.
“We would love to see the government working seriously to address the lack of affordable housing in the UK.
“Until that happens we will continue our work to be a commercially sustainable social enterprise that provides homes for guardians.”
The company spokesperson elaborated on why it has decided to increase some fees.
They said, “Any increase in fees, particularly a large one, is always unwelcome, even when it is an increase from a low base - in this case fees of £300 to £400 for sole occupancy of London houses with several bedrooms. However, it is important that we undertake this review.
“Without establishing reasonable fees, our business will not be sustainable and we will not be able to offer any guardian housing.”
The company said guardianship is a temporary housing option, and people are required to maintain up-to-date plans as to how they could move within 28 days.
The spokesperson added, “The ten weeks of notice given to guardians has provided additional time to make plans.
“We will continue to work with guardians to facilitate moving from single-occupancy to house-sharing or other options where they wish to save costs, and we are committed to providing guardian accommodation at fair and inexpensive rates.”