By News Reporters
Frank Dobson MP was clearly moved as he listened to the hospital workers of UCLH NHS Foundation Trust as they described the way they had been treated by the charity which had until recently been their landlords.
The MP for Holborn and St Pancras came to hear directly from the hospital staff about how nurses and doctors homes were sold to property developers by UCLH Charity and how they were now being evicted.
Mr Dobson was attending a meeting at the offices of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association in January and brought with him a housing lawyer who is offering the services of the law firm Hodge, Jones & Allen to advise the tenants who are facing eviction.
UCLH Charity had without any consultation with the staff living in its property sold the buildings to a property developer who has now sent eviction notices to almost all of the tenants and is carrying out refurbishment of the buildings before selling on the small flats as investments later in the year. The tenants affected have been told to leave by the end of this month, as we previously reported.
Mr Dobson said he was angry because UCLH Charity had “acted without any consultation with the staff or Camden Council”. The eviction of the tenants is causing misery for the hospital staff and putting pressure on Camden Council’s housing allocation. Cllr Adam Harrison of who represents Bloomsbury ward on Camden Council was also present at the meeting echoed Mr Dobson’s concerns and said he was furious with UCLH Charity.
Sources have told Fitzrovia News that housing managers in Camden Council had demanded an explanation from UCLH Charity as to why they had not consulted with the housing department before selling the hospital staff housing.
The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association wrote a complaint to the Charities Commission saying that UCLH Charity was in breach of its charitable aims as it claims to support its staff. Up to 40 staff are affected by the sale of the property.
A spokesperson for the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association said:
“UCLH Charity has torn apart a stable community of people and hospital staff are threatened with homelessness. It has put pressure on our own housing advice service at a time when our own resources are stretched by cuts caused by the government’s austerity policies, and it has put pressure on Camden and Westminster councils.
“The sheer numbers of staff facing eviction will cause disruption for the hospital as well as its staff. These staff are now forced to commute in to do their shift work when before they could walk to work. Many of these workers were relied on to come in at short notice to cover for emergencies and when other staff are not able.
“We don’t see why UCLH Charity could not have put conditions on the sale to protect the hospital staff. It makes no sense to us why UCLH Charity have acted like this,” said the spokesperson.
However, the complaint has been rejected by the Charities Commission who responded to the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association saying: ”On the limited evidence available the Commission has no clear basis to conclude it has a regulatory interest in the matter or to justify an approach to the charity. In the absence of such a basis we would be acting outside our statutory role and powers if we approached the charity, because we not have any absolute right to require a charity to explain its actions to us.”
The hospital staff also questioned why UCLH Charity had recently spent millions of pounds carrying out refurbishment of the properties in Cleveland Street and New Cavendish Street during 2010 and 2011. Many of these newly refurbished flats are now being gutted and all the fittings ripped out. A process which is causing a disturbance to the remaining tenants.
The new landlords have not even had the courtesy to contact the remaining tenants informing them of the building works. One tenant who is a retired hospital worker told Fitzrovia News that the noise from the refurbishment work is so bad that she has to leave her flat and return later in the day after the work has been finished. “No-one informed me what was happening. I hear all this noise of someone smashing the place up and no warning,” she said.
Although the properties are now owned by a company calling itself Pendragon Properties, the company is registered in Guernsey by two unreadable signatories of Barclays Corporate Wealth. Barclays have so far declined to comment to Fitzrovia News.
It is believed that Barclays Corporate Wealth, however, are just nominees and that the real owners are the Marcus Cooper Group who are the appointed agents for the properties. The London Evening Standard profiled Marcus Cooper last year and had this to say:
This deliberately low-profile 45-year-old began investing in property aged 19. Today the Marcus Cooper Group controls hundreds of companies from very modest offices in Finchley Road.
Companies that own more than 1000 rental properties and are involved in 50 development projects with an end value of £1.5 billion.
The man himself is powerfully built and of matching character. “What we do is buy large, prime assets with potential for change of use or upgrading. We then get that change of use – or fresh planning permission, then sell on.”
The Marcus Cooper Group are redeveloping the former UCLH Charity properties with Oakmayne Properties. An investigation by the Guardian newspaper in December showed footage where Oakmayne Properties were filmed explaining to an undercover reporter how a house sale would escape stamp duty via offshore companies.
Fitzrovia News contacted the Marcus Cooper Group and their media representatives but they declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association told Fitzrovia News:
“Whoever actually owns these nurses and doctors homes is now hollowing out the community by selling the flats to overseas investors rather than to people who need them as homes and who work locally. The purchase of hospital workers housing by off-shore companies and the sale to overseas investors needs to be addressed by a change in public policy.”
At one time the homes would have been given by benefactors of the Middlesex Hospital and would have passed into public ownership. Highfield House in New Cavendish Street was given as a legacy to Middlesex Hospital Special Trustees and Cleveland Residences bought by them in the 1930s. The buildings have then been passed around the various hospital charities before finally being transfered to UCLH Charity.
Up until UCLH Charity took ownership of the properties in 2010, rents to hospital staff rose in line with wages. After the refurbishment last year rents for the two-room studio flats went up by 30 to 100 pecent, although they were still cheaper than rents charged by Peabody on the Regents Park Crown Estate where a few of the tenants have since found alternative accommodation. Several tenants cannot move there since their wages at the hospital wouldn’t cover the rent charged by Peabody, and Peabody refused to rehouse anyone in receipt of housing benefit, or who have retired from the hospital
The buildings once acquired for the benefit of the hospital staff have ended up being treated as assets to be traded on the global market.