Investigation into alleged embezzlement - Property Guardianship

The request was successful.

William R. Chapman

Dear Surrey County Council,

This FOI is in the public interest as it relates to the protection provided by property guardians of property owned by the Surrey County Council that has been funded by the taxpayer.

The Surrey County Council employed the services of a property guardian provider. It is an established fact that the property guardian provider in question has made an attempt to charge former property guardians against their deposits for certain services claimed to have been rendered to the Surrey County Council.

The Surrey County Council is directly involved in this matter as the material issues pertain to services claimed to have been provided at the properties concerned whilst it appears that such services have not been rendered and the Council has knowledge of such fact.

Details are requested from the Surrey County Council pertaining to properties defined as former residential care homes that are or were placed under property guardianship in Chertsey, Camberley, Cobham and Farnham regarding whether new replacement locks have been fitted to the doors previously allocated to property guardians and whether clearing was required by the property guardian provider.

It is known that the properties in question are to be boarded up, demolished or completely revamped and require no new locks.

As it is known that the Surrey County Council decided that these vacated buildings (excluding Brockhurst) had been cleared of debris sufficiently enough to require no further clearance services by the Property Guardian Provider, such detail should be available in the final reports pertaining to the termination of the guardianship.

Yours faithfully,

William R. Chapman

FOI/COR/SCC, Surrey County Council

Dear Mr Chapman

YOUR REQUEST REF NO. FOI001138 UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000

Thank you for your request for information received on the 15 March 2019. Your request reference is as above.

We will respond to your request promptly and in any event within 20 working days from the date of receipt of your request. If you wish to contact me to discuss the progress of your request, please use the contact details given below and quote the reference number given above.  

Regards

Helen Gilbert
Commons Registration Officer
Legal & Democratic Services

Corporate Information Governance Team (Room 138) |  Democratic Services  | Surrey County Council | County Hall | Penrhyn Road | Kingston upon Thames | Surrey | KT1 2DN
Tel: 020 8541 8935 | Email: [email address] |

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Peter Ward, Surrey County Council

Dear Mr Chapman,

 

Re: Request to Surrey County Council No. FOI001138 under the Freedom of
Information Act (2000)

 

Thank you for your email of March 15th which has been passed to me for
response. The request related to the use of property guardians by the
County Council with particular reference to the changing and fitting of
replacement locks and the clearance of sites vacated by said guardian
company.

When a property comes into surplus management by virtue of being
unoccupied, the County Council has a strict process it follows in terms of
the handover of the property. The County Council would have requested the
guardian company to ensure all items left by guardians are removed and an
inspection by both the representative of the guardian company and a
representative of the County Council would have taken place to ensure this
was the case.

In terms of fittings in general including locks and doors these were under
the management of the property guardian company for the duration of the
contract. Once that contract ended, the County Council would expect and
indeed insist on all locks and keys installed and fitted by the property
guardian company being removed with the County Council fitting its own
locks as part of the handover process. This is to ensure the security and
integrity of the property and is part of an overall management process
which varies from site to site based on a number of risk factors.

This information is supplied based on your original request. Please do not
hesitate to contact me if you have any queries regarding the information
enclosed.  Remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications. 

 

If you are unhappy with the handling of your request for information and
wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, in the first
instance you should contact the County Council, quoting your request
number given above, at: 

 

Freedom of Information Officer

Surrey County Council

Room 138

County Hall

Penrhyn Road

Kingston Upon Thames

Surrey

KT1 2DN

 

[1][Surrey County Council request email]

 

If you are not satisfied by the County Council’s response to your
complaint, you have the right to apply to the Information Commissioner for
a decision.  The Information Commissioner will normally expect you to have
exhausted our complaints procedure.  The Information Commissioner can be
contacted at: 

 

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

 

Yours sincerely 

 

Peter Ward
Information Access Officer
Business Services

Surrey County Council
Room G49, County Hall

Kingston-on-Thames

KT1 2DW
Tel: 020 8541 9959
[2][email address]    

 

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References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Surrey County Council request email]
2. mailto:[email address]

William R. Chapman

Dear Mr Ward,

Thank you for your reply to the Freedom of Information request.

You are hereby informed that prior to the FOI request, the Surrey Police Service had made a recommendation to provide Action Fraud with the preliminary information. Action Fraud allocated two case numbers: NFRC190202797629 and NFRC190202797423.

It is for this reason that the answers provided by the Surrey County Council need to be accurate. While your explanation of the keys issue appears to be the most logical, please be informed that two answers were previously provided. Firstly, the Property Estates team had informed me that as the Pinehurst Resource Centre was in the then process of being boarded up, no keys had been received from the property guardian provider company. The second answer was provided in a document that was given to me at the Surrey County Councillors Cabinet meeting that all keys had been handed over to the Council. The answer that you provided is that the property guardian provider company was under obligation to remove all of their locks and keys from the property.

It is an irrefutable fact that former property guardians had returned the keys by registered and tracked mail. Notwithstanding several of such guardians being in receipt of proof, certain employees of the property guardian provider company saw fit to raise a charge of £75 for the replacement of the locks, engaging in demands for payment constituting harassment and then deducting such fabricated debits from the deposits belonging to the guardians. I am pleased to report back that the new CEO has reversed the charges related to the locks.

While it has been established that a number of persons who had been employed during the debacle are recently no longer with the company, it is maintained that to counteract the wide-spread exploitation of property guardians, such individuals responsible should be subjected to the full force of the law.

Please confirm that your answer pertaining to the removal of the locks is the correct version.

The second issue relates to clearance charges. The Surrey County Council made no attempt to ensure that items and discarded rubbish left by previous occupiers (including squatters) was removed by the property guardian provider. The omission by the Council to ensure that the contractual obligations of the property guardian provider company were carried out resulted in such charges being allocated to the remaining property guardians at the time of contractual termination. Such conduct is grossly unfair and unjustifiable. The answer provided by the Surrey County Council is inadequate as it only provides what should have been undertaken and not what actually occurred at the Pinehurst Resource Centre. As photographs are available of items that were left on the property after the premises were boarded up, it gives credence to the allegation that the Council had not demanded clearance. It is the report providing feedback on the situation after the inspections had been conducted by the inspectorate that has been requested – not the theoretical scenario as provided.

Yours sincerely,

William R. Chapman

Peter Ward, Surrey County Council

Dear Mr Chapman.

Thank you for your email of Monday 29th and my apologies for not being
able to respond to you more directly.

I have again spoken to officers in the Property Estates Team and now have
a more detailed account of what transpired at Pinehurst.

 

The County Council instructed Camelot to remove all goods left by property
Guardians from the site as the County Council did not wish to incur the
additional cost of removing these items if and when demolition was
considered.

As far as the locks and keys are concerned, the County Council's
locks should have been removed from doors and stored on site and Camelot
should have installed their own locks. The County Council was happy for
our locks (though not the keys) to be kept on site in the office but as no
inventory has been completed the County Council is unable to confirm if
that was the case and we are also unable to confirm at this time if
Camelot have left their locks and keys on site. My understanding however
is that at other sites handed over by Camelot locks and keys have been
left.

 

Pinehurst was left in a poor condition by some of the Guardians including
graffiti on the walls which Camelot were not asked to remedy.

 

I have also been informed by the Estates Team that when Pinehurst was
returned to the County Council all the furniture used by the Guardians had
been removed. A full inventory is due to be completed on all sites to
assess if any equipment can be reused at other County Council sites.

I have not been made aware of the existence of a final report and
therefore I am unable to provide you with that requested information.

Peter Ward
Information Access Officer
Business Services

Surrey County Council
Room G49, County Hall

Kingston-on-Thames

KT1 2DW
Tel: 020 8541 9959

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: William R. Chapman <[FOI #561979 email]>
Sent: 29 April 2019 21:58
To: Peter Ward
Subject: Re: Freedom of Information Request Ref FOI001138 to Surrey County
Council
 
Dear Mr Ward,

Thank you for your reply to the Freedom of Information request.

You are hereby informed that prior to the FOI request,  the Surrey Police
Service had made a recommendation to provide Action Fraud with the
preliminary information. Action Fraud allocated two case numbers:
NFRC190202797629 and NFRC190202797423.

It is for this reason that the answers provided by the Surrey County
Council need to be accurate. While your explanation of the keys issue
appears to be the most logical, please be informed that two answers were
previously provided. Firstly, the Property Estates team had informed me
that as the Pinehurst Resource Centre was in the then process of being
boarded up, no keys had been received from the property guardian provider
company. The second answer was provided in a document that was given to me
at the Surrey County Councillors Cabinet meeting  that all keys had been
handed over to the Council. The answer that you provided is that the
property guardian provider company was under obligation to remove all of
their locks and keys from the property.

It is an irrefutable fact that former property guardians had returned the
keys by registered and tracked mail. Notwithstanding several of such
guardians being in receipt of proof, certain employees of the property
guardian provider company saw fit to raise a charge of £75 for the
replacement of the locks, engaging in demands for payment constituting
harassment and then deducting such fabricated debits from the deposits
belonging to the guardians.  I am pleased to report back that the new CEO
has reversed the charges related to the locks.

While it has been established that a number of persons who had been
employed during the debacle are recently no longer with the company, it is
maintained that to counteract the wide-spread exploitation of property
guardians, such individuals responsible should be subjected to the full
force of the law.

Please confirm that your answer pertaining to the removal of the locks is
the correct version.

The second issue relates to clearance charges. The Surrey County Council
made no attempt to ensure that items and discarded rubbish left by
previous occupiers (including squatters) was removed by the property
guardian provider. The omission by the Council to ensure that the
contractual obligations of the property guardian provider company were
carried out resulted in such charges being allocated to the remaining
property guardians at the time of contractual termination. Such conduct is
grossly unfair and unjustifiable. The answer provided by the Surrey County
Council is inadequate as it only provides what should have been undertaken
and not what actually occurred at the Pinehurst Resource Centre. As
photographs are available of items that were left on the property after
the premises were boarded up, it gives credence to the allegation that the
Council had not demanded clearance. It is the report providing feedback on
the situation after the inspections had been conducted by the inspectorate
that has been requested – not the theoretical scenario as provided.

Yours sincerely,

William R. Chapman

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William R. Chapman

Dear Mr Ward

Thank you for clarifying some of the issues raised.

‘The County Council instructed Camelot to remove all goods left by property
Guardians from the site as the County Council did not wish to incur the
additional cost of removing these items if and when demolition was
considered.’

Both the Surrey County Council and the Property Guardian Provider were aware that in the months prior to August 2018, the Pinehurst Resource Centre had been invaded by illegal occupants. No attempt whatsoever had been made by the Property Guardian Provider to remove any of the items remaining within such previously occupied areas. Furthermore, it appears that no records were kept by either the Surrey County Council or the Property Guardian Provider as to which items were the property of the Council as opposed to items not clearly identifiable as such.

While it is clear that the County Council “did not wish to incur the additional cost of removing these items,’ such charges were simply deducted from hapless property guardians unfortunate enough to be present at the time of occupancy termination. Worse still was that such charges were instituted against property guardians who had left prior the termination date.

It is further known that graffiti was evident in the exact same areas previously occupied by the illegal occupiers. Furthermore, the use of drugs resulted in such unsociable conduct – both the Council and the Property Guardian Provider had been made aware of this fact – in spite of the gagging clause to prevent property guardians communicating such fact.

As regards the FOI request dealing with the HMO requirement for the Pinehurst Resource Centre – the Surrey Heath Borough Council has confirmed (refer to public record) that no such licence had been applied for. Colchester Borough Council assisted former guardians – the same cannot be said of the Surrey County Council.

https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/prop...

Yours sincerely,

William R. Chapman

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