Bristol emergency housing provider evicting settled tenants and converting homes into high-rent emergency accommodation
UPDATE 05.06.2016: This article has been amended following a meeting between the Cable and representatives of Connolly & Callaghan
Private tenants at a Knowle West block of flats have been evicted from their homes by Connolly & Callaghan, one of Bristol’s largest temporary accommodation providers, in order that the flats can be turned into housing for homeless families.
One such tenant who was evicted from Carpenters House is now homeless and living in temporary accommodation. Hannah (not her real name) told the Cable:
“They pulled the carpet from under my feet. In one day everything was changed for me. I have nothing.”
Evicting tenants for a profit?
Documents handed to the Cable show that after buying the block at Carpenters Place for £1.6 million in February 2016 from Eminence Property Developments, new owner Connolly & Callaghan gave tenants, many of whom had benefited from relatively affordable rents for years, two months to vacate.
Section 21 eviction notices served on 3 February at the block, which also contains owner-occupied flats, state: “All tenants are being asked kindly to leave Carpenters Place and find alternative accommodation so that the company can continue with helping the ever growing need of homelessness.”
Connolly & Callaghan owns and manages emergency accommodation across Bristol and in South Gloucestershire. It is perhaps best known for being the owner of Hamilton House on Stokes Croft, which it leases to community interest company Coexist.
A recent Freedom of Information Request by community union ACORN revealed that the number of homeless people housed by Connolly & Callaghan rose from 140 in 2014/15 to 898 in 2015/16 in Bristol alone. Connolly and Callaghan director Martin Connolly has since told us he doesn’t “recognise the council’s figures”.
In a statement to the Cable on 27 May via crisis and reputation management specialist CHA Group, Connolly & Callaghan said it had provided a “dedicated team” providing “wide ranging” assistance, including financial support and removal costs, to Carpenters House tenants. The firm subsequently issued a second statement expanding on its version of events on 2 June, with Connolly citing a lack of communication between staff as the reason it hadn’t previously set out its story more fully.
The Cable has since seen documents confirming that support was offered in at least some cases. At a meeting on 3 June, Connolly also told us that two households refusing to leave Carpenters Place would now be able to stay, potentially indefinitely, albeit on monthly rents rising from £525 to £675. It would be “embarrassing”, he said, for his firm and Bristol council if bailiffs were to evict anyone from the block, only for them to end up back in the homelessness system.
Yet statements from Carpenters Place tenants call into question the new block owner’s version of events, and the consistency of its approach.
One couple who have remained in their flat, Gary and Lilla, who have a four-month-old baby, said they couldn’t afford to move out or to pay the extra rent, and have decided they have no other option but to stay put in the place they call home. “[Connolly & Callaghan] tried to get us scared – they said they’d take us to court,” Lilla said.
Hannah, meanwhile, claims Connolly & Callaghan failed to notify her via email of the Section 21 notice while she was out of the country – and that she returned to find her flat had been cleared under ‘abandonment’ procedures. In the process, some of her property had been lost, she said, while other personal belongings had been left for use by the family who subsequently moved in.
Anya (not her real name), another former tenant, said: “When we got the letter I was in the third month of pregnancy, it caused a lot of stress because it’s not easy to find a flat or house in such a short time. We wrote to the new owner, asking [if] maybe we could stay longer… I called a few times but got no answer. I think after two weeks we got an answer – we have to move out and we do not get more time.”
Leading homelessness cause
Termination of private-sector tenancies was the leading cause of homelessness in Bristol last year according to government statistics, with rental prices rising more quickly here than almost anywhere else in the UK.
Tenancy agreements seen by the Cable show flats converted into emergency accommodation in Carpenters Place are being rented at more than £300 per week. Emergency accommodation rents tend to be far higher than for housing on the open market, because of associated expenses such as for furniture and bedding, cleaning, staffing and security. Figures published in May showed that Bristol council had spent £4.4m on emergency accommodation over an 18-month period – one of the highest figures outside London.
Connolly & Callaghan has endured a mixed relationship with Bristol council. In 2014, Bristol Foundation Housing, a charity founded by the firm that housed single homeless people, closed – partly because the local authority cut its levels of housing benefit after an inspection reported chaotic management and a lack of consistent service provision for tenants.
It is understood that the ACORN community union is launching a campaign on this issue with a petition; meanwhile the Cable will continue to investigate.
The Cable has contacted Bristol council for comment and will add this as soon as received.