Thursday 8 September 2011

Improvement Grant Troubles - Carmarthenshire

Having read of many complaints and problems regarding the improvement grant system across several Welsh Authorities, it was only a matter of time before an example from Carmarthenshire Council was brought to my attention. A Mr Ian Dakin contacted me with a series of complaints dating back over the past twelve years. The complaints have involved the failure by the Council to monitor and administer, exterior, interior and disabled alteration grants. It is Mr Dakin's elderly mother, who is 84 and still hasn't had the correct facilites installed (deemed necessary many years ago and recently updated), who is bearing the brunt of the failure. The details are complex but, in my opinion, fully justify his complaints.

They refer to inferior work passed off as 'satisfactory' by the Council year after year . To give a few examples; the external stone walls had to be pinned after a kango hammer was used to remove render, the render had to be re-applied five times in some places; new windows were two inches too small, patched up with thin strips of PVC but declared unsafe and had to be replaced; a path was dug up unnecessarily and he is now heading for the eigth attempt to properly re-concrete; many attempts to repair the roof revealed old wood which was supposed to have been replaced and the removal of an internal wall in the loft threatening the very integrity of the structure; it goes on and on.

There was a failure to ensure contractors were properly insured; a lack of written records and schedules of work; problems with the disclosure of documents ( a file was initially available, then, when seen again, was somewhat slimmer, and then became completely 'lost' in the system) Some years ago Mr Dakin requested a copy of the contract between the council and a building contractor relating to the 'envelope scheme' to improve the whole street - after 20 months of requesting disclosure, one finally appeared signed and dated the day before it was released.
Mr Dakin had been to court numerous times as a result of the Council's refusal to release grant monies to contractors, the council required 'signing off' certificates from the contractors to do so, these were not released and no one seemed to know if they even existed. Mr Dakin had signed the progress statements in an attempt to complete the lengthy and tortuous work but only to 75% satisfaction, despite being actually far less than satisfied, and troubled by how much taxpayers' money was being wasted on substandard work possibly throughout the County - the council, of course had stated they were 'satisfied' with the work so the release of funds shouldn't have been an issue anyway.
Eventually the Council decided they didn't really need the signing off papers after all and settled. They have also agreed that there is work outstanding. One would assume, in that case, they would then also settle the legal costs for which Mr Dakin was still being pursued, so far they have refused other than to offer him a 'loan'.

The trouble is that Mr Dakin is guilty of the cardinal sin of persisting with his questioning of the council's role in all this. Recent FoI disclosures revealed emails going back several years from the council to various contractors and other organisations branding Mr Dakin a 'bad payer' and 'difficult'. He believes that it is this consistent and entirely unfounded blackening of his and his family's name that has been the cause, unbeknown to him at the time, of many problems with the contractors and agents who have carried out work at the property. Mr Dakin has discussed these issues, over the years, (and sometimes with his solicitor present), with his local Councillor. The Member has now been told that he is not allowed to contact Mr Dakin, nor Mr Dakin approach the Councillor, for vague 'legal reasons' - as usual, this has the desired effect and the Councillor obeys orders. One would have thought the position should be the other way round with the Member insisting on representing his constituent's interests.
From the details I have seen I believe that Mr Dakin has a clear cut complaint against the Council which I am sure will be of great interest to the Ombudsman. He is pursuing both.
Here is a statement from Mr Dakin's 84 yearold mother which has been included in the recent 26 page complaint, drafted by his solicitor and sent to the council;

"I am horrified by the way members of officialdom in Councils can behave towards us the public. They are public servants who are paid from the public purse. No longer it seems that officials are there primarily to help and advise. We used to call them public servants. It seems however that they are answerable to no one which gives them huge powers. They have become arrogant in their approach to the rest of us and they have no respect for us. they are fine if they are left alone but ask them to attend to what needs to be done or ask in our case for answers or paperwork they become confrontational and some have been, and are, rude and vindictive. We are then branded awkward, difficult and unreasonable"

The Photon blog; Anglesey Grants: Report due soon.
Alice in Blunderland; More Welsh Housing Hell - Improvement Grant Troubles in Carmarthenshire 
This complaint is far too complex for me to provide full details here so I include Mr Dakin's email address should anyone require further information or wishes to substantiate my comments;
If you have had similar experiences or complaints regarding the council's role in grant work, please leave a comment.


Photon said...

This is a terribly familiar story which has surfaced repeatedly in many parts of Wales over the years.

What is never acknowledged is the devastating effect on people's lives and health arising from what often appears to be wilful obstruction of proper investigations lasting years. You could call it an institutional inability to admit to even the simplest of mistakes.

The situation in general seems to be that the grants works get slightly out of control at first. Someone papers over the small errors. Then more errors are made, resulting in a litany of 'corrections' that eventually are so labyrinthine that the only course councils can take is to stick to their original story. Sometimes, that is clearly not the true story.

I advise anyone in this situation to add to the submissions already made and the subject of on-going investigation to the Welsh Audit Office. If you want any help, just let Caebrwyn or me know about it.

Contact details, WAO:

I've never seen any evidence of anything other that professional and confidential handling of information passed to them.

Alice in Blunderland said...

This sorry tale is typical of the attitudes of Council officers when they blunder.Like Mr Dakin and his Mother we too have had years of utter hell and the same treatment. There are also other similar cases ongoing in Anglesey and Flintshire.The year 1999 appears to be a common issue. How many peoples lives have been blighted in Wales through the nefarious practices dealt to them when others fail? I feel an Inquiry is needed.

Maureen Jenner said...

Tongue in cheek (because that lady usually claims she cannot get involved in individual cases), may I suggest you send copy to Ruth Marks, after all, she is the Commissioner for Older People in Wales. At the same time, you could copy in the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services who is supposed to have special responsibility for older people in Wales.

Speaking as a former chair of what was COPP (Carmarthenshire Older People's Partnership), we campaigned hard and long for older people in Carmarthenhsire and also became unpopular because we pursued justice for those who sought our help.

I'm sure there was a sigh of relief in County Hall when anno domini and ill-health forced us to accept the innevitable and hold our last meeting a year ago.

Anonymous said...

speaking of the commisioner for the elderly, i cantacted them 3 years ago regarding a situation here.. did they do owt?

did joyce watson do owt? did anyone do owt?

i spoken to many people regarding the bad bad things regarding substandard work and contractors being paid public money.. my own county councillor legged it when i contacted him about it. he said he will return after the 2008 elections and failed to do so.. i had to contact a plaid county councillor to see if they can do anything because of the non-representation from my own county councillor. and i got messed about by this councillor.. the labour town councillor didn't do owt about it.. they seem to hope that people will just shut up and hope the problems just disappear as if by magic..

too much suffering and these people cause bad health.

i spoke to christine gwyther on the phone about it when she was running for the seat as i was running out of people to contact as everyone seemed to have shut up shop.

if plaid and labour got their act together when i alerted them back in 2007-09 regarding the same situation, maybe they could have looked into it and and/or tightened up procedures and maybe have spared this gentleman's predicament along with others...

this culture has been going on for years.. only if they had done something about it

Anonymous said...

a contractor who was involved with this was on the carmarthenshire trading standards safe scheme...yet managed to cause damage!! he is now on trustmark's books... i contacted trustmark at the beginning of this year and they say there's not much we can do.. i said to them if you read my correspondence properly, i did not ask you to mediate at all, i am merely informing YOU that you may have a 'dodgy' builder on your books, what are you going to do about it? all they said was that they will keep an eye on him... so, i asked trustmark how come you have a builder on your books that failed to disclose any litigations to trustmark when applying and concealed this???.. i asked them 'are you going to interview this trader'? hmmmm

Anonymous said...

do you know what a council grants officer said at the time verbally? he said to me you have to learn to live with the defects.

i kid you not!!

and my county councillor chose not to represent me dealing with these kind of issues later.

do councillors know exactly what is going on under their noses?

Alice in Blunderland said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I have not had positive experiences with the WAO or the Older Persons Brigade. Neither have I had any success with cross party Councillors, AMs and our MP.
I obviously have held back on a lot because in my case the status quo and general situation arose from certain allegations that arent plain 'civil. We have been persecuted mercilessly and systematically destroyed both health wise and financially - deliberately.It is clear I am on some kind of Blacklist and am concerned about ongoing conduct carried on outside of the Council.I have realised there is nowhere to turn because nobody cares.I have no faith in the Assembly anymore as it seems to me they all cover each others backsides. Maybe I have been very unlucky but I would wish some help in all this from someone somewhere as it has destroyed us.Not even cancer and bereavement stops the bullying. Surely this is a sign of something very badly amiss and also poses a danger to anyone who happens to fall foul of bungling? Is anyone prepared to do anything for all those who suffer? I shall not be threatened into silence I shall keep on Blogging until someone steps in.

Anonymous said...

this is how i see things sometimes.. all is well when councillors hold a coffee morning and get themselves into the papers now and them, protraying themselves as acting for the constituency and bigging themselves up and self publicity.. yes i agree there are postive issues to deal with but also there are negative issues to deal with too!

when things go wrong, they are off like a shot..

can't have it both ways, can we? if they can't be bothered to represent as there are always two sides of the coin, they should resign immediately

and this is the reality

Anonymous said...

it is a travest and shameful situation to be in when there is nobody to represent anybody.. that surely is not democracy at all, is it?


Anonymous said...

this is ahorrible thing to say, whether it is reality or not...

people who have been affected by bad tarders are made to feel like it is all their fault, and they are made to feel like a criminal.

what a dirty country this is

caebrwyn said...

Thanks for your contribution, it appears you are not alone with this problem and as @Photon says, the Wales Audit Office are currently investigating the matter, it may not seem entirely satisfactory but it's better than nothing - I suggest you contact them and contribute to the catalogue of problems - it may help others in the long term. I also suggest you seek legal advice over your problems maybe via legal aid (before it becomes largely unavailable)from the Citizens' Advice Bureau??

Anonymous said...

legal aid is not available for 'civil' disputes.
as for citizens advice, all they can do is advise to contact consumer direct, write a letter to the contractor etc..

is data available from the audit office to see just how much councils have paid for bodged work over the last x amount of years?

Anonymous said...

n o wonder they say stress is the biggest killer in wales... wonder why? how many people become ill because of these people or died (anon2)