Welsh Social Housing, A Broken System

My previous post dealt with offshore property company Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd and housing associations leasing properties from it, though I made passing reference – just a paragraph – to another publicly funded housing association, Pembrokeshire Housing, and Mill Bay Homes, the latter a subsidiary of the former that builds houses to sell to anyone.

This brief mention was enough to send someone scampering to Hugh James, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s favourite legal firm. (Indeed, to judge by the amount of business Carwyn’s civil servants put the way of Hugh James you’d think there were no other lawyers in Wales.) And so on Friday evening I received another threatening letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.

It says: “You are required to remove the statement from the website and any other location (either in hard or soft copy) in which you have published it by no later than 9am on Monday 23 October 2016. (Monday is actually the 24th.) You are also required to confirm in writing by way of undertaking that the allegation will not be repeated.” Read it for yourself.

Hugh James logo

You will see that the period of grace I am allowed in which to recant left me no opportunity to seek advice from other members of Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s profession. So I have had to rely on my own counsel, which directed me to refuse capitulation but to amend the offending paragraph. If it still offends, anyone, hard luck, because that’s all you’re getting.

In many ways, Mill Bay Homes is a curious beast. To begin with, it is a Registered Social Landlord (No L124) and yet (as far as I can tell), it receives no funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. But then, this is as it should be, for Mill Bay Homes does not build or rent social housing . . . so why is it a Registered Social Landlord?

The answer is that Mill Bay Homes ‘inherited’ its RSL number when Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 – a craft that never launched – changed its name to Mill Bay Homes in February 2012. After which Mill Bay Homes took off to become one of the leading house builders in the county, using money transferred from Pembrokeshire Housing – which of course does receive public funding.

This paragraph is directed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, more specifically, the Housing Directorate.

If Mill Bay Homes applied to become a Registered Social Landlord tomorrow you would, quite correctly, turn down the application for the obvious reason that MBH neither builds nor rents social housing. (This explains why it does not receive Social Housing Grant or other funding.) That being so, why do you allow MBH to retain the RSL number of its predecessor?’

Anomalies abound when we consider the relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. We can even add Pembrokeshire County Council to the mix, for both have a close relationship with the local authority. Take, for example, this S106 agreement drawn up just before Christmas last year between MBH and the council.

The agreement deals with “four Social Rented Housing Units” and “two Intermediate Housing Units” in the Newton Heights development totalling some 55 properties at Kilgetty. Later in that document, in Schedule 4, we encounter the paragraph below.


“The RSL” has to be Pembrokeshire Housing, if only because Mill Bay Homes does not receive grant funding (and wouldn’t be buying from itself). Which means that, having transferred millions of pounds to Mill Bay Homes for it to build homes for sale, Pembrokeshire Housing will then use grant funding to buy one (or more?) of those properties.

I can’t help thinking that something ‘clever’ is going on here. Maybe too clever for old Jac. Another one for the Housing Directorate? So let me frame it as a question.

‘Publicly funded Pembrokeshire Housing shuffles money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes. Mill Bay Homes builds private dwellings. Now it appears that Pembrokeshire Housing buys properties from Mill Bay Homes with grant funding.

Why doesn’t Pembrokeshire Housing just build its own social housing with the money it receives from the ‘Welsh’ Government for that express purpose?’

Come to that, how many social housing units could Pembrokeshire Housing have built with the millions it’s passed to Mill Bay Homes? Is there no demand in Pembrokeshire for more social housing? If not, why is Pembrokeshire Housing still receiving grant funding?

Something is not right down west. Money goes into Pembrokeshire Housing from various sources, gets mixed up, and comes out the other end, with over £6m going to MBH (by the end of the financial year 31.03.2015).

Yet we are asked to believe that none of this money comes from grants received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. In other words, it is not public funding. Maybe the source is rents received from PH’s tenants, or money from sales of social housing. But who paid for that housing in the first place?

All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?

As I say above, my mention of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes was little more than a passing reference in a piece about Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that owns a few thousand properties across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards, so let us return to the main dish.

I contacted the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, one of the housing associations leasing properties from Link Holdings, but the exchange ended with the message below. Clearly, the shutters have gone up.


In the hope of getting more information on the relationship between housing associations and offshore companies I tried another angle by writing to the First minister, Carwyn Jones. Within a couple of days I received this response from the Housing Directorate.

We can do naught but wait, and hope . . .

Looking at this latest threat from Hugh James I can’t help wondering who exactly triggered it. Was it really Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes? If so, then they were a bit slow off the mark, because the post had been up for a week before Ms Singlehurst-Ward swung into action.

Picture it, gentle reader; there I am, blogging merrily away, exposing the scandal that housing associations are dealing with property companies registered in tax havens, and that money is passing from a publicly-funded RSL to its subsidiary, for that subsidiary to build private housing, and wham! – out of a clear blue sky comes another threatening letter from Hugh James, a company that itself has grown fat off the public purse.

An unkind soul might say they’re all in it together, civil servants, RSLs, lawyers, etc, all sucking on the teat of the public purse, so why not watch each other’s backs, hang together lest they hang separately?

Which raises the possibility that certain persons know about the arrangement in Pembrokeshire, and are quite happy to fund it. And perhaps these same people also know that housing associations are dealing with companies hiding in tax havens that could be run by gangsters, and they also support this arrangement.

Because imagine the embarrassment in certain quarters if it became known that homes were being built in Pembrokeshire by a company funded by a housing association that has received tens of millions in grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and that some of these properties are sold to English retirees or used as holiday homes. Or that housing associations are officially encouraged to deal with faceless companies in tax havens!

This would explain why such people, instead of responding with, ‘Thank you, Jac, for drawing this to our attention, your OBE is in the pipeline, regularly set the dogs on me!

I have argued for some time that the system of publicly-funded Registered Social Landlords is unsustainable in the long run. We are, effectively, giving public money to what are in many cases unaccountable private companies. As I see it, there are three options:

1/ Cut RSLs adrift and let them support themselves by raising private funding. (After all, they are asset rich.)

2/ Return the role of social housing provision, together with the current stock, to local authorities. 

3/ Let the ‘Welsh’ Government take over the social housing stock and set up a national body along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The more I learn of RSLs the more convinced I become that the existing system of social housing provision in Wales is broken. For anyone to pretend otherwise is to be wilfully blind or else defend known practises that would shock and outrage most people if they gained wider publicity than they get from my blog.

Which might be the answer to everything.


30 thoughts on “Welsh Social Housing, A Broken System

  1. Stan

    Uncanny that Myfanwy should bring up Freemasonry and the “paddyfrench” information which I happened to use myself in the last week. There is a more up-to-date list here:
    https://paddyfrench1.wordpress.com/category/freemasonry/ – but you’ll find that it’s not an exhaustive member list by any means.
    I agree with Jac that it’s probably not the vehicle of choice for many younger professional social climbers these days. I suppose with more enlightened thinking, the fact membership is restricted to men and then those who haven’t got black balls, makes it less attractive in the 21st Century.
    I had occasion to research it because I noticed a couple of local Labour councillors were members. Councillors are supposed to declare their membership on their Register of Interests but the rub is – if it’s a secret society, how will you know if they chose not to declare it?

    1. Before the Assembly kicked off it was agreed that all Members would declare if they were Freemasons. Under attack from Rod Richards and others this idea was quickly dropped.

      1. Ho ho ho

        You were right about them jack- putting the right left leaning lovies into the top jobs for cardiff bay. Rct homes, now rebranded, tai calon soon to be rebranded, bron afon next . A nice quiet time of the year for the quiet publication on wag website of updated regulatory reports on family housing in swansea and north wales housing association – both of which are no doubt of interest to a certain cardiff association with the right profile that has just moved into grand new head offices in cardiff hq and the newly built sub office in labour controlled deeside. What would victor mildrew say?

  2. Myfanwy

    Jac, how much of the way power is controlled in Wales and how deals are brokered in connection to the issues you discuss, are actually decided by the very powerful link to Freemasonry in Wales? I was amazed how many people belong to the Freemasons in Wales and how powerful the Dinas Llandaf lodge in Cardiff is supposed to be.


    The recent case relating to child abuse in North Wales, which saw the conviction of ex Chief of Police, Gordon Anglesea, who evaded justice for many years, is notable for his links to the Masons. Anglesea, was member and a Master for many years and was apparently helped along his career path by Grand Master Mason in the area, Lord Kenyon (deceased).

    MP Paul Flynn, has discussed corruption in the Police, relating to the Daniel Morgan case and about the investigation into the Metropolitan Police, Operation Tiberius, which has been suppressed by the Government. There is a strong argument that the corruption levels are endemic, which may or may not be linked to the high number of Freemasons in the Police.



    Freemasons of course come from every walk of life, but the question is, does this secret society, which benefits those within the Brotherhood, actually benefit Wales as a whole? Are the deals around such issues as housing and other Government decisions, in anyway influenced by membership of the Freemasons?

    1. For many professionals and others nowadays Freemasonry is ‘backward’ and old-fashioned, the sort of thing their grandfathers might have been interested in but not them. For younger professionals of a more ‘liberal’ outlook, especially those to be found in the Third Sector and similar fields, Common Purpose might be seen as more attractive.

      Which is not to say that in more ‘traditional’ professions, and the police, business and local government, Freemasonry doesn’t still have power, given that these are still areas where men dominate.

      1. dafis

        I think you will find that there is considerable overlap between Masonic membership and CP “training”. Both organisations are able to present a fine upstanding image and it is plausible that most of the memberships are “clean”. However it all breaks down when one takes into account the deviant element – the sort of person who joins up to secure “networking” opportunities. Those networking relationships develop into collaborations and some advance into collusion and beyond and therein lies the problem.
        That Masons are so reluctant to sling a major offender out until it becomes public, and will shift heaven and earth to prevent such disclosure, only serves to taint the entire organisation.
        CP is a different kettle of fish altogether. Some argue that it was set up for devious purposes while others argue that it was hijacked early on by a cluster of crazies often associated in some way with that model of good behaviour, Bliar !
        I think that way back in Jac’s archives there is some coverage of these kinds of organisations which could merit a revisit.

  3. dafis

    ref your tweet re Pembs Housing vacancy – I see nothing wrong with paying 100k + benefits if the job warrants it.

    However the growing propensity of public sector to pay serious money for any role with “Chief” or “Executive” in the title is frankly ridiculous. To defend this cavalier attitude towards deployment of public funds we get bombarded with cliches like “the need to be competitive”, “The war for talent” and “underpinning excellence in the stakeholder experience” . The bullshit mill knows no bounds.

    Once these appointments are made we see a line up of seriously grey, dull, underperforming muppets who always have an excuse for failure, get rewarded handsomely for missing goals, and resort to the old “lessons will be learned” cliche if all else fails to convince. And we put up with it !

    Jackasses down the Bay who have some governance responsibility, indeed the ultimate clout of providing finance, refrain from tearing heads off these delinquents. Indeed, as recent events appear to prove, they conspire with the underperformers as far as possible to camouflage the errors and failures and at times have the nerve to “spin” them as successes.

    Gee, I think, said some days ago that we have a massive sorting out challenge ahead of us as a nation. Too much value is placed on a capacity for chiselling and bending rules while little or none is attached to integrity in conduct and performance. Once again, any party leader out there prepared to take up the challenge, start making a seriously challenging enquiry into our failed state ? Or would they all be treading on their own toes, let alone anyone else’s ?

  4. dafis

    All this is a bit of a hoot when you consider that a new “policing” initiative is in the process of being introduced by Cynulliad by late November 2016. This is designed to ensure that private landlords meet certain “standards”, most of which are a minor distraction to individual landlords, but will serve to levy a sum of money from landlords and agents, where they are involved.
    Now there is already a massive body of law available to tackle bad landlords and it just needs tidying up. But our dopey masters prefer to introduce yet another piece of regulatory “infrastructure” as it will create yet more ( or protect existing) penpushing jobs in the public sector. It seems that there is considerable myopia in government when it can’t see further than “creating new rules” as the solution to everything. This is particularly stupid when there’s enough rules in place already, it just needs somebody willing to use them !

    Which brings us back to your issue with H.A’s – why were they initially created ?, how have they developed ? how have the original rules been modified or ignored to allow so much vagueness/absence of transparency in the conduct of their business ? Is there a defined plan for future development/evolution, and if so can we see it ?
    As a further aside to all this we can then go on to examine how a government which is superficially opposed to unbridled capitalism comes to be tacitly approving H.A’s and other agencies trading merrily with “offshore” entities with opaque ownership ? Lots of questions to answer but the man in charge doesn’t like to be held accountable. Opposition parties like to pipe up for once ?

    1. Housing associations as I remember them were groups – often small and localised – that looked after groups and individuals who might not be catered for by council housing. But they tended to complement what was being provided by local authorities.

      Then, in the mid-’80s, came the Right to Buy legislation which ensured councils could no longer build council housing and the stock they held become open to transfer. Simultaneously, the role of housing associations was expanded in an attempt to meet the shortfall in social housing resulting from councils selling but no longer building.

      Fast forward to 2016 and we now have large, opaque organisations, well funded from the public purse but behaving as if they were private and self-financing companies. Neither charities nor regular companies they inhabit a twilight zone regulated (in the loosest sense of that word) by the Financial Conduct Authority and exempt from FoI legislation, unlike council housing departments.

      The reason for the current nervousness among our housing associations is that unwelcome change is coming. And this change is being forced on them from an unlikely quarter – the Office for National Statistics. (All explained here from a rather biased perspective.)

      Once they’re reclassified as public sector bodies housing associations will no longer be allowed to inhabit the twilight zone that has been so beneficial to them for so long. Also – and this is what really worries the buggers – they will need to be far more transparent, and account for the public funding they use.

      We are now in a period of intense lobbying of our AMs by housing associations and their umbrella body Community Housing Cymru, but of course, we poor buggers who foot the bill will know nothing of this, our media will ignore it.

      This explains why I concluded this post with the three options.

      1. Wynne

        As a supplementary note Jac. It would appear that Mill Bay Homes is already under the jurisdiction of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales due to its registration as a social landlord {albeit with no tenants}.

      2. dafis

        Many of the H.A’s were originated in the public sector anyway in that they took on the homes previously run by local authorities – for instance Bridgend council transferred its housing stock over to V2C, which omits the term “Housing Association” in its website intro but does declare itself as – Registered Society with Charitable rules under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act Act 2014, No. 30205R. To date they do not appear to have gone nuts and swallowed up others or been swallowed themselves.
        A look at their Board and Management doesn’t scream out “shysters, tossers, blaggers” indeed they seem to be a settled bunch in Management and the Board seems to be made up of worthy Labour types. However the penchant for using consultants creeps into the picture with an Ops Director / Deputy Ch Exec role being advertised at c.£85k + goody bag of benefits, all handled by a Campbell Tickell on a set of phone numbers that bear no relevance to any part of Wales. “Important job, better get someone from England to handle it, see” ! Campbell Tick must be plumbed into the Labour party, the H.A sector ( do they “sponsor” conferences, or days out ? ) or be on that magic list of nominated suppliers that doesn’t exist down the Bay.

        1. No, the early housing associations I’m talking about existed well before Rent to Buy and the subsequent takeover of council housing stock. These would look after ex-servicemen, distressed gentlefolk and other groups it was felt might otherwise be overlooked. Here in Wales HAs in rural areas were able to buy up existing properties that might otherwise become holiday homes. Another change introduced in the ’80s and ’90s was that they were no longer allowed to thwart those wanting to buy a holiday home.

          Campbell Tickell has cropped up on this blog recently. It was they who recommended that the Labour-run Wales and West Housing Association take over Cantref in Castell Newydd Emlyn, an area where Labour has little support. Campbell himself is a staunch Labour man. In fact, he worked for the party for three years.

          In the case of Cantref we saw a Labour administration employ Labour-supporting ‘consultants’ who then – amazingly! – recommended that Cantref be taken over by Wales and West run by Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Read it here.

          Did someone say ‘corruption’? Corruption is an inadequate word to describe how the Labour Party runs Wales and how serving its own interests, and those of its supporters, always take precedence over the national good. It now has consultants, lawyers and a whole sector of its cronies and placemen benefiting from this system and ready to fight in its defence.

          1. dafis

            just had a quick rummage around the Campbell Tickell website and boy these folks have been busy. Claiming a squad of 150 associates ( presumably self employed subbies, or some who are employed on a discontinuous casual basis ) plus core team of about 20 who probably steer case loads and crack the whip to keep clients satisfied. Their penetration into wooly Wales is quite impressive which suggests they’ve been at it for some time. Loads of Welsh H.A’s among clients, plus Welsh Government and Welsh Audit Office ! Given their penetration into UK wide H.A sector it’s not surprising that they make a good living out of shifting H.A professionals around from job to job.

  5. Iestyn

    But hold on, mr O North. According to your bestie at Hugh James etc solicitors, no public monies pasd from one body to the other. You’d best check the legal definition of public monies, but if I’ve understood the lettwr and your rsl quote correctly, the RSL in question *cannot* be Pembs housing, unless HJJ are telling porky p…, sorry, have mistakenly mistyped some mistaken misinformation mistakenly.(do you think I got away with that?)

    They might be willing to clarify if you ask them nicely enough?

    1. The transfers show clearly in the Pembrokeshire Housing accounts (for y/e 31.03.2015) and total over six million pounds. And if the RSL referred to in the S106 agreement is not Pembrokeshire Housing then we should be told who it is.

  6. Wynne

    Excellent post again Jac. So many questions. So few answers from the regulators, Welsh Government, Financial Conduct Authority and Wales Audit Office. Keep up the good work. Much appreciated.

  7. Armchair Lawyer

    October 23 was a Sunday.

    Monday is the 24th.

    These lawyers getting the date wrong in their legal demands is not very reassuring.

    That said, the fact this blog has now for a second time failed to stand by its published statements and self-censored after being threatened with legal action for libel, knocks its credibility.

    You should only print what you stand by. And you should only stand by it if you can prove it.

    This blog’s trend for capitulating highlights the need for care and due diligence when making bold claims.

    1. I don’t think I’ve got anything wrong, it’s a question of being able to prove it, and as RSLs are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act it’s difficult, maybe impossible, to get that information. So it then comes down to the form of words used to convey a message. Rewording something is not retracting and certainly not capitulation.

    2. PRL

      You failed to stand by what you wrote, Jac lad.

      You made claims that, when put to the test, you couldn’t or wouldn’t defend…..otherwise you would have left it remain unedited and told them where to go.

      At the first squeak from the lawyers you caved in – perhaps you deny that too, but recent history records your form for caving in to legal demands relating to libel allegations.

      I recall you totally removed a post (and edited another beyond any semblance of its prior form) in response to legal demands this summer.

      I’d call that a track record of capitulation.

      1. You really have been keeping track, haven’t you. And how would you describe my response to the latest threat? For the record (and I’m sure you keep records) here’s what I have to say about Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.

        Pembrokeshire Housing is a Registered Social Landlord that has received tens of millions of pounds of public money to build social housing for rent. Some time post 2012 its subsidiary Mill Bill Homes started building properties for sale on the open market with money loaned to it by the parent company. The PH accounts for y/e 31.03.2015 (page 9) says, “Loans issued – subsidiary company £5,415,000”.

        The mistake I made was to state that this transfer/’loan’ was of grant funding. Given the lack of oversight from funders – i.e. the ‘Welsh’ Government – and others, plus the imperfect record keeping of HAs, added to the fact that they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, it is impossible to prove that the money moved to MBH was from grant funding. But as I say in my latest post, “All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?”

        So no matter what Pembrokeshire Housing claims to be the source of the money that finds its way to Mill Bay Homes that money should not be reaching what is a private house building company enjoying an unfair advantage over rival companies having to make their own way in the world without funding from parent companies and a special relationship with the county council.

        The related issue is Mill Bay Homes’ status as a Registered Social Landlord. Clearly, it should be stripped of that designation.

        It you just want a dig at me, this is your last comment. If you have something of substance to contribute to the debate you will be published.

    3. Brychan

      May I point out that compliance, either permanently or temporarily, is not ‘capitulating’. In such matters it is important to fight such battles upon your own turf not on that chosen by an opponent. Withdrawal and apology should not be mistaken for agreement.


      I find the Hugh James letter of interest. She states “PHA has not at any time provided any public monies to MBH for that purpose or indeed any other”.

      Note the word “provided”.
      Jac didn’t say “provided”. He used the word “routed”.
      The letter fails to refute the routing suggestion.

      There are many varieties of arrangement that can be employed in ‘routing’, not just scribbling out a cheque. Namely, underwriting by cash contract or equity holding, time dependent equity arrangement (vital for new-build), risk insurance of specific project or development, bank loan guarantees, future purchase of property assets by strike price, to name a few. Combinations of these examples are common in private property development ventures. We know that an arrangements exits in the other direction as payments have already been made from MBH to PH. We also know that a loan of £5,415,000 was provided to MBH by PH in 2014/15.

      Perhaps this is an oversight by Tracey Singlehurst-Ward. A simple disclosure of the basis for the reverse payment and the source of the loan capital to the subsidiary would clarify matters. I’m sure her client would have provided this. If of course, Tracey Singlehurst-Ward wishes to clarify that “PHA has not at any time routed any public monies to MBH for that purpose or indeed any other”, then an elaborate restricted funds accounting process must be operated at PHA.

      This also means the loan to MBH from PH must have been done using monies obtained from rental income from pre-existing social housing stock, or the disposal of such assets. This would be selling former council houses and using the cash to build holiday homes for incomers. I find this morally unacceptable, but I suspect, lawful. Lawful, as long as a ‘Help to Buy’ part equity arrangement is not employed.

      – – – – –

      My question to an Under Secretary at the Treasury is still awaiting a reply. It related to the ‘Help To Buy’ scheme being offered on homes advertised as ‘second homes’ and ‘investment property’ by MBH. I have not received the expected ‘that is a devolved responsibility’ excuse yet, which suggests the way in which the scheme was administered in Wales is still under investigation.

  8. Big Gee

    Have copies of your correspondence gone to the opposition parties in Y Senedd Jac? If so, any response from any of them?

    1. I would have thought so.

      There are two issues raised here: 1/ Welsh housing associations are dealing with a secretive offshore company. 2/ A publicly-funded housing association has transferred money to its subsidiary for that subsidiary to build private housing.

      But rather than tackle the issues, certain people want to shut me up.

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