Northern Ireland news

Homes owned by troubled housing charity have 'fallen into disrepair'

Riverdale resident Steven Lavery shows the dampness and state of disrepair of his home. Picture by Mal McCann

HOMES owned by a housing charity which is owed more than £12 million by businessman Derek Tughan have fallen into serious disrepair, a tenants' group has said.

Joby Fox, from Riverdale and Finaghy Tenants' Association, said homes in the Riverdale estate in Andersonstown, west Belfast, which are owned by Victoria Housing Estates (VHE), have issues with damp, leaking roofs and poor wiring.

A lengthy investigation by the Charity Commission has found a former trustee of VHE, businessman Derek Tughan, lent £13m to companies in which he had an interest.

More than £12m of the money has never been repaid.

Mr Fox said tenants are continuing to pay rent to Victoria Housing Estates for substandard homes.

Riverdale resident Steven Lavery with Riverdale and Finaghy Tenants' Association chair Joby Fox. Picture by Mal McCann

He also claimed the Charity Commission (CCNI) had "mismanaged" how it has handled the case.

"VHE has a huge tax bill to pay and a portfolio of crumbling properties which they can't afford, even in the long-term, to bring up to basic decent standards," he said.

"Yet, CCNI and VHE expect the tenants to accept this while paying full rent or dilapidated houses and inferior service."

He added: "Many have invested tens of thousands of pounds in their homes in the absence of maintenance over decades".

Businessman Derek Tughan. Picture from BBC

Mr Fox also said the Charity Commission had refused to meet tenants to address their concerns. And it said it should have transferred VHE's homes to another housing association.

Dawn Purvis, chief executive of VHE, said it has introduced a new repair programme.

"The contractor is performing well and feedback from tenants is really positive including from those in Riverdale," she said.

"Tenants have a duty to report repairs and I would encourage anyone who has not had their reported repair completed within the time-frame to get in touch with our customer service advisors on 028 9521 6040."

Riverdale resident Steven Lavery shows the state of disrepair in his home. Picture by Mal McCann

VHE manages 420 properties, including in Harmin Estate in Glengormley, Co Antrim, and Worcester Avenue in Bangor, Co Down.

She said it will take £21m to bring the charity's homes up to a decent standard. It also faces a tax bill of around £2.8m because its assets were not solely used for charitable purposes.

Ms Purvis said the charity had sold vacant homes in Belfast and a luxury flat in London, used by Mr Tughan and his family, to raise money towards the tax bill.

The charity is taking legal action against Mr Tughan and fellow trustees Jill Robinson and Ron Woods to recoup the money. The CCNI report noted that Mr Woods is disputing its accuracy and is defending the case.

Riverdale resident Steven Lavery shows the state of disrepair in his home. Picture by Mal McCann

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said it had met representatives of the tenants' association in February this year.

She said the commission did not feel it needed to meet the association again until it could provide CCNI with "further information".

"The condition of the homes owned by VHE in Riverdale and other areas is a fundamental part of the commission's ongoing statutory inquiry," she said.

She said CCNI had taken action to make sure the charity was properly governed.

"The commission also appreciates the frustration that residents must feel and are aware that this case, given the large sums of money involved, has been long and complex," she said.

"Unfortunately, the trustees cannot take action to restore homes, other than emergency repairs, until this matter is resolved as the charity simply does not have the money required."

She said it was up to the charity's board to consider whether it should transfer VHE's assets to another housing association.

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