– Warwick Estates retaliates by resigning from RICS
– It is unacceptable that ARMA ignores this issue
– Case underlines need for statutory regulation
By Sebastian O’Kelly, LKP trustee
Property management company Warwick Estates was fined £20,000 last month in a disciplinary hearing of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) – on top of the £120,000 (plus £45,000 costs) imposed by a criminal court in December 2016.
The fine resulted from the death of plasterer Craig Jones, 27, who fell five storeys down a lift shaft after attempting to “self-rescue” at Marsden House in Bolton in September 2014.
Craig Jones got stuck in lift with friend at block of flats in Bolton city centre Believed they prised open doors after lift got stuck between 4th and 5th floor Plasterer Mr Jones fell down lift shaft to his death while trying to climb out 27-year-old was taken to Salford Royal Hospital but he died from his injuries A man who tried to climb out of a broken down lift after prising open the doors ended up falling five floors to his death down the lift shaft.
RICS found that Warwick Estates had been informed of the lift “becoming stuck between floors and passengers forcing the doors open to escape”.
It added: “Despite receiving these reports, the Firm failed to investigate and seek to rectify the lift’s operation in order to ensure that should persons become trapped in a lift, there was a prompt and reliable system in place ensuring their rescue …
“It [the panel] accepted RICS’s submission that the Firm’s failings exposed a great number of people to risk over a sustained period.”
Craig Stevens, the CEO of Warwick Estates, told LKP last week that his company would be leaving RICS as a result of this decision. We understand that Mr Stevens feels that the criminal conviction and fine were sufficient punishment, and that it was inappropriate for RICS to rule on the matter.
Last year, Mr Stevens warned ARMA that Warwick Estates would leave the organisation if it investigated the matter.
As a result, a disciplinary case against the firm was abandoned, according to ARMA’s then regulator Sally Keeble, a former Labour minister, who resigned over the issue.
In a statement to LKP, she said:
“The reason for standing down before the end of my contract was because of a decision by ARMA to cancel a properly constituted regulatory panel meeting convened to consider a disciplinary case which involved a fatality.
“ARMA’s system of self-regulation of the residential management industry was an important step that should have provided greater protection for the public and for the many firms which aim to provide good services in a fiercely competitive commercial setting. It filled a vacuum left by the lack of statutory regulation of the sector, and was a brave initiative.
“However, any such system must have sufficient independence and robustness to withstand industry pressures and be able to deal with the most serious cases, including one that tragically involved a fatal accident.”
Sally Keeble’s resignation leaves ARMA’s disciplinary system in disarray, and the position of regulator – initially held by ex-housing minister Keith Hill – is now discontinued.
Neither of these disasters received the slightest reference from ARMA chief executive Nigel Glen, when he spoke to the annual conference last October and gave a resume of the trade body’s achievements throughout the year.
A criminal court and RICS have ruled against Warwick Estates: yet ARMA continues to offer it up as an unblemished member of its trade body. There is no suspension, probationary period, insistence on improved standards or even request to express regret.
In the light of this, is there any reason why leaseholders or the wider public should pay any regard to whether a property manager is a member of ARMA or not?
RICS disciplinary hearings are by no means without criticism. It made a shambles of the hearing against Benjamin Mire, of Trust Property Management, who is deemed unfit to hold judicial office.
Curiously, Mr Mire was also aggrieved to be processed twice: having lost his judicial office he argued in a failed judicial review that it was against his human rights to be disciplined by RICS.
RICS also suffered the humiliation in October 2016 of having to apologise to 317 struck-off or disciplined chartered surveyors after a barrister revealed failings in its procedures.
But it was right for RICS to hear the case against Warwick Estates: four senior figures in the company were entitled to present themselves to the public as AssocRICS members, including Mr Stevens.
The hearing ruled that Warwick Estates had “conducted itself in a way liable to bring RICS into disrepute by committing the serious criminal offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974”.
In addition, the ruling added:
- There had been a serious risk of harm to the public
- The Firm’s failings contributed to the death of Mr. Jones
- The failings resulted in a criminal conviction
- The failures were over a prolonged period of time
- The absence of five Thorough Examination Reports from the lift experts were unnoticed by the Firm through their system failure
- The Firm had demonstrated only very limited insight into the impact of such failings on the reputation of the profession and the role of the RICS as its regulator.
Under such circumstances, it is simply unacceptable for ARMA to ignore all this and hold up Warwick Estates’s membership as somehow on the same level with those companies that do not have a criminal conviction.
ARMA needs to hold a regulatory hearing and indicate its disapprobation for sloppy management that contributes to death.
We do not call for further fines – that was the least courageous aspect of the RICS ruling – but it cannot be right to ignore this matter altogether.
Also, to put it at its most polite, it does not enhance the reputation of Warwick Estates to walk out of RICS when it receives a disciplinary ruling that it does not like.
Full RICS ruling is here: WarwickEstatesRulingRICS