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Friday, November 23, 2012 Medway Messenger (MM)

No one in court for late session

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Housing association introduces scHeme to reward tHose wHo keep up payments

Tenants’ dismay at star system

THE first flexible court sessions, piloted at Medway Magistrates’ Court, did not go ahead this week. Cases in Medway can now be dealt with during evening sessions at the Chatham court on Mondays and Wednesdays. The flexible courts initiative was due to start this Monday and court staff, legal advisers and magistrates were ready to deal with cases – but there were no defendants to deal with. The Kent Criminal Justice Board had decided the court could remain open from 5pm until 7pm, to help speed up the justice process, but no one in the county had been charged in time for the two-hour sessions. That was the situation on Monday and on Wednesday. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice began to look at whether a more flexible criminal justice system would be able to respond to the needs of the public, particularly victims and witnesses. This included courts sitting outside traditional hours, sitting at weekends and increasing the use of the virtual link technology. Some courts in other areas will even be open on Sundays to help speed up the system. The scheme will run at the Medway court until March next year. n In Court – page 30

EXCLUSIVE

How to reach for the higher rating

by Dan Bloom dbloom@thekmgroup.co.uk

SOCIAL housing tenants will be denied basic repairs – including replacing broken windows – if they fail a new “star rating” system. Housing association Moat has written to its 2,000 tenants across Medway to give each one three, four or five stars. Five-star tenants can enter prize draws for £1,000, pick from an exclusive kitchen and bathroom range and get evening and weekend appointments for the first time. But those with three stars will not be given new kitchens, bathrooms, doors or windows and will only get repairs if their homes are deemed unsafe. People on Gillingham’s Vineries estate have slammed the move, claiming it will drive neighbours apart. It can take as little as one missed appointment or one time falling behind on rent a year to miss out on five stars. Mum of four Nic Lewis, 31, has been given three stars. She said: “I need repairs done for my fiveyear-old son Shayne who has cerebral palsy. My housing benefit didn’t come through so I was left in rent arrears. It’s disgusting.

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ABOVE: Don’t be fooled by the stars - three means you will get lesser service RIGHT: Tracey Galloway, of Speedwell Close, Gillingham, is unhappy about Moat’s new star rating system for tenants which she says is not fair Picture: Andy Payton FM2340874

You can’t victimise people for being on a lower scale of money.” Her neighbour in Speedwell Close, grandmother Tracey Galloway, 53, expects to have five stars but said: “I’ve been here 22 years and we’ve all fallen on hard times before. It’s not fair to

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penalise people. “You get a four-hour time window for appointments and I’ve missed them just popping across the street.” Security guard and grandmother Jackie Woodgate, 58, added: “How about Moat pull their fingers out their backsides and start doing something for the whole area?” In Medway 400 tenants have been given three stars, 400 have five and the other 1,200 have four, which mirrors the current level of service. They have three months to appeal against their star rating before the scheme takes effect in February. The other 10,000 Moat

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tenants in Kent, Sussex, Essex and London will follow in April. Tenants will then be warned whenever their rating is set to change, with two weeks to appeal. n What do you think? Write to us using the details on page 22

‘It’s an incentive to change behaviour’

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‘We’ve all fallen on hard times before. It’s not fair to penalise people’

The star ratings are the next step in a scheme called the Moat Promise, which launched in December 2011 with the aim of making sure tenants uphold their responsibilities. Medway’s biggest housing association mhs homes already runs a similar loyalty scheme called “gold service”. A Moat spokesman said the star ratings had been tweaked after a six-week consultation with residents. Five-star members must: Have missed no appointments with Moat or contractors for a year, including letting people into the house. Have had no debts on their account for a year. Have not displayed any proven anti-social behaviour for a year. Make sure gardens or outside areas are “clean and tidy”. Complete an application form and annual tenancy profile form. Three-star members can return to four stars if they pay off all arrears and fees or set up an agreement to do so, and give access to contractors on future appointments.

Broken windows may not be replaced if tenants rack up huge rent arrears

A MOAT spokesman admitted that in some cases, three-star tenants’ windows would be boardedup but not replaced. Executive director Hugh Fenn said: “One of our company values is fairness in everything we do, and we think so far our service levels haven’t reflected that. “Residents who rack up huge rent arrears, and do nothing to address them currently receive exactly the same level of service

as those who have paid their rent faithfully for 20 years. “Our three-star level isn’t about penalty or punishment, it’s about providing an incentive to change behaviour. “The Moat Promise will help us to address our arrears levels, help support more vulnerable residents who need greater focus and will support our extensive programme for managing antisocial behaviour.”

Garage man sent back to Poland THE owner of a garage in Chatham has been extradited when it was discovered he was wanted for an offence in Poland after he was caught fly-tipping. Mariusz Sobolewski, owner of VM Autos, Second Avenue, was being investigated by Medway Council for dumped tyres in Lower Rainham Road in September 2011. When Sobolewski failed to

appear in court on May 22 this year and again on the adjourned date of July 31, a warrant was issued for his arrest. This in turn flagged up that he was wanted for an offence in his native Poland. When officers uncovered his address details, he was duly sent back to his home country. Medway Council’s case will now not be heard but the actions

of the council’s environment enforcement officers in reporting the fly-tipping assisted the authorities in Europe in identifying, arresting and extraditing Sobolewski. Cllr Mike O’Brien, in charge of community safety, said: “Although our case will now not be pursued I’m pleased we were able to help colleagues in Poland.”


Anger as housing bosses start denying repairs to 'bad' tenants