One of Britain’s leading housing repair companies, which is funded by taxpayers’ money, is at the centre of extraordinary fraud, bribery and corruption allegations involving contracts with a string of public authorities.
Senior directors at the Respondent, which maintains around 10 per cent of the country’s social housing stock, received cash “backhanders” in return for contracts, according to allegations made at an employment tribunal.
The Claimant, a former regional manager, claims executives were secretly overpaid by corrupt individuals working for their clients, which include a number of councils and housing associations across southern England.
The whistleblower claims he was victimised after raising concerns over the alleged corruption with his superiors at the Respondent. He is suing the company for constructive dismissal.
The Claimant claims the alleged malpractice surfaced at [company], which was bought by the Respondent in 2012. However, he claims both companies covered-up the alleged fraud and says he has since been placed on a construction “blacklist” for blowing the whistle.
At a hearing at Central London Employment Tribunal last week, the Claimant also said his house was burgled earlier this month – on the day his witness statement was sent to the company, whose order book stands at £3.8bn.
The former manager told the tribunal that police who attended the crime scene believed it was a “professional job”; the burglars had only removed his computers and external hard drives, while leaving jewellery, televisions and other expensive items.
There is absolutely no suggestion that the Respondent was behind the burglary.
The Claimant said he was first alerted to the alleged malpractice when he discovered the Respondent “overclaiming and overcharging” on its contract with a Borough Council in south London.
“The Respondent regularly made commercial claim for payment for work they had either not carried out … or not completed the work … or not actually done any work at all,” he said in a witness statement lodged at the tribunal.
“The overclaiming came in many guises …. These same actions of overclaiming were occurring on many other contracts and clients. I would estimate that the overclaiming covered at least 100,000 to 160,000 properties.”
Mr Strong’s most serious allegations at the tribunal centre on bribes said to have been paid by clients to Respondent directors who deny the allegations.
In his witness statement, the former Respondent commercial manager claims he was told that one client – which manages 15,000 homes for 26 councils – had “requested the removal of [name]” from its contracts as the organisation “had a problem with … his integrity”.
The Claimant said in his witness statement: “Cyclical work, which predominately involved the redecorating on a cyclical basis of housing association properties was being allocated by [client] to the Respondent at illegally enhanced rates.
“The agreed percentage for overheads and profit on the cyclical contract was 18 per cent, but [client] was paying the Respondent 30 per cent. In addition, there were allegations of money exchanging hands for the allocation of works … enhanced payments being made to the subcontractor were being paid out to the employees involved at [client] and the Respondent.
“These payments, I understand, were being made in cash. Over the period I was able to investigate, I would estimate that this was in the region of £200,000 on the cyclical works of [client] during 2011 and 2012. I do not believe these actions were isolated to either just [client] or this one element of [client] works.”
The Claimant told the tribunal that he confronted [name] after a man called [name] had come to him to warn that people were “paying money to individuals as a backhander”.
“ [name] was implicated in all of this because he is said to be one of those receiving money,. He said that he told [name]: “This is current. This is happening right now …” He [name] told me to get rid of [name] and get on with it.”
The Claimant said he also confronted [name] later that day. “Both denied any involvement in alleged fraud, bribery or corruption,” said the Claimant in his witness statement. However, he told the tribunal: “If I could read body language, I would say both men were panicked.”
In his witness statement, the Claimant said he was motivated by a “wish to do things that are right by our clients and their tenants”, but once he raised his concerns he said “all authority and responsibility that had previously been mine had been removed from me”, he said.
“I was made to feel that everything I undertook was not considered good enough … never supported in any way, just nasty comments and further reduction of my role or demeaning tasks and comments.”
The Claimant added that he was “criticised and ridiculed for being on the clients’ side” and was placed “physically out of the way” in Kent, which he described as the “place they felt I could do least damage to the company in respect of the corruption and fraud that was going on”.
Eventually, the Claimant quit the Respondent, which had also allegedly failed to take action over the corruption claims.
The Claimant, told the tribunal that an employee at a recruitment agency has since told him: “You have no chance of getting any further work because you are on a blacklist.” the Claimant said he asked them to put that in writing, but claimed the person at the other end of the line laughed, saying: “Do you think I am stupid?”
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