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The Student Housing Company: Part II – Lawyers, Layoffs, Lies, and Spies

The Student Housing Company: Part II – Lawyers, Layoffs, Lies, and Spies

A Word From the MO Investigation Team:

In October 2020, we published a 10,000-word report on The Student Housing Company (TSHC) after three months of investigating the claims of over a dozen students and staff who have lived and worked in facilities owned by the company over the last year.

We discovered that within five separate locations (Depot Point [London], Austen House [Southampton], Goldsmith Court [Nottingham], Beckley Point [Plymouth] and Clifford House [Exeter]) that students had suffered poor living conditions, had their personal possessions stolen by a staff member(s), faced sexual assault, court hearings, and received a lack of effective support; while a staff member had claimed to have witnessed fraud and evidenced managerial misconduct and bullying within the workplace.

Although the Mouthing Off Editorial Team have emailed the full article to TSHC to provide comment on these matters, they would fail to respond. Furthermore, we would reach out to several major newspapers (including: The BBC, Daily Mail, Sun, Guardian, etc.) to request their support in making these issues more known to both the student population and wider public. Unfortunately, we would either receive no response or a negative one, in which one major newspaper would tell us that this story was ‘too niche…uninteresting and unimportant’ to investigate any further.

This issue has concerned us so greatly, that we have contacted 51 universities across the UK (situated in areas that have TSHC facilities) and their Student Unions to relay the disturbing experiences that we have uncovered. We hoped that the information we presented would potentially stimulate university staff to protect both their current and future students from any more negative encounters with this company.

However, out of the 51 universities that we contacted, less than half-a-dozen would respond. Those that did reply, including Cardiff and Sheffield University, would state that they either do not ‘refer students to particular private student accommodation providers or offer advertisements to private lettings companies’ (Cardiff) or that all the properties they advertise ‘have to be approved through Sheffield City Council’s Snug scheme, and this property [Bramall Court] is not a Snug approved property’ (Sheffield University).

While it was encouraging to hear that these universities were not actively endorsing TSHC to their student population, it does not appear that they are too interested in voicing the concerns we have presented to their students either. We can only hope that universities across the country take note of the occurrences taking place, not only within TSHC, but all Purpose-Built Student Accommodations (PBSA) within their areas, so that they can provide the information and support necessary to protect students.

Heriot-Watt University’s Student Union is one example, however, where they have actively sought to prevent students from entering accommodations that might lead to harmful situations, in which they have kicked out TSHC and all PBSA advertising from campus and created a housing guide to help students make more informed and safer choices.

At the start of lockdown back in March, we had many problems with TSHC and many more Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) and them trapping students in contracts and making them pay for places they were no longer using, we passed a motion that for any PBSA that didn’t follow the same standards set by us they would no longer be allowed to advertise to students on our campus. This was then matched by the university, so TSHC is not allowed to advertise to any our students through our communications to students.

We plan on releasing a housing guide for students that makes them aware of the problems people faced while living in these accommodations with the hope that they can use it to find an accommodation that best suits them.

Vice President of Heriot-Watt University’s Student Union

Since writing our article – The Student Housing Company: Fraud, Theft, Sex & Scandal – complaints about TSHC have not ceased. Multiple reviews on Trust Pilot have been written, the majority of which have been negative, with 94% of their reviews (93 in total) have received one out of five stars.

Review (1)
Michael Vince, ‘Not A Good Business’, Review of The Student Housing Company (Bentley House, Birmingham), Trust Pilot, 11th December 2020.

It does, however, remain difficult to gage how many reviews have been written by staff, students, and parents, as multiple negative comments have been taken down (either by users or through the request of TSHC) over the last few months.

Thankfully, with the use of the WayBack Machine, we have been able to track down some of the Trust Pilot reviews that have been removed. One parent’s comment (which directly mentions our previous report and is the only review that has received a reply from TSHC) would question whether TSHC staff receive DBS checks. TSHC has repeatedly stated that, although they are not legally required to take DBS checks, that they do voluntarily go through this process. However, from our findings, in which multiple staff have been accused of theft and sexual assault, it appears unlikely that this is the case.

TSHC Trust Pilot Review (2)
Peter, ‘Mouthing Off Magazine’, Review of The Student Housing Company, Trust Pilot, c. November 2020.

Over the last few months, Mouthing Off Magazine has received numerous emails and phone calls from both staff and students who have wished to disclose information about their living conditions and treatment from TSHC. The identities of the people mentioned within this report have been kept anonymous to protect them from legal or social repercussions; all names used are placeholders and are not actually the names of the people who have provided us with information. Our investigation is ongoing, and we are still taking information from those who have been affected by the practices of TSHC or any other PBSA. If you would like to provide us with information, you can do so by contacting us at: editor-in-chief@mouthingoffmagazine.com. We ensure that your identity will be protected and that all information you provide will be used appropriately to tell your story.


The Experience of Students Living at Facilities Run by TSHC:

The Curve (London)

Both Mandy and Tracy lived at The Curve (Aldgate East, London) until March of 2020. Between them, they would gather over 80 pages of emails, letters, images, and written records about both their experiences and those of others who have lived within this facility over the past year.

These documents would cover a wide breadth of issues from unhygienic spaces to a lack of maintenance support, security, and empathy for the mental wellbeing of students. Although there are too many events and accounts contained within these records to explore each individually, we have attempted to consolidate and condense their findings in a manner that evinces their experiences as accurately as possible.

Unhygenic and Unsafe Spaces:

On the 18th March 2020, less than a week after World Health Organisation (WHO) formally recognised Covid-19 as a global pandemic, Tracy would find that her accommodations waste disposal room was nearly inaccessible due to the amount of rubbish that was in the corridor. This would not only present itself as a potential issue for fire safety but a major hazard for hygiene, during a period where it mattered even more than usual.

There was absolutely no option available for residents to store infected waste. Rather, the method of waste management shown in this photo would propagate the spread of disease… It is unacceptable that The Student Housing Company let waste build up like this and failed to have procedures in place, especially during a pandemic and I can’t stress that enough, to keep health and hygiene as a priority when the bin people go on strike. The lack of preventative measures taken by TSHC, as demonstrated here, exacerbated my anxiety, and made me feel unsafe whilst residing at The Curve.

A Statement Made By Tracy
Rubbish Blocking The Entrace Of The Waste Disposal Room
Dead Rat in Waste Disposal Room
A Dead Rat/Mouse Inside The Waste Disposal Room

Once Tracy managed to get inside the waste disposal room, she would discover a dead rat lying on the floor. However, this would not come as a great shock for Tracy after having seen numerous images and videos of rodents within The Curve which had circulated in the group chats of students residing at this facility.

A lack of health and safety measures were not, however, limited to the waste disposal room. Instead, the upkeep of students’ rooms (both prior to and during their stay) has been shown to not meet the standards of Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement and a breach of ANUK’s National Code.

The Curve’s rat problem, likely caused by their ineffective management of waste, poses further threats to health of residents and staff alike.

A Statement Made By Tracy

Upon moving into her room in September 2019, Mandy would discover numerous faults with her room, including a broken light fitting (with an exposed electrical wire), black mould, damp, gum trodden into the carpet, several broken appliances, and limescale marks throughout her kitchen surfaces (see images below).

While many of these issues would eventually be fixed (only after several complaints had been made), Mandy would continue to have issues with her room.

In early December 2019, Mandy would report to staff that her shower drain was repeatedly clogging and that she was unable to fix the issue herself. While this problem would be sorted by early January, she was provided with another room key to use the shower in one of the ‘empty’ rooms until the maintenance crew could fix her own.

However, upon entering the room, Mandy would discover that another student was living there and that she had been given the wrong key. While this was likely a simple mistake made by a staff member, it would cause serious concern for Mandy who has been medically diagnosed with anxiety and a panic disorder.

This incident heightened my own personal anxiety about my safety at The Curve. The reception team could have easily given anyone a key to my room, just like they did for me to someone else’s.

A Statement Made By Mandy

While Mandy’s shower drain would be sorted in an appropriate amount of time, other issues would take far longer. In late November, Mandy would cut open her foot on a set of broken floor tiles within her bathroom. Despite making the staff of The Curve aware of this issue, it would not be fixed until late February of the following year.

This shows a great deal of incompetence and a lack of respect for health and safety, especially in the instance in which an issue has caused harm. I had to repeatedly email and chase up staff and even the manager of The Curve to get this issue resolved.

A Statement Made By Mandy

This explicitly goes against the ANUK’s National Code, which The Curve has signed, that states:

Manager will ensure that:

4.10: Any repair works that are required meet with the following performance standards:

Priority One – Emergency Repairs – are completed within 24 hours of a report of a defect. These would be any repairs required to avoid a danger to health, a risk to the safety of residents or serious damage to buildings or residents belongings;

Priority Two – Urgent Repairs – are completed within five working days of report of the defect. These would be any repairs which materially affect the comfort or convenience of the residents.

Priority Three – Non-Urgent Repairs – are completed within 28 days of a report of a defect. These would be any repairs not falling within the above categories;

Even if this was to be considered a ‘Non-Urgent Repair’, despite posing ‘a risk to the safety’ of a resident, the management team of The Curve were still over two months late in providing the services required under ANUK’s National Code.

Email Sent To TSHC (The Curve) by Mandy – 11th December 2019
Email Sent To Mandy By A Manager Of TSHC (The Curve) – 18th Febuary 2020

Covid Safety:

On the 16th March 2020, the day that Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a televised statement stating that, ‘now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact’, the management of The Curve would email residents to inform them that, ‘room inspections will commence from Wednesday 18th March.’ 

These inspections would be for the purpose of ‘checking that your room has no damaged items and that there are no maintenance issues’, in which staff members would ‘look at […] floors/carpet, walls/skirting boards, bathrooms, kitchenettes (if you have a studio) and desk/worktops.

While there is nothing out of the ordinary about this request, the timing of it, in which the WHO had ‘made the assessment that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic’ only five days prior to this email, is indeed perplexing. This email appears to demonstrate both a lack of awareness to the current events taking place and the likely emotional state of The Curve’s residents, many of whom had severe concerns about their safety and wellbeing at a time of great uncertainty for people’s health.

These emails [below] evidence a clear intention to enter rooms unnecessarily and risking the spread of germs from room to room, which would cause cross contamination. This is particularly dangerous for vulnerable or isolating tenants. Masks and gloves protect those inspecting the rooms but not those in them.

Statement Made By Mandy

Mandy’s email would lead to the cancelation of this inspection; however, it clearly demonstrates how unreactive the management of this facility were from the outset of the pandemic.

The Curve’s Room Inspection Email – 16th March 2020
Covid (2)
Mandy’s Reply To This Email – 16th March 2020

Tracy would note a similar experience, in which both she and other students were invited to a St Patrick’s Day celebration by the management of The Curve.  This email would be sent to hundreds of residents on the 13th of March and would aim to take place four days later.

There was no recognition of the pandemic at hand, they were just putting marketing initiatives before health. The Event was later cancelled, but this shows how slow TSHC (The Curve) was to react to the situation.

A Statement Made By Tracy
Covid (3)
Email Sent By The Curve To Student’s Inviting Them To A St. Patrick’s Day Celebration Less Than A Week After A Pandemic Was Declared By The WHO.

Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) Cladding:

Shortly after the fire at Grenfell Tower (June 2017), the independent expert advisory panel advised the government to undertake identification screening of residential buildings over 18 metres tall to identify the type of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding used.

Since June 2017, the government has been urging owners of private residential buildings to make use of the free ACM screening tests and to report the results to local authorities so that private sector blocks with ACM cladding systems can be identified.

By May 9th 2019, the Secretary of State would announce that the government would fully fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on private sector residential buildings 18 metres or over, with costs estimated at £200 million.

A report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government (GCLG) Committee has led to the government to commit to a 2020 deadline for completion of all unsafe ACM cladding in England and a target of December 2021 for the remediation of all buildings of any height and within any area.  

While The Curve would proceed to remove their ACM cladding in June 2020, within the deadline set by the government, students have raised concerns that they were not informed, prior to its removal, that the building did not meet ACM screening standards and was a potentially threat to their safety.

We were never informed about the ACM cladding on the building. If I had known, I would never have been a tenant at The Curve due to the high level of risk associated with this type of cladding.

A Statement Made By Tracy
A Picture, Taken By A Student Living At The Curve, Of ACM Cladding Being Removed From The Building.

Security:

Issues regarding the security of the building and those who enforced it have also been raised as concerns by students living at The Curve.

One security guard has been accused of coercing students to create a WhatsApp group chat so that he could be included in their conversations.

The students who were asked to do this felt uncomfortable exposing his inappropriateness to others, so they made one with just themselves and him. However, he would later realise this and would demand that he should be added to the ‘official’ one; forcing and pressuring himself onto these students to do so. He would subsequently send sexually suggestive messages on the chat (as you can see above) and then forced students to delete messages he didn’t like.

A Statement Made By Mandy
Security Guard (1)
Security Guard

This same staff member (who labelled himself as MoH) would continue acting out other strange and inappropriate behaviours, which included but are not limited to, preventing residents from using facilities and equipment and knocking on the doors of female students to ask them questions in the middle of the night.

These incidents and the guards overall suspicious behaviour prompted Mandy to write an email (see below) to the management of The Curve, on behalf of the students who had witnessed this behaviour, to make them aware of what was going on and to see if anything could be done about this issue.

The fact that TSHC hired a security guard like this even though they claim to be a company that cares about student’s wellbeing deeply affected multiple student’s mental health and raised anxiety about how safe we all were while residing at the curve.

A Statement Made By Mandy
An Email By Mandy Sent To The Management Of The Curve

Both Mandy And Megan (Another student living at The Curve) would raise concerns about the TSHC’s tendency to enter their rooms with less than 24 hours notice. Within the Tenancy Agreement with The Student Housing Company (see excerpt below) it is mandated that residents should be informed of a room entry within a 24-hour period unless it is deemed an emergency to do so.

Section 7: A Landlords Right To Enter The Room And Flat

7.1 The Landlord reserves the right for the Landlord, or any person acting on behalf of the Landlord, to enter the Room and Flat on giving at least 24 hours’ prior notice to the Tenant (immediately in the case of emergency):

Entering Rooms (1)

Entering Rooms (2)

In both of these cases, and in many others, staff would enter rooms outside of this required notice period, in situations that were not an emergency. There was no reason why the TSHC couldn’t have provided at least 24 hours’ notice for an ‘annual safety check’ and in not doing so it has caused several students an unnecessary amount of stress and worry, as Mandy writes:

On multiple occasions when I was in my room, I got knocks on the door to enter by staff and contractors without any previous notice. If they got no answer, because students were at university, they would enter regardless. On multiple occasions I would come back to find that my room was unlocked – multiple tenants would also report this onto our group chat on the same days. These actions show a disregard for ANUK’s code of standards and the contract we all signed. This has caused myself to panic and worry about strangers in my room, theft, and has ultimately heightened my anxiety – I just don’t know when someone might enter my room.

A Statement Made By Mandy

Legal Pushback for Unpaid Rent:

In our first report on TSHC we would tell the accounts of Max and Nadene (Case 3) who would find themselves facing legal action by the company after failing to pay the rent for their third term. Both would tell us that they believed they shouldn’t be expected to pay TSHC for a service they couldn’t access and that consequently their contract had been ‘frustrated’.  

Unfortunately, Max and Nadene were not the only students to face this problem, as it has since come to our attention that others have faced legal repercussions from the legal teams of TSHC. Mandy has presented the following account of her experience in dealing with TSHC and their lawyers at Greenhalgh Kerr.

On the 16th March 2020, before the 1st lockdown had taken place in the UK, Mandy decided that she wished to leave her accommodation at TSHC in the hope of avoiding being trapped in her room.

She would subsequently inform the management of The Curve about her decision, sign a document pertaining to her absence, hand in her keys, clear and clean out her room, and leave the premises to return home.

Within the Tenancy Agreement Mandy had signed it stipulates that a ‘tenant may be permitted to cancel the remaining term of [the] Agreement should she find a replacement tenant for the balance of the Term’. However, after Lockdown ensued on the 23rd March, and would last until the 4th July, this would become an impossibility.

4.35 The Tenant may be permitted to cancel the remaining term of this Agreement should he/she find a replacement tenant for the balance of the Term and on the same terms as this agreement (including the provision for a guarantor if applicable) subject firstly to approval by the Landlord (such approval not to be unreasonably withheld) and secondly the Tenant not being in arrears of any of the payments due under this Agreement. The Landlord reserves the right to charge an administration fee not exceeding £100 arising from the Tenant’s request.

In April, Mandy would receive an email from the management of The Curve stating that she would need to pay for her third term, despite not being able to stay there or having the option to find a replacement tenant. Confused, Mandy would contact staff at the residence to see if this issue was a mistake or could be resolved.

A manager would subsequently reassure her that this would be easily resolved upon going through her Portal Account to make her case on why she would not be needing to pay the final sum of her rent.

Ending Tenancy (1)
Mandys Automated Portal Response.

Mandy would proceed to upload a series of statements and medical documents explaining why she had left the premises, her mental state (discussing her anxiety and panic disorder), and the reasons why she believed that she should not have to pay for the final instalment.

However, while Mandy was waiting to acquire certain key pieces of documentation for her review, she would find that she was unable to upload anymore evidence as the manager had escalated her case for review prematurely (prior to April 20th), despite the 15th of May deadline.  

Later, this support portal was completely disregarded, and no offers were made to any non-returning students residing at the curve. All other UK TSHC accommodations would have offers made, such as 50% off the last instalment payment, no payment, or having offers made on a case-by-case basis.

A Statement Made By Mandy
Ending Tenancy (2)

In September, after continuing to dispute TSHC decision to make her pay for the final instalment of her rent, Mandy would be contacted by a Litigation Assistant of Greenhalgh Kerr. The solicitors would state that she would have to pay the full balance of £1,530, which would include the legal costs (£150) of TSHC.

However, under the Tenant Fees Act 2019 it makes it clear that:

Landlords, agents and tenants are responsible for their own legal costs resulting from a dispute of the tenancy agreement. If the dispute progresses to court, it may make a ruling on how legal costs are to be distributed between the parties.

Mandy would subsequently contact a Legal Advisor who would encourage her to dispute the case in court, after the legal team at Greenhalgh Kerr and TSHC showed little sign of letting up from their original claims.

Solicitor Email (1)

However, on Christmas Eve Mandy’s case would take a turn for the worse after she received a County Court Judgement (CCJ) through the post. This would instruct her that she had to pay off the amount claimed by TSHC within 30 days or she would face additional charges, bailiffs, and an indicator on her credit record for the next six years, which would negatively impact her ability to receive loans, such as a mortgage.

This would come as a great shock to Mandy as she had not received a Claim Form from the County Court prior to this letter (which is standard procedure).

You have 14 days from the date of service of the Claim Form to file an Acknowledgement of Service with the Court to prevent Judgment in Default [CCJ]. This will give you a further 14 days to file a Defence with the Court, which in total gives you 28 days from the date of service of the Claim Form to file a Defence.

Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisors, ‘Have you received a Claim Form from the County Court?’, 8th April 2020.

Mandy would proceed to call her County Court Helpline to find out why she had not received these documents and to her surprise would discover that the reason for this was due to TSHC/Greenhalgh Kerr providing the wrong address to the County Court.

While Mandy was situated in London the address given to the County Court was somewhere in Nottingham; a small error by no means. Although this is unlikely to be a mistake; the fact that Greenhalgh Kerr had demonstrated that they had Mandy’s correct address in an email on the 8th September suggests that this maybe a form of intimidation tactic to get her to repay the debt they believe is owed.

Mandy would apply for a N244 Form so that she might refute the CCJ which now sits over her head. If she is successful, Mandy could have been able to mount a defence in court (in person) to face the TSHC to reason why she should be free from her rent payment and any additional fees.

I have been forced to restart long term mental health therapy with my GP. Before TSHC’s appalling, unprofessional, and immoral response to the worldwide Covid pandemic and my own personal circumstances, I was in recovery with my mental health after having therapy for two years, but this has triggered me and worsened to the point of needing therapy to cope with everyday life. TSHC has been aware of my mental health conditions of medically diagnosed anxiety and panic disorder since I uploaded evidence of them onto the ‘student support portal’ in April, which they have apparently ‘reviewed’ and therefore knew of my condition yet have continued to treat me without consideration.

A Statement Made By Mandy
CCJ
County Court Judgement

However, after her father phoned up the County Court to attempt to remove the CCJ from their credit record they would discover that the CCJ could only be removed from their credit profile if: (1) They paid the stated amount in full within the month; or (2) went to court to contend against the payment of the rent and won their case.

This would place Mandy in a difficult situation. If she decided to continue down the path of taking TSHC to court and lost, then not only would she have to pay back the money she owed to the company, but both herself and her father would have the CCJ on their credit profile for the next six years. This would affect their ability to get a loan, credit card, bank account, and might destabilise their work or ability to rent property in the future (as employers and letting agents can view your credit information before hiring or purchase).

Despite not receiving the proper information from the County Courts (due to TSHC’s legal team providing the wrong address), Mandy would now face her family’s entire financial future being put at risk if they were to go to court.

This of course, was all too much for both Mandy and her family and they are now planning on paying the remainder of the rent to TSHC this month. However, after this case has been closed and the money has been paid off, Mandy will be investigating whether she can open a new case against TSHC to reclaim her money and provide evidence of her mistreatment.

I’m so frustrated because if they didn’t make the wrong address, it’s clearly a loophole in the legal system, then it would have gone as a claim form/response pack and then we wouldn’t be in the situation as there wouldn’t be a CCJ. But because they found the loophole, which they have probably used a thousand times, I just can’t take the risk. Having a CCJ to my name for six years is just insane. I’m hoping to get a mortgage on a house in six years, I’m hoping to work hard and do things and in this financial climate I just can’t afford to lose these possibilities.  

A Statement Made By Mandy

Mandy is now calling for anyone who might be able to help her in her future legal battle with TSHC. If you believe that you could offer her support or know someone that may, then please get in touch with us at: editor-in-chief@mouthingoffmagazine.com and we will pass your message on to Mandy so that she can receive justice.


Catherine House (Portsmouth)

Nearly Charged £4,000 for a Broken Window:

After reading our first report Josephine would contact us about an incident that had left her worrying about both her physical and financial saftey back in 2018. Upon her flatmates opening their shared kitchen window, it would suddenly shatter. However, after reporting this to the management of the facility, they would not recieve a response containing any form of understanding or apology, but would instead be told that they would have to fit the bill of £4,000.

I lived in a 5th story flat with four other girls. In our lounge we had always been able to fully open our windows with ease, which we did think was a little odd, although we never questioned this. We had the option to turn the handle halfway to have the window slanted or the handle fully turned around to have the window fully open inwards. One day while two of my flat mates had a guest over, they went to open the window and the whole window fell in on them out the frame. Luckily, they got out the way on time before being injured. When we reported this, we were told that we must have pulled the window out of the frame and would have to pay £4000 to have this fixed. We knew that it wasn’t our fault, so didn’t pay the £4000. One day we got word from one of the reception staff that the people who are meant to check the flats (make sure they are safe, etc.) were actually fired halfway through the process of checking the building and therefore our block was never checked. When the builders came to fix the window, they told us whoever had fitted this window has used the wrong parts and after checking other windows in our flat discovered that they all needed replacing. After this we were sent a cowardly apology. We would later notice that a few other students’ windows where missing in the weeks after (presumably had fallen in as well). We are very lucky not to be hurt and that the window didn’t fall the other way because it could HAVE cost someone’s life.

A Statement Made By Josephine
Broken Window
A Picture Of Josephine’s Broken/Taped Up Window In Her Shared Kitchen

Stolen Property:

At the beginning of Lockdown, Jane would take some of her possessions, leaving the rest at her accommodation at Catherine House, and head back home. Concerned for the safety of her belongings, she would inform the staff of the residency that she would be temporarily leaving her accommodation, to which they would reassure her that her items would be safe.

At the end of June, around the time her tenancy ended, Jane would return to collect her possessions and officially move out of her accommodation. While all the items in her room had been left untouched, the belongings that she kept in the communal area and kitchen had all vanished.

This would include her speakers, electric grill, plates, mugs, games, and food, which she has estimated were valued at around £500. Upon finding that a considerable amount of her possessions were missing, she would inform the staff working at Catherine House and report this incident to the police.

A week later, she would receive a call by the manager of the facility to discuss the issue at hand. While nothing came out of this conversation, Jane would be contacted the following day to inform her that some of her possessions had been found behind the desk at the facilities reception. However, £360 worth of items could still not be located by the management or staff of Catherine House.

The whole incident felt very peculier to Jane, not only because staff had failed to initially locate her items behind the reception desk upon her return to the facility, but due to managers later informing her that a member of staff had thrown all of her items in the bin, despite moving out of her room before the final due date.

While she was later given an amazon gift card in an attempt to ammend the situation, Jane remains unhappy with their response, lack of organisation, or care for her property.

The whole situation was poorly dealt with. They lacked communication and seemed totally unbothered by the fact someone had gone into my flat and taken my belongings. They were reluctant to check CCTV or Key fob data, and repeatedly tried to place the blame on my flatmates. Sounds like a big cover up to me – who simply bins an electric grill, a new board game, and cutlery from a kitchen. The kitchen hadn’t even been cleaned, the surfaces were dirty and my shelves were covered in crumbs! This was not the only issue I had with Catherine House – this was just the cherry on the cake. The staff are appalling and simply treat their paying residents with minimal respect. I would discourage anyone to stay at the accommodation because if something happens to you, they will fail to deal with it sufficIently.

A Statement Made By Jane

The Experience of Staff Working at Facilities Run by TSHC:

Austen House (Southampton) – The Accounts of Two Maintenance Workers

A few weeks before we published our first report, we were contacted by two maintenance workers from Austen House (Southampton) who wished to relay their experiences of working for TSHC after being informed about our ongoing investigation from a staff member.

Both David and Ashley would discuss how they were unjustly fired from their jobs, the managements frequent attempts to falsify paperwork and manipulate staff to participate in this process, and the lack of empathy they would have for both staff and students.

Unfortunately, due to the hurried and unexpected termination of both men’s jobs, in which they were locked out of their workplace email accounts and prevented from entering the building within a matter of hours after being dismissed, they have been unable to evidence several key pieces of data which might have helped their cases, both currently and moving forward.

However, each of their stories has been corroborated by both one another and the testimonies of other students and staff working and living within this facility.

Falsifying Paperwork:

Both David and Ashley would inform us that the management of Austen House would falsify paperwork and get their staff members to follow suit too. Whether this was checking if the fire alarms were working correctly or testing the water supply for legionella, both the management and staff of this facility would routinely sign off on jobs without completing them.

Legionella is a killer. I repeatedly told the managers about this. It was never hot or cold enough to kill the bacteria building up in the system. I told them this for 18 months, but it never got sorted.

A Statement Made By Ashley

Ashley would inform us that the build-up of legionella within the water system got so bad that the maintenance team refused to drink tap water while at work and would instead bring in their own supply of bottled water.

Even during the height of the pandemic, these practices didn’t change when hygiene and health and safety practices should have been the utmost of importance. David would disclose to us that despite having to sanitise surfaces every two hours, managers would tell staff that ‘even if you haven’t done it then you need to register it on the E-Log system to make sure things are all ticked off.’

However, despite being told by the management of Austen House to sign off on health and safety checks, even if they had not been completed, David would find that this would be the precise action that would cause him to lose his job.

After taking three days off in September, David would return to work to find that there were few staff in the facility other than himself and that many of the jobs which needed to be completed hadn’t been finished during his time off.

Later, David would receive and email from his manager asking if he could do a water temperature check. Already feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that he needed to get done for that day he would respond to explain how he was already ‘doing the work of three people’ and that it wouldn’t be possible for him to complete it that day.

Rather than receiving a reply over email, David would find his manager calling him later that day.

He said if you don’t have time to do the paperwork, then falsify it and well do it next week.

A Statement Made By David

David would subsequently fulfil his managers request and sign off the paperwork. He would think nothing more of this encounter until he returned to work a few days later to find himself being taken to a meeting with HR and the manager who told him to falsify documents.

However, it would not be the manager who was being called for a disciplinary hearing, with David acting as a witness, but David himself who was under the microscope. In such a state of shock as to what was going on, David wasn’t even sure what their questions referred to or what he had done wrong… ‘It wasn’t until afterwards that I remembered that he told me to do the paperwork.’

David was immediately suspended and would be fired from his maintenance job at Austen house the following week. While David would appeal to TSHC to get his job back, this would be denied. He is currently working on having his case reviewed in court and hopes to receive compensation – believing that he was set up by the management of Austen House, so that they could have an excuse to reduce staff and costs during the pandemic.


A Lack of Care for Both Staff and Students:

Both David and Ashley have attested that they we’re treated poorly after the introduction of the new management at Austen House.  

When I first started, I loved working at Austen House, the management that were working there were really helpful… they would listen to you. However, after the new managers arrived things started to go downhill.

A Statement Made By Ashley

David would discuss how they have had over a dozen staff leave in the last year. He would explain that: ‘they aren’t leaving out of their own free will but are being forced out… It’s all being brushed under the carpet.’

Staff were told on numerous occasions that they could be made redundant at a moment’s notice if they were not happy with the changes to their contracts or work practices.

We were repeatedly told throughout lockdown that we could be made redundant at the click of their fingers. We were told that if we didn’t like the changes that they were going to make that we knew were the door was.

A Statement Made By Ashley

Intimidating staff into signing new contracts and moving ahead with new policies without properly listening to and understanding the thoughts, feelings, and concerns of staff members can be seen clearly in a meeting held by the managers of Austen House during the 1st Lockdown (see below).

This Is A Five Minute Clip, Taken From A 35 Minute Recording Of An Entire Meeting With Staff At Austen House.

After several maintenance workers raised concerns about their contracts changing their working hours from 42-hours over a period of four-days to the newly mandated five, the Manager would proceed to tell the staff that:

There’s two ways it can go. You guys can sit there and go ‘O.K cool, sure, I get it, I want to move forward, I’ll be flexible, we’ll do it, we’ll do, it’s not a major change’, then we get the amendments out. Or you guys can sit there and say, ‘actually no I don’t want to do it’ and then what happens is becomes a little more complicated, because it’s going to happen. So, we will have to then go through a process where we sit and do consultations with everyone and then it starts getting a little bit more messy. I don’t really want to go down that route with you guys.

A Statement Made By The Manager Of Austen House (As Seen In The Audio Clip Above)

While the manager states that there are ‘two ways it can go’, she isn’t exactly providing much of an alternative for staff members; either they change their contracts and agree with the new policies that are about to be put in place or they risk losing their job.

This illusion of choice is a convenient one. Staff members are made to feel as if they are making this decision, when in reality the decision has already been made; as the manager clearly states, ‘it’s going to happen.

However, the suggestion that staff have the ability to choose is not the only component of this conversation that is veiled in dichotomous language. At one point the manager expresses that:

My priority is making sure that you guys get your hours and you’re working, because there are lots of people out there right now that are being made redundant from other companies, which means that the pool of people looking for jobs is huge.

A Statement Made By The Manager Of Austen House (As Seen In The Audio Clip Above)

Critiquing this statement might at first appear to be a shameless exercise in fault-finding. However, upon hearing this assurance something didn’t sit right… Why would the manager mention that ‘the pool of people looking for jobs is huge’? There is nothing untrue about this statement, indeed the unemployment rate in the UK is projected to be 7.1% in 2021, but is this something you would tell your staff to soothe their worries about job security?

Now, one could chalk this up to a simple misguided sentence, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, it comes across as a threat, camouflaged in niceties – ‘I’m here to protect your job, but if you don’t do what the company asks, there are thousands of others who will happily replace you.’


Such an oppressive atmosphere, in which staff constantly have worry about the state of their job, can be a severely stressful experience for anyone. However, for those with anxiety/depression this situation was even worse.

Ashley would often feel unsafe and uncomfortable at work, while the pressure placed upon him would build to the point where it made him feel suicidal. This was not only due to the threat of losing his job but the level of intimidation and bullying that he suffered at the hands of the management of this facility.

He’s quite a big guy. I’m tall but skinny. He’s very intimidating. I didn’t stand up for myself. He would intimidate me.

A Statement Made By Ashley

While Ashley would place a formal complaint against both managers for ‘bullying and intimidating behaviour’, neither of these claims would be upheld within TSHC internal investigation and it would subsequently be closed.

They were bullies. My colleagues became nervous wrecks.

A Statement Made By David

In an audio recording (which as of yet cannot be released to protect David’s identity) David would be questioned in a private meeting with a manager about a leak in the building. After coming into work, one of his colleagues, who had worked on the previous shift, would fail to do a ‘walk around’ (a routine check of the building to make sure everything is in order) and spot the leak.

David would inform us that the reason why his colleague had failed to perform this procedure was due to a deputy-manager’s request that they complete an assortment of other tasks before heading home. Consequently, the maintenance worker simply forgot to do the check in his haste to catch his bus.

While it is understandable that the management of Austen House would want to talk to the staff member in question, they would proceed to speak with all staff members working at this time in a formal internal investigation, in which the manager would inform questioned staff that, ‘whatever you say to me today when I ask the questions may be shared with the employee.’  

Although there is nothing legally improper about this inquest, it appears to be both excessive and irregular practice, particularly for a business which seemingly wishes to establish a positive environment of metal wellbeing. To go to such lengths to establish which employee was to blame for this mistake, when in the interview it is clear that they are already aware as to who the fault lies with and the reasons why this incident occurred, is bureaucratic folly at best.

The employee in question would be fired for misconduct shortly after this internal investigation, without a series of warnings, simply for not doing one walk around.


Ashley would also be fired after swearing at the deputy-manager of Austen House, without a series of formal warnings.

A manager would request that Ashley fix a lock at Crescent Place, the second TSHC facility in Southampton. Prior to lockdown, the maintenance staff of Austen House would only work at this facility, however, they would be informed that they would have to visit both sites in an effort to reduce the cost of staff.   

Later that day, Ashley would be pulled off of his lunch break to fulfil a set of other tasks at his primary facility (Austen House) and would consequently forget to fix the lock in one of the rooms at Crescent Place.

A manager of Austen House would ask Ashley why he hadn’t gone over to Crescent Place to fix the lock, to which Ashley would explain that he had simply forgotten. Shortly after, a deputy-manager would tell him to go over and fix the lock only a few minutes before he was scheduled to finish his shift, at which point he would tell her to ‘fuck off’ and would go home.  

Three days later, Ashley would be pulled into a disciplinary meeting and would lose his job.

I’ve always spoken like that. I do swear quite a lot. It’s in my coping mechanism. I’ve never had a problem with it, no one has ever said anything about it. I didn’t know that I could work on it, as no one said that people had an issue with it. Since I was fired, I have been working on it, because I am now aware that it was an issue. If they had told me in the meeting, I would have held my hands up and said, ‘You know what you are right’. Until someone tells you, how can you change? It was a mistake; I should have just gotten a warning and a disciplinary for it.

A Statement Made By Ashley

While it would be easy to judge these maintenance workers, all of whom have made mistakes at work, whether it be unintentionally falsifying a document, missing a walk-around, or swearing at a manager, we must question if these are truly grounds for firing an employee without prior warning(s) on their conduct?

Ashley has acknowledged that his behaviour was both inappropriate and foolish. However, before we throw the first stone, we must ask ourselves would we behave any differently under these circumstances?

Considering the great stresses (bullying, long hours, the introduction of strict Covid rules, etc.) Ashley was placed under and his known mental health issues (anxiety and depression), it is unsurprising that this tension would build to a point where he would be placed in a position to make a mistake.

Both the lack of formal warnings to these employees and the fact that each of the four maintenance workers, employed at Austen House, were all fired within the space of a few months of one another has led them to suspect that their removal was orchestrated by the company in an attempt to reduce costs during the pandemic.

While this is currently speculation, one does have to wonder why TSHC has so quickly removed these staff members, for what appears to be simple and unintentional mistakes, without warning or notice.

Although many of these men have appealed TSHC decision to fire them, they have all been rejected and some are now investigating the possibility of taking them to court for their misconduct.


However, staff were not the only group of people to receive a lack of care from the managers of Austen House, as students too would often not receive the attention or respect, they deserved.

After David discovered that several students were smoking in their rooms, he would report this to management; concerned that it was posing a serious fire risk for those living and working in the building. However, upon discussing this issue with a manager he would be told that, we don’t care. If they burn the building down, they burn the building down.

When students would put in a complaint or wish to discuss a concern, David would often find staff ‘slagging them off’ in the reception behind their backs. David noted one occasion that stuck with him, in which staff would proceed to repeatedly call a disabled boy an ‘idiot’ after he placed a complaint with them. Despite mentioning the inappropriateness of this behaviour, David would explain that they would not listen to him or anyone else outside of their own clique.

They have certain students that they target, that they talk about behind their backs or who’s lives they want to make worse.

A Statement Made By David

Both David and Ashley felt that they were unable to effectively fulfil their duties or provide the customer service that students would expect from an ‘all-inclusive’ facility. They were repeatedly told that they couldn’t talk, interact, or be friendly with the students both in and outside of the house. If there was a broken window, blocked toilet, or a fire door that needed to be fixed or replaced, they were told to wait a couple of days, which would often turn into weeks.

I told them. That’s a fire door, we need to have that fixed. You are putting the student’s safety, staff, and visitors of this place at risk.

A Statement Made By Ashley

Furthermore, the maintenance crew would find themselves in a difficult position after one of their team members would be accused of sexual assault by a student (see our previous report). Despite Emma requesting that staff members shouldn’t enter her room alone, both Ashley and David were told to do the complete opposite.

We were told to go into students’ rooms on our own. Despite the sexual abuse case. I asked for support, for someone to come in with me. But I was just told by the managers that, ‘they live here, you just have to deal with it’. I didn’t feel safe.

A Statement Made By Ashley

Staff’s accounts not only affirm Emma’s own testimony but highlight how staff were also affected by this incident and were not afforded the protection they deserved – just as Emma too was let down by the management of this facility.


Beckley Point (Plymouth) – The Account Of A Housekeeper

In our last report we would highlight the account of a former staff member who worked at Beckley Point (Plymouth), who reported that certain staff members would receive unwarranted payments, that people were hired for roles despite not being suitable or qualified for them, and that a co-worker of his was sexually harassing students by taking and sharing their pictures with other residents.  

We would reach out to a former Housekeeper, Jade, who would not only support all the claims made by Zach but would demonstrate that bullying and unfair treatment by the management of TSHC facilities was not restricted to Austen House (Southampton).

Like many other staff who have provided a testimony of their experiences, Jade would discuss how she ‘loved’ her job when she initially started working for TSHC, however, things would take a turn for the worst as time went on.

She would find that, as a housekeeper, that she was often treated differently than other staff members. Jade would find herself excluded from staff lunches, retirement parties, and the manager of the facility ‘stopped talking to [her] when he became manager, like [she] was beneath him.’

One of the nicest guys retired and I wasn’t invited, I was just left out. I was asked if I was looking forward to it that night! I had to ask: ‘looking forward to what?’ It was about meal out that they had all planned for the retirement do. I was swiftly invited, but I wasn’t going to something that I was invited to as a last-minute thought.

A Statement Made By Jade

While Jade would originally work alongside a second Housekeeper, in which each was placed on a 40hr contract, her colleague’s role would change, and she would begin to work nightshifts at the facility. When Jade asked a manager if they would be finding a replacement, she would be informed that she would have to manage the job by herself. This would leave Jade complete 80 hr’s worth of duties in her allotted 40hrs working time, which added a great deal of pressure and unwarranted stress.

This would lead Jade to leave Beckley Point after over two years of working at the facility, after she began to dread coming into work and felt that the practices of both management and staff placed the safety and security of students at risk.


Our investigation into TSHC is far from over. Over the coming months we will be placing even more time and resources into getting to the bottom of this case, so that this company can be held to account and those that have suffered at the hands of staff and the management of these facilities receive compensation and justice.  

If you would like to share your story with us, then please get in touch with by emailing us at: editor-in-chief@mouthingoffmagazine.com  

We keep all of our informers anonymous unless we have been told otherwise. Maintaining the anonymity of both staff and students contacting us is our top priority, so that their safety and security is upheld.

We will be back with The Student Housing Company: Part III, alongside additional reports as time progresses. If you would like to join our team of investigative journalists to help out with this case, then please email us at: newsdesk@mouthingoffmagazine.com

Since mainstream media outlets, universities and TSHC itself have failed to respond to this article and our emails, we encourage you all to share this article anywhere and everywhere, as much as possible. If the stories of the staff and students which we have discussed thus far are able to come to light, then they may be able to receive a greater deal of help than they have so far.  

About The Author

Gregory Segal

While humanity has has continuously ventured into the unknown, today we are on the precipice of a new uncertainty. With covid, political unrest, and economic decline we feel that another sinister turn is just round the corner. Although discussion, art, and storytelling won't necesserily create any solutions for this in the short-term it might provide a conduit for productive thought, or at the very least might take our minds off our current reality.

2 Comments

  1. Dave

    What a complete crock of shit !

    Couple of x disgruntled employees who were probably a waste of space telling tales .

    Grow up you melts or run back to your mums

    Honestly

    Pathetic! Easy to moan or winge 99% of the time these buildings are run efficient by hardworking good people .

    Don’t believe this crap

    Reply
    • Gregory Segal

      Hey Dave,

      I’m sorry to hear that you think this.

      We agree that the majority of staff working in these facilities are hardworking and decent people. However, it only takes a minority of staff and management to ruin the working and living experience for both staff and students.

      You’re right! It certainly is easy to winge and moan! However, from spending hundreds of hours talking to and investigating the cases of those we have discussed in these two reports, I can confidently say that those who have experienced sexual assault, had their stolen property, have gone through mental breakdowns, experienced the loss of their job, or have found themselves in situations where they could face finanical ruin are not ‘moaning’, but are raising genuine concerns for their saftey, health, and wellbeing.

      After speaking to nearly two dozen staff and students who have consistently reported negative experiences and have had their stories corroborated by witnesses and a great deal of evidence, I would be very interested to hear your side of the story? We want to get as many angles for this case as possible – if you would like to speak to us then please email me at: editor-in-chief@mouthingoffmagazine.com

      Reply

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