Britain's biggest property manager rescued from administration

Retirement homeAP

Britain's biggest property manager has been bought out of administration in a £62 million deal that saves 4,200 jobs and ends a year of uncertainty for thousands of tenants in residential flats and McCarthy & Stone retirement homes.

There are hopes that Peverel Group, one of Britain's most controversial property firms, will turn over a new leaf under new management and its new private equity owners.
Peverel, which manages 190,000 flats and apartments, was part of Mayfair property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz' empire until a year ago when it ignominiously collapsed under its £125 million debt burden and fell into administration. This happened shortly after the tycoon was arrested as part of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the failure of Iceland's Kaupthing bank.

Tchenguiz blamed Peverel's collapse on Bank of America Merrill Lynch's "sudden" decision to call in its £125 million loan after his arrest. He denied any wrongdoing and has started a damages claim against the SFO, which has since apologised to Tchenguiz over the way it handled the investigation.

Chamonix Private Equity and Electra Partners have now bought the firm with plans to improve service and expand its telecare and telehealth arms.

Janet Entwistle, the former head of BT Fleet, is Peverel's new chief executive and talked of the "beginning of a new era for the Peverel Group". She vowed to talk to tenants and get to the bottom of their complaints which centre on excessive fees and poor service. A new chairman has also been appointed, but the management structure underneath stays the same.

Last year a Guardian Money investigation threw up a catalogue of allegations (which were firmly rejected by Peverel) ranging from huge service and maintenance charges and excessive buildings insurance costs to maintenance failures and high exit fees from retirement homes.

Tenant groups' cautious reaction
Tenant groups reacted cautiously to the news. Peverel Group Action noted: "A new CEO Janet Entwistle has been appointed, but the previous senior management structure is retained in what some regard as an MBO."

Disgruntled tenants have also been able to share stories on another website called The Truth about Solitaire and associated Peverel Group property management companies. In an article entitled "Peverel Future, not all it's made out to be," the site was scornful of the deal, which it described as a management buyout.

"The more and more we think about this situation, it is clear that no other buyer was interested in Peverel and that the only option they had was a Management Buy Out. Which is one of the reasons why it was saved for such a low value and why the banks probably opted to cut their losses and get as much as they could back. It's funny though, how Peverel being Peverel have done their usual trick which is to put a media spin on this situation and make it appear a lot better than it actually is."

The site has previously aired concerns of residents, for example at Champs Sur Marne in Bradley Stoke, Bristol, a former David Wilson Homes development that was built around 2005. It is managed by one of Peverel's companies, OM Property Management. Service charges reportedly rose from £75 per calendar month (£900 a year) in 2006 to £120 a month (£1,600 a year) in only five years. Residents are also unhappy about sublet licence fees.

Residents at a similar property nearby - where a local management company is in charge - have been more lucky. They are only paying £59 a month in service charges, the website claims. It has published a list of Peverel's companies.

Do you live in a property that is managed by one of Peverel's companies? What has your experience been? Do you think Peverel will change? Let us know in the comments.

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