NEWS: Strike action set for GKN Chester Road factory as workers ‘fight for their jobs’

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Unite and Jack Dromey MP for Erdington

Workers at GKN Driveline have overwhelmingly voted to strike in the face of the Chester Road factory being closed next year.

Unite the Union held a ballot for industrial action and revealed today 95% of workers who voted wanted industrial action.

Announcing the ballot result Unite declared if GKN’s owners do not back down over closure they “could see strike action hit the plant and customers over the coming weeks.”

There was a turnout of 95% meaning of the 519 workers facing redundancy 93.1% voted to strike.

Unite can now call a strike within the next six months providing they give GKN seven days notice.

In January this year, GKN Driveline owners Melrose announced plans to close the factory and have ignored Unite the Union’s alternative business plan to save the factory.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This is a tremendous result and shows the determination and confidence of the GKN workforce to fight for their jobs, their community and the long-term future of their plant.

“This is a highly viable plant which could and should be playing a leading role as the UK moves to the electrification of its automotive sector.”

He added: “It is now incumbent that everyone concerned with the future of GKN Driveline including customers, the government, local politicians and GKN’s parent company Melrose PLC, come together to hammer out a future for the plant and the UK’s supply of key components.

“The alternative is a long drawn-out dispute that will damage both GKN and the company’s customer base.

“We have called an urgent meeting of all parties involved and expect both GKN, its customer base, as well as the government, to respond positively to a viable alternative plan to secure the plant’s future.

“The ball is now firmly in GKN and Melrose’s court and how they respond will dictate how this dispute will develop over the coming weeks and months.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey worked extensively on the alternative business plan for the GKN plant and backed workers plans for industrial action.

He said: “Today’s result sends a clear and unambiguous message to Melrose/GKN that the 519 workers will do all in their power to save the historic Chester Road plant from closure.

“In one of the poorest constituencies in the country, the closure of the Chester Road plant would be a hammer-blow to the local community.

“Generations of local families have been given greater opportunities in life due to GKN, yet Melrose/GKN now want to close the plant without even considering any alternative to closure.”

He added: “The workers have today shown that they will stand up to protect their livelihoods, their local community and the opportunities available for future generations. They remain open to any discussions to avoid industrial action and to keep the plant open. They can be assured of my wholehearted support.”

To find out more about GKN visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org

For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk

NEWS: GKN workers have ‘exhausted every avenue’ as voting begins over strike at Chester Road factory

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Unite and Jack Dromey MP

GKN Driveline workers have received their ballots for strike action and union bosses are urging them to vote yes.

Unite the Union held an online meeting last night to discuss industrial action and received messages of solidarity from workers across the world.

GKN Unite convener Frank Duffy, Unite West Midlands Regional Secretary Annmarie Kilcline, and Erdington MP Jack Dromey all spoke at the meeting – as well as some of the 519 workers who face redundancy if owners Melrose close the Chester Road factory.

Workers who are making their minds up about whether to strike have already been threatened by Melrose management.

Frank Duffy said: “Workers have been given letters threatening them if they vote yes in the ballot. They were returned to management and then letters were sent to home addresses but again the workforce brought them into the factory and told management they were not listening. I could not be more proud of them.”

If workers strike they will lose pay and bonuses, but Unite the Union is already fundraising for workers welfare during the potential strike.

Erdington workers have been joined in solidarity by workers in Florence, Italy, where Melrose is also closing a factory, leaving thousands more employees jobless.

Mr Duffy believes they have been forced into taking the last resort, industrial action.

He said: “Melrose has undermined this factory for years, the internal market of GKN consistently meant our factory lost out but we were told it was fine because the rest of the company was profitable.

“There are 51 sites across the world but just one in the UK, where the business started, and they are closing this one. Germany would not allow it; France would not, and our Government should not let this scandal happen.”

“They have paid lip service to the workers throughout this sham, they call it a consultation but I call it a sham, but as soon as they made the decision to close us down in January that was it.

“We have done everything possible, including creating an alternative business plan for the plant, but we were ignored.

“We’ve had seven months of hell but are now at a point when they have to listen to us – that’s why I am urging everyone to vote yes on their ballot for industrial action.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey has been holding weekly meetings with Unite officials since the Melrose revealed its closure plans, which he warned would happen during its hostile takeover of the British engineering institution in 2016, as well as lobbying the Government to take a more proactive role.

He said: “GKN has a remarkable 262 years of history which can be traced back to when it provided the cannonballs for the British to fight Napoleon. The company contributed to the building of the Spitfire which helped defeat the Nazis.

“The Chester Road factory is a vital part of the future of electrification of the industry and cannot be allowed to close.”

He added: “I know the workers have exhausted every avenue available to them and that is why I am backing their decision to take industrial action.

“For every worker who will lose their job at GKN a further two will lose their jobs in the supply chain.”

Several workers made emotional speeches during the meeting describing how much GKN Driveline means to them and their families.

Robert’s family has clocked up 74 years of work at the Chester Road site with his father and grandfather working at the plant before him.

Stuart Turner said: “I’ve been at the factory near enough from school and I know what a devastating impact its closure will have on surrounding areas like Erdington and Castle Vale.

“We need to send a message that we will not back down.”

Unite West Midlands Regional Secretary Annmarie Kilbride revealed a hardship fund has already been set up in anticipation of a strike for workers who will have their wages docked.

She said: “We need the Government to step in if they are serious about levelling up and keeping skilled jobs in this country.

“I urge everyone to support these GKN workers in whatever way they can.”

The result of the ballot for industrial action will be revealed at the end of July.

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com
For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org
For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk  

NEWS: Hundreds protest the planned closure of GKN Chester Road factory

Words by Adam Smith / Video & pics supplied by Unite the Union

On Wednesday 7 July, more than 220 people braved torrential rain to protest against the closure of GKN‘s factory on Chester Road in Erdington.

Unite the Union organised the protest in response to owners Melrose International’s announcement the sprawling plant would be closed next June with the loss of 519 jobs.

Workers have taken the first step to strike this summer and are expected to take a ballot on industrial action in the next few weeks.

Union representatives also protested outside Parliament in a bid to force the Government to back their alternative plan for the factory.

A defiant Frank Duffy, Unite Senior Rep, addressed the crowd at Sorrell Park, Pype Hayes, in the shadow of the giant factory.

He told Erdington Local: “We are not giving in. It does not make sense to close this factory, we have proved we can make a profit and we will do everything we can to stop Melrose.

“They want to throw 519 loyal, skilled and dedicated workers on the scrapheap.

“Could you imagine a French or German multinational company shutting its only home plant and moving the work to elsewhere in Europe, there would be a national outcry.”

Unite regional secretary for the West Midlands, Annmarie Kilcline, also attended the protest.

She said: “The protest demonstrated the strength of feeling among workers at GKN and the local community against the plans to close the factory.

“This is a highly viable factory which should be preparing to play a key strategic role in the move to electrify the UK’s automotive industry. Closing the factory would be an act of gross industrial vandalism.”

She added: “It is not just the workers at the factory who would be affected by the potential closure but hundreds of workers in the company’s supply chain and the local community would all  suffer job losses.

“It is essential that the government makes good on its promises to provide assistance and they work with Unite and local politicians to keep this factory open.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey, who helped draft the alternative business proposal, backed the GKN workers.

He said: “What Melrose is doing to GKN is outrageous, I stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers in Erdington. If they decide to take industrial action then I will support them.”

Speaking at the rally, Birmingham City Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward had messages for both Melrose and the GKN workers facing unemployment.

He said: “Step in now and work with the workers at GKN to save this plant. Anything less is simply a betrayal of the hard-working, loyal & dedicated workforce.

“I assure you the city will stand with you and support you all the way in this dispute”

Despite the viability of the factory and potential massive Government backing Melrose still plan to relocate GKN operations from Chester Road to Poland.

Melrose said: “GKN Automotive has fully considered the counter proposals put forward. However, the outlook for the highly competitive automotive market remains unchanged.

“Regretfully, therefore, we are proceeding with our proposal to close the site. Supporting our people continues to be our priority.”

Unite the Union and GKN workers protest closure of Chester Road factory

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org

For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk  

NEWS: GKN Automotive confirm closure of Chester Road factory – rejecting rescue plan from Unite and Erdington MP

Words by Adam Smith

The owners of GKN Automotive in Erdington have confirmed the factory will definitely close with the loss of 519 jobs.

Melrose Industries rejected a rescue plan brokered by Unite the Union and Erdington MP Jack Dromey to save the factory.

A Melrose spokesman said: “GKN Automotive has fully considered the counter proposals put forward. However, the outlook for the highly competitive automotive market remains unchanged.

“Regretfully, therefore, we are proceeding with our proposal to close the site. Supporting our people continues to be our priority.”

Jack Dromey MP warned the Chester Road plant would be in danger when Melrose forcibly took over the firm in 2018.

As well as the 519 workers at GKN an estimated 1,500 jobs could be at risk in the supply chain of the company, which can trace its history back more than 200 years.

He said: “This decision is devastating for the 519 workers at the Chester Road plant. The workers, supported by the union, Unite, worked tirelessly to produce a comprehensive and detailed alternative plan to closure.

“It is therefore fundamentally wrong that GKN/Melrose have now called time on the consultation process and instead intend to push ahead with closure.

“GKN Chester Road is vital, not just to Erdington and the West Midlands economy but also the whole automotive industry in the UK. If the plant were to close, it would be a betrayal of the 519 workers, of British automotive, and the British national interest.”

He added: “I will therefore be seeking urgent discussions with the Chief Executive of GKN and also the Government, who have publicly indicated their commitment to offer support to allow the plant to remain open.

“The workers at GKN and their union, Unite, are determined to keep the plant open. As their MP, they have my total and unending support.”

Unite national officer for the automotive sector, Des Quinn, said: “Unite calls on all interested parties including central government, local government, the supply chain, customers and GKN Automotive to come together and ensure the factory’s future.

“The UK’s automotive sector needs e-drive suppliers and a sustainable supply chain or the entire UK automotive sector is at risk of collapse.

“GKN Birmingham has the ability to supply the e-drives that the UK’s automotive sector desperately needs, it just needs the vision, support and investment to ensure it has a crucial role to play in the electrification of UK vehicles.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org

For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk

Mayoral hopeful Liam Byrne MP backs GKN workers – calling proposed Chester Rd closure “unthinkable”

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by the office for Liam Byrne MP

Under-threat workers from Erdington’s GKN Driveline factory held a protest outside the plant’s gates this week.

In February, Melrose Industries announced plans to close the Chester Road site with the loss of 520 jobs – but Unite the Union and local politicians are fighting to keep the factory open.

Labour’s West Midlands Mayoral candidate Liam Byrne MP joined workers on Thursday, calling the closure of GKN Driveline “unthinkable”.

He told Erdington Local: “As a region we need more facilities like GKN in Erdington, not closing them down. I wanted to come to Chester Road to show my solidarity with the workers here. If I am Mayor of the West Midlands in a month’s time, I will be behind everyone at GKN.

“I’m sure they have earmarked the land for housing. But Erdington needs industry, because if you build big housing estates without jobs they will end up being full of unemployed people.”

He added: “We need to leading the way in new green industries, just like Joe Biden is doing in America, and historic industrial infrastructure like GKN should be part of this new economy.

“If elected I will be doing everything to convince owners Melrose to keep these jobs in Erdington.

“We will find a way, a solution to keep this factory open.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey has been working with Unite the Union to create a business plan to keep the Chester Road factory open.

He said: “These workers are outstanding at what they do and they have been thanked by losing their jobs. There are people here who have worked here for 20 years, people whose family have worked here before them. There are skilled jobs here and they should celebrated not axed.

“Melrose’s representatives said at a House of Commons select committee they would listen to alternatives to closure, and the Government have said they will support an alternative.”

He added: “Melrose need to know they cannot buy a company with 262 years of industrial history and then close down, if they think they will get away with it then they have another thing coming.”

Melrose Industries bought GKN in 2018 in a controversial hostile and promised to keep the Erdington plant open. GKN can trace its history back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and has been at the forefront of engineering in the UK ever since, the Erdington site assembles automotive parts.

Frank Duffy, GKN‘s Unite convenor at the Chester Road plant, said: “We have got more than 500 workers here and we are not giving in. We are not working on the premise that the factory is closing because it makes no sense.

“We have not been given redundancy terms yet which is a good sign the factory can remain open.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org

For more on Liam Byrne MP visit www.liambyrne.co.uk  

NEWS: GKN Automotive to close Chester Road site making over 500 unemployed

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s sprawling GKN Automotive factory, Chester Road, is being closed down with the loss of more than 500 jobs.

GKN‘s owner Melrose Industries announced the news, which will bring down the curtain on one of the UK’s oldest engineering assembly lines, to shocked workers this week.

Workers were informed of the decision through a letter from GKN Automotive chief Liam Butterworth, who said: “GKN Automotive has taken the difficult decision to propose the closure of our assembly site at Chester Road, Birmingham.

“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. This is despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the site’s high operating costs and make it competitive.

“Supporting our people is our first priority as we consult on this proposal. Employees at the site are being notified today and support is being made available to them throughout this process. We will then commence a period of consultation with the union and employee representatives in the coming weeks.

“We expect this proposal to impact 519 employees. The proposal envisages that GKN Automotive will carefully wind down the site over 18 months to ensure an orderly and stable transition of operations and give those affected time to find new work. The proposal is to transfer production to other sites in our network.”

Melrose Industries bought GKN in 2018 in a controversial hostile takeover in which they promised to keep the Erdington plant open. GKN can trace its history back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and has been at the forefront of engineering in the UK ever since, the Erdington site assembles automotive parts.

The restructure will not affect GKN’s plants in Sutton Coldfield and Minworth.

Unite national officer Des Quinn said: “The workforce have been left shocked and angry to learn that management is looking to close this highly viable site.

“Unite is now seeking urgent meetings with senior management at GKN to understand the business case and the logic behind this decision.”

He added: “Unite is committed to working with GKN to find a feasible solution, which will keep the factory open and preserve the jobs of this highly skilled workforce.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey opposed the £8.1 billion takeover in 2018 warning the British multinational Melrose Industries would cut costs and jobs.

He said: “Despite all the warm words by Melrose in 2018 to protect the future prosperity of GKN and its British workforce, the cold reality three years on is that one of GKN’s finest plants now faces closure. Melrose promised a bright future to GKN’s employees – a promise they have now broken.

“This announcement is completely unexpected by employees at GKN. Working together with their trade union, Unite, I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the company.

“Government Ministers also have a responsibility to act after promises they made at the time of the hostile takeover.”

A spokesperson from GKN Automotive said: “Proposing this closure is a difficult decision which has been made despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the high operating costs at the Birmingham assembly site.

“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. Supporting our people is our priority as we consult on our proposals.”

John Taylor Hospice’s former press officer and Pype Hayes resident Ray Woods lamented the closure of the factory and its impact on the community.

He said: ”My thoughts are with the employees of GKN in Pype Hayes. They and their former senior management helped to raise thousands of pounds for John Taylor Hospice. They should be very proud.

“This is another blow for Erdington and the local community.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive, visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union, visit www.unitetheunion.org

EXPLOITED: Part 3 – The unchallenged rampage of HMOs and shared houses, wreaking havoc for a profit across our community

Words by Adam Smith

In the third instalment of EXPLOITED, Adam Smith looks at the oversaturation problem in the HMO and supported living sector – hearing from the top of two housing associations and going right down to the root cause of the misery.

It’s a license to print money,” one former employee of a housing association tellingly revealed.

And it stands to reasons where there is easy money on offer there will be a queue of people ready to take it.

On the Birmingham City Council website there is a list of HMOs where landlords can charge the benefits system £900 for a room, which often can be more than £500 over the private rented market value. And the list runs into the thousands.

Across Birmingham there are 2345 HMOs with six or more people living in them, with applications pending for another 758 properties – including houses in Mere Road, Queens Road, Chester Road, Hillaries Road, Norfolk Road, Kings Road, Slade Road and George Road in Erdington.

As well as the licensed HMOs there are thousands more smaller HMOs and shared houses which fall into the category of ‘exempt’ or ‘supported’ accommodation. There are hundreds of companies which can apply for an HMO license in Erdington, many of which have been arguably set up just to take advantage of the system.

Spring Housing Association (SHA) is a Birmingham based Housing Association which operates HMOs, hostels and social housing – an organisation that has been referenced in previous Exploited articles. SHA has close links to Birmingham City Council and is one of the biggest housing associations in the Midlands, managing or owning more than 700 properties.

SHA, which has Edgbaston MP Preet Gill on its board of directors, has lobbied the Government to tighten up regulations and is now even turning shared houses into family homes.

SHA group chief executive and founder, Dominic Bradley, told Erdington Local there should be tighter regulations on the mushrooming number of companies which can run HMOs and shared accommodation.

He said: “We believe that there is over saturation of exempt shared housing provision in Birmingham. This is not to say that this type of housing doesn’t have an important part to play in the prevention of homelessness in all of its forms. In fact it’s essential.

However, we have long recognised that in parts of the city we are over saturated with this style of housing – which is disruptive to local communities. Stockland Green is an obvious example of this.”

Dominic added: “It’s one of the reasons we are about to purchase a shared house in Erdington and convert it back to a family home. We are aiming to do something similar in Edgbaston, which has had similar community issues to Stockland Green.

Whilst this is a start and one we are keen to develop further there are wider more systematic issues that need to be tackled around strengthening existing regulations about what we mean about care, support and supervision and work with providers to curb the current unmitigated growth and target provision linked to local strategy which we know Birmingham City Council are very keen to achieve.”

In the last article, Exploited – Humans Must Obey,  we outlined the rules tenants have to follow whilst living in supported housing and HMOs.

In the housing sector the term used is ‘Exempt Accommodation’ because in 1996 Housing Benefit regulations were changed to include ‘non-commissioned EA’ which were defined as ‘accommodation which is…provided by a non-metropolitan country council, a housing association, a registered charity or a voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.

‘If a provider or landlord meets these criteria, they are exempt from rent restrictions within the private rented sector and are able to yield rent levels, paid for from housing benefit, far in excess of ‘general needs’ social sector rents and, often, market rents.’

These two paragraphs provided the starter of the sector gun, as landlords and housing associations realised they could charge more rent without the hassle of tenancy agreements – and the introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 massively increased the sector. The Conservative government’s change of rules, that the tenant received the housing benefit and not the landlord, meant it made sense for landlords to claim their houses were ‘exempt’ so they could get the cash directly as had been the case for decades.

The last Parliamentary research into HMOs, published in 2019, revealed there were more than 497,000 HMOs in England in Wales in 2018. And that number is growing.

Spring Housing Association, the University of Birmingham, and Commonweal Housing combined to produce a 60 page report – Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation – which detailed the shocking state of housing provision and detailed how thousands of people were stuck in negative housing situations across the city. 

Ashley Horsey, chief executive of Commonweal Housing, a charity formed to ‘implement housing solutions to social injustice’, described the damage exempt housing is doing to tenants and communities.

He said: “The findings of this report are stark. That over 11,000 people in Birmingham – and many thousands more across the country – are living in potentially unsafe and unsuitable ‘exempt’ accommodation should concern us all.

Residents interviewed for this report described feelings of ‘entrapment’ in financial instability; exclusion from decision-making processes; lack of control over where, and with whom, they are housed.

At the same time, the nature of too many of the business models involved in this space are causing some concern, not least inflation linked leases from property owners requiring ever rising rents.

In addition, the deficit-based tenant modelling – talking up your tenant’s weaknesses to justify your income stream – is all too common, and a tricky place to be morally. Especially where there remains little oversight.”

Ashley added: “The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ nature of some of the governance and regulation of this sector is alarming. Of course, everyone accommodated in the exempt accommodation sector is in need of a home. But asking no questions simply because this sector is putting a roof over a head is not good enough.

In particular, the exempt accommodation sector is too often the only housing available for the marginalised, the overlooked, the undervalued and the de-valued in society. They are the women who find themselves here after fleeing domestic violence, as their only housing option.”

The next instalment of EXPLOITED will reveal the shocking stories of women who have either lived in, live in, or have been affected by HMOs, exempt, or shared housing.

To read Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation, visit www.springhousing.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Spring-Housing-Final-Report-A4.pdf

To read the 2019 Parliamentary briefing paper on HMOs, visit www.commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn00708 

For more on Spring Housing Association, visit www.springhousing.org.uk

For more on Commonweal Housing, visit www.commonwealhousing.org.uk

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Dying Castle Vale schoolgirl’s EuroDisney wish sparks massive community fundraising effort

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Keena Cespedes

A dying Castle Vale schoolgirl’s wish to see EuroDisney is a step closer after £4,600 was raised in a month by big-hearted friends, family, and the community.

Six-year-old Kionne Holding, who has an incurable rare form of epilepsy, wants to go meet the Little Mermaid with the rest of her family – but due the specialist disability travel arrangements the holiday could cost £10,000.

However, when her mother Keena Cespedes, who has been at her daughter’s side for the last 93 days at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, launched a GoFundMe page (Kionne’s Fund) in August there was an overwhelming response.

Click here or on the hyperlink above to visit the GoFundMe page – Kionne’s Fund

Kionne’s Fund has inspired online music festival fundraisers, reggae brunches, and raffles. Family friend Lee Crofts is also undertaking a sponsored ‘Castle Vale to Paris Triathlon’ which has so far raised £1,600.

Keena, aged 37, told Erdington Local: “I can’t even begin to say how amazing people have been since I told people about Kionne, friends, family, and strangers have sent me messages of support and my daughter presents.

I put up the GoFundMe page without thinking anything would happen, I would have been happy with £50 but it feels like the whole of Castle Vale has got involved, as well as people across Birmingham.

We have now raised more than £4,600. I know times are hard for people, so it really means a lot people are donating.”

Keena remembers Kionne as a bubbly, funny, lovable child before last November when she suddenly began having seizures and headaches. Two months later she was diagnosed with small tumor on her brain and a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox Gasture Syndrome.

Her condition deteriorated and she in the last nine months she’s lost the ability to walk, talk and eat. Doctors have given her various drugs, treatments, and alternative remedies but all to no avail.

Keena said: “Due to all the drugs she is on she does not understand what is being done for her and all the love people have for her, but we still are hoping to take her to EuroDisney with her sisters.”

Tragically Keena has already had to have a conversation with specialists about Kionne’s end of life care.

She said: “This syndrome has taken everything away from her and is slowly killing my baby. She is unable to walk, eat for herself, and now her speech is going. She now speaks like a three-year-old not a six-year-old. She cannot be treated and there is no cure. I’m coming to terms with my baby dying and the little time we have left with her.

All I want to do now is make her life as amazing as possible and one way is to get her on holiday with her sisters who she loves so much.”

And due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kionne has been unable to get visits and cuddles from her three sisters.

Keena added: “Only I can go and visit her because of COVID-19, Kionne misses her sisters and they miss her but there is nothing that can be done about that – that is why it would be wonderful if we could all go away together. We would need specialist care when we are there and have to stay in adapted hotels, but it can be done and we are hoping to go early next year now.”

Castle Vale fundraiser Lee Crofts has now cycled the distance from “The Ressies to Dover” and also organised a reggae brunch at Minworth Social Club.

He said: “We’ve had amazing gestures of support with events, raffles set up, prize donations, and raised £500 in a day.

The little superhero is fighting the hardest fight of all, so let’s make the dark days a little brighter and give her. Her wish of a holiday with her sisters to make some priceless memories.”

To sponsor Lee as he continues his bid to cycle, run and walk the distance to Paris, click here to visit the Kionne’s Wish PayPal page.

The Chivenor Primary School pupil has touched the hearts of the nurses at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where she has been for the last three months.

Nurse Victoria Mulligan posted on the GoFundMe page: ‘I have had the pleasure of looking after Kionne and every shift she brightened my day with a massive smile and huge hug.

‘She holds on to you so that you can’t leave her side, she sings to you, she makes you laugh, she is super brave and absolutely deserves to go on holiday which will never make up for all she has gone through but will give her and her family an experience of happiness to remember forever.’

For more information or to donate to Kionne’s Fund visit: www.gofundme.com/f/kionnes-fund

To sponsor Lee Crofts – as he cycles, runs and walks the distance to Paris – visit the Kionne’s Wish PayPal page here: www.tiny.cc/qpaysz   

EXPLOITED: HMOs – the cruel rules that Humans Must Obey

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local continues its investigation into the frightening world of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) shining a light on the cruel rules and regulations thousands of tenants are forced to live under.

Chief reporter Adam Smith talks directly to the tenants living in uncertainty and fear across Erdington and the UK, wading through the inhumane bureaucracy behind HMOs – in his next article for EXPLOITED.

It took centuries for tenants to get legal rights so ruthless landlords could not evict them on a whim.

After a string of slum landlord scandals in the 1960s and 1970s several acts of parliament safeguarded renters rights – preventing enforced evictions, rent hikes, intrusion and intimidation.

However, right now thousands of Erdington HMO tenants are living as if the 20th Century never happened, in fear of being made homeless at any time.

HMO companies force tenants to sign license agreements, which leave them at the mercy of a raft of rules – many of which are vague and subjective, but which if broken can lead to eviction.

Three HMO tenants have shown Erdington Local their license agreements – relating to properties from Three Conditions Housing Association (3CHA), Green Park Housing (GPH), and Spring Housing (SH).

All three agreements are remarkably similar in their authoritative tone and demands on the tenant; the multiplicity of rules needed to be adhered to might as well see Houses of Multiple Occupancy redefined to Humans Must Obey*.

Green Park Housing and 3CHA warn tenants they could be evicted in a ‘REASONABLE’ amount of time. Although ‘REASONABLE’ is spelled put in capital letters on the official documents, an actual unit of time is not mentioned.

In the first EXPLOITED, Erdington Local revealed how social housing giant Spring Housing could evict tenants within seven days.

However, a whistle blower from another housing association, which has homes in Kingstanding, contacted Erdington Local to say: “Our housing association could evict within three hours if they wanted, the rules  people sign up to are vague so the housing associations can use them to evict immediately – if they say the person is in danger or other tenants they can remove them in three hours. That is what reasonable means.”

A consistent feature with all the HMO licence agreements is the stress on the importance of tenants paying a weekly service charge. Despite housing benefit covering the rent, often in the region of £800 to £900 a month for one room, housing providers demand a further weekly fee – Spring Housing £12, 3CHA £15, and Green Park £13.

Which the tenant has to pay, meaning tenants on benefits have to stump up 20% of their monthly money.

Unscrupulous landlords have realised the money spinning benefits of turning their house into an HMO, so now rooms are advertised for ‘£15’ per week and can only be rented to benefit claimants. Tenants sign up for ‘supported living’ in their licence and then Birmingham City Council will pay in the region of £900 a month for a room.

All the licence agreements are explicitly clear, if the weekly service charge is not paid then the tenant will be evicted.

What’s more, HMO tenants are forced to live under rules which means their house can never feel a home. Rules include: ‘no pictures can be hung on the walls.’ They cannot drink alcohol, smoke, or even swear in their own home.

3CHA‘s licence agreement says in bold black letters: ‘You cannot have anyone stay with You at the House overnight’ which bans adults from having the comfort of sleeping with another human being.

Spring Housing‘s agreement states: ‘You will not allow any visitors on site’ – meaning tenants in their properties cannot invite friends, family members, partners, or anyone in for a cup of tea or chat.

Even prisoners are allowed visitors, a right that is seemingly not extended to you if you live in an HMO.

A female HMO tenant, who did not want to be named for safety reasons, said: “I’ve lived in several HMOs and it always feels like they are trying to isolate me. I can’t even have my friends round for a laugh; I can’t decorate my room. The only time I hear from the support worker is when they demand the service charge.

And the rules are vague and open to interpretation, if they come up with a scenario which they say I am in danger or a danger to others then I have three hours to vacate. I’m old enough to remember when tenants had rights, but HMOS are different, they are evil. HMO for me stands for Humans Must Obey.”

Shamir Hussain, who was evicted by Spring Housing during the COVID-19 lockdown, said: “I just signed what they wanted me to when I got the room, but Spring used the small print rules to evict me during the pandemic. 

They used the fact that the kitchen was messy to evict me because of some rule they said I was breaking.”

The lack of privacy is another feature of living in a HMO, staff can enter a room whenever they want. Erdington Local has obtained a recording of a ‘landlord’ and ‘support worker’ entering a house at 11.30pm – demanding residents names, despite having no identification and refusing to give their own names.

GPH‘s licence agreement explicitly says on the first page: ‘This licence does not confer exclusive possession. GPH and its staff have the absolute right to enter Your Room at any time without notice.’

And even more disorientating is the fact that tenants can return their rooms and find them altered, as Spring Housing states: ‘Spring may change Your Room from time to time without notice or Your agreement. This can be done for any reason.’

Housing charity Shelter gives advice to tenants and tells them what they should legally expect.

Shelter states: ‘Landlords must let you live in your home without unnecessary interference. Your landlord should not let themselves into your home without your permission. Your landlord should not harass you or make it difficult for you to live in your home.’

However, thanks to the introduction of the HMO into the housing market these basic rights that tenants should expect have been removed.

3CHA boasts on its website: ‘It is a 21st century social landlord for 21st century customers.’

Which, sadly, is true – in the 20th Century tenants had more rights than the 21st Century. Because of HMOs.

*Humans Must Obey is copyrighted by Napier Productions – pertaining to the name of a forthcoming documentary about HMOs.

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned int his article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com

EXPLOITED: HMOs – when greed meets vulnerability, carving up communities for a profit

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local launches a series of articles investigating the devastation caused by the mushrooming number of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) in Erdington and Kingstanding.

Chief reporter Adam Smith spent the last year living in HMOs and has seen first-hand how housing associations and rogue landlords are ripping off taxpayers – whilst exploiting the most vulnerable people in society.

Do you pay tax?

If so, then your hard-earned money is lining the pockets of ruthless housing associations and rogue landlords – whose greed is wrecking the lives of Erdington residents, tenants, and the most vulnerable people in society.

Nationally the taxpayer shells out billions of pounds for eye-wateringly inflated rents for benefits claimants’ rooms in HMOs – which get planning permission, despite Erdington residents and politicians bitterly complaining they are destroying the very fabric of the local community.

Hundreds of Erdington houses, including historic and beautiful Victorian properties, have been turned into HMOs – creating a living hell for both tenants and local residents who watch helplessly as the area they love becomes blighted.

Stockland Green is one of the worst examples in the country for the negative effect of HMOs and supported accommodation.

Those classed as ‘vulnerable’ and living in HMOs and/or supported accommodation are locked in a vicious circle; landlords charge the taxpayer £900 a month for a single room, leaving the tenant no motivation to get a job as the rent will be too high on a low wage. This investigation will explore examples of housing association staff actively discouraging tenants to work.

Tenants in ‘supported accommodation’ should get an hour of professional support a week, which qualifies their extortionate rent from benefits – but instead of proper psychiatric help, staff often only see tenants to demand a weekly ‘maintenance charge’, usually between £12 and £20, out of their benefits.

Instead of tenancy agreements which offer some protection to renters, those living in HMOs are forced to sign ‘licenses’ containing pages of draconian rules and potential infringements – which if broken can see the tenants made homeless with just a week’s notice.

Staff can enter rooms when they like and there have even been examples of male staff bursting unannounced into women’s rooms after 11pm.

HMOs radically changed the rental market in Erdington, with landlords now preferring benefits claimants and even advertising rooms for the price of the maintenance charge. Meanwhile, working people are trying to find somewhere to live from a dwindling amount of properties – which are increasing in price due to their scarcity.

This scandal crosses political lines too.

Legislation from the Conservative government has allowed ruthless companies, landlords, and housing associations to exploit the benefit system – whilst Birmingham’s Labour administration has allowed thousands of HMOs to be created in the city, without the ability to scrutinise the conduct of those organisations running them.

This investigation will unveil the close links between Birmingham City Council  and to the companies profiting from the system.

During the Government’s ban on evictions during the coronavirus crisis, housing associations in Birmingham have been quietly evicting people during the deadly pandemic.

Recently, Edgbaston MP Preet Gill called on the Government to extend the evictions ban. However, Gill is on the board of Spring Housing Association, which works extremely closely with Birmingham City Council – but which also evicted vulnerable tenants during COVID-19 lockdown.

One evicted Spring Housing tenant, Shamir Hussain, told Erdington Local: “I was evicted during lockdown by Spring Housing, just when I thought I was as low as I could they made it worse. They made me homeless during a pandemic where people were dying all around us, I will never forget that.

They (Spring Housing) were getting £900 a month for me to live in a room; I could have paid a mortgage on a nice house for that obscene amount of money for one room. And when I did put a claim in for a much cheaper rent amount, for a whole flat, I was refused. It seemed like they were happy to pay £900 to Spring Housing but not a fraction of that to sort my life out.”

The area’s two most powerful politicians, Labour’s Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Erdington Councillor and leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives Robert Alden, both recognise the damage being done to the area by the scourge of bad landlords.

Dromey said: “I know how angry residents are about this issue, I went to a meeting on Frances Road two years ago expecting six people to be there and 70 residents turned up. And the problem has worsened in that time not got better.

Stockland Green is where the problem is at its most acute, where the most prosecutions of landlords in Birmingham have been due to work with the police, and with the disproportionate dumping of vulnerable tenants into the area by landlords who do not give a damn about them and not give them any help.

Some of these landlords let their tenants live in squalor in Erdington whilst they live in the lap of luxury in Sutton Coldfield. However, there are some very good landlords out there, which is all the more the shame when the bad ones undercut them to cram an extra person in.”

In the 1980’s Dromey helped residents in London fight a bitter dispute with slum landlords and even created a ‘Hit Parade of Bad Landlords’ with help from Radio 1 DJ Alan Freeman – who would regularly do a run down on television of the worst offenders.

The MP said: “We have use imaginative ways to fight these type of people but in Erdington we also need proper joined up action with the police, council, probation and mental health services working together to solve the problems created in the last five years in the housing sector which coincides with the Tories being in power.”

Councillor Robert Alden laments the changing face of the area’s housing stock, which used to be the envy of the rest of the city in years gone by.

He said: “Erdington has been blighted by HMO’s run by bad landlords.

Erdington’s large stock of larger Victorian family homes have sadly often been taken over and turned into swathes of HMO’s – in many places seeing whole rows of housing turned from the purpose they were built for, to provide housing for families, into a collection of substandard and often below even minimum standard room size bedsits.”

He added: “Often quiet residential streets have suddenly found themselves besieged by bedsits acting under exempt housing placing drug addicts, alcoholics, and ex-offenders into our local community.

Sadly, those rogue landlords have used loopholes in the system to convert houses far and beyond the scope they were designed for, often seeing three bedroom homes turned into six or seven room bedsits.

Sometimes they also claim for alleged support provided to people while failing to provide anything like that – in the process taking huge amounts of tax payers money for services barely provided, failing their tenants, while also leaving communities like Erdington to suffer from the fallout.”

As well as the co-operation of all relevant agencies in Erdington, there also needs to be strong political leadership to stop the situation getting worse – but to also undo the systemic problems caused by five years of loopholes being exploited by those who had the most money to gain from flooding Erdington with high profit dangerous housing.

Throughout this series of stories, a light will be shone on some very murky corners and shocking practices – and this investigation will follow the money.

This investigation will explore how neighbouring HMOs crammed full of men have created ‘no-go roads’ for women and teenagers fed up of cat calling, sexual harassment, and threatening acts of misogyny.

There will also be stories from the female perspective, from suddenly having men moved into your safe space, as well as the unique HMO experiences of trans refugees.

This investigation will challenge those responsible on their behaviour – reporting them to the appropriate authorities if any laws were broken. Expect explosive revelations and, as readers, you have the right to demand resignations.

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com