Sanctuary Management Services Rip-Off 38


I had a tour round the three year old campus of Queen Margaret’s University yesterday. It was impressive, but extremely compact for a university of 5,500 students. When I first went to Dundee, it had only 3,500 students and the University was vastly more extensive.

The Students Union in particular was completely inadequate – one very small bar and cafe, three pool tables. Students Unions are a vital part of the university experience, but evidently not at QM.

But what especially shocked me was the accommodation. Divided into (mostly) six bedroom flats, they rent out on forty week lets for over £100 per bedroom. But the rooms are absolutely tiny (more expensive premium ones are available). They do have en suite facilities of an extremely clever very very compact modular design like a Japanese pod hotel (and costing in bulk around £1,500 per unit, I would judge). But they are small. There is a shared kitchen, which is pleasant enough.

I paced the total flat area at around 80 square metres. That is an income of £3,000 per month on 80 square metres – absolutely colossal! Our rented flat in West Kensington was about 100 square metres and cost me £1500 per month, and our little house in Ealing was about 150 square metres and cost me £2000 per month. This is £3,000 on 80 square metres? In a field outside Musselburgh?

(The £3,000 comes from six rooms at a little over £100 per week per room. There are of course more than four weeks in the average month. The rooms are not empty outside the 40 weeks, but available for holiday let – at a still higher rate).

I was greatly puzzled by this until I saw stickers for Sanctuary Management Services. Dundee University’s PFI contract with Sanctuary was in part responsible for the major financial crisis at the University when I took over as Rector, which led to the administration forcing through departmental closures. The West Park PFI development contract was so structured that cost overruns (which were legion) fell on the University and not on Sanctuary. Getting information inside the contract from the administration was like drawing teeth, and the cv enhancing businessmen who dominated University Court were much more interested in covering up a blot on their and the University’s reputation than on digging into it. One thing is for sure – Sanctuary Management Services came out of it very well indeed.

Queen Margarets University has PFI written all over it, and doubtless the students will be paying those very high accommodation fees forever. This will bring a great deal of profit to Sanctuary Management Services Ltd. That transfer of money comes of course from the students themselves racking up vast amounts of debt that will blight their young adulthood.

If Sanctuary at Dundee University is anything to go by, the student experience on maintenance and management heavy-handedness will be less than fun, not to mention the private “security” roaming the place.

Sanctuary Management Services always impose excessive security, and the impact of this on the student experience also worries me. Every student room is, 24 hours a day, behind three locked doors. The front door of the block, the corridor or “flat” door, and their own room. That means for example that a first year student cannot access the room of anyone even in their own hall of residence to knock at the door, see if they are in and chat and have a cup of coffee.

This seems to me a completely unnecessary reinforcement of desocialisation. I recall fondly in my student days wandering the halls and dropping in on coffee – often a snowballing group of us, wandering round collecting up friends until settling down somewhere. It was almost impossible to be sat alone and lonesome, and as a depressive myself that was very important. Now the shy and depressed can stew behind those multiple locks with little chance of being rescued. It is, as I said, a desocialisation of the student experience, further exemplified by the near non-existent students union social facilities.

There has not in fact been a vast crime wave of theft and assault from students that makes Musselburgh in 2011 and infinitely more dangerous place than Dundee was in 1982. Those locks are not to protect students – they are to protect the property of Sanctuary Managment Services.

But this is all OK! Sanctuary Management Services Ltd is, after all, a charity, a subsidiary of a Housing Association! It is interesting that being a highly exploitative landlord to students counts as a charitable pursuit. While being a charity presumably means it does not pay a dividend to shareholders, I would nonetheless be fascinated to know more about the salaries, expenses, housing, company cars and other perks of those at the top of Sanctuary Managment Services Ltd and its parent Housing Association.

Interestingly enough, while Sanctuary’s website says it is registered at Companies House, I drew a blank when trying to bring up its company accounts there.


38 thoughts on “Sanctuary Management Services Rip-Off

1 2
  • larry Levin

    Cannot this be bought before a jury under any pretext , will not 12 upstadnign citizens see this for the crap contract it is ?

  • brian armitage

    Good work, Craig! Keep on digging and I’m sure there will be a rotten core of some sort or other here.

  • larry Levin

    Anyone remember when northern rock were using a downs syndrome charity to move mortgages offshore?

  • johnm

    what about the sheffield airport scheme where some ingenious soul wrote in that should the scheme fail the operators could buy the whole site for a quid, no one would believe it in a work of fiction.

  • kathz

    You may also have noted that the rent here, as at many universities, is pretty close to the whole student maintenance loan of £4,950. It leaves students less than £1,000 a year on which to buy food, clothes, books, etc. – and it’s a fair bet that students will be required to have a computer and pay for printing. There are some universities in which rent takes up the whole of the student maintenance loan, thus pricing poorer students out of university accommodation unless they can be sure of finding work during their degree – and even then, some universities require payment up front. Students who are wholly dependent on the loan are sometimes priced out of university accommodation in their first year – not a good start to university life.

    I’ve also encountered private contracts which require students to pay the entire year’s rent, even if the student has to withdraw from or defer the course for good reason, such as serious illness (universities would remit the part of the rent in such circumstances).

    In the past few years student accommodation seems to have become a popular source of private profit, judging by the number of applications for planning permission that are still going before local councils.

    Do look into this – and please look into the wider picture as well. I know the situation is slightly different – and better – in Scotland but you might like to consider the question more widely.

  • Ruth

    Imagine if a government had access to a huge amount of illegal funds i.e. through excise or VAT fraud, where would the safest place be to recycle the money?

  • Nextus

    As it happens, I attended the accommodation subcommittee at Dundee Uni that rubberstamped the first PFI venture. It is also managed by Sanctuary. I was the only member to vote against the proposal. (I remember being disturbed at the glee with which the others seemed to embrace the project.)

    The new halls were built upon contaminated waste ground that had been condemned for human habitation (but not for temporary residents, apparently), with similar specifications as the QM halls. There were 7 people to a flat, and the rooms were tiny, with little natural light. The walls were unplastered; the rough concrete blocks had simply been painted over, so there was a risk of scraping your knee if you turned over in the little bed. (The rumour was that plastering the walls would have taken half-an-inch each side off the room dimensions, reducing the living space below minimum European regulations – an urban myth, I believe.) There was one combined fridge-freezer and one cooker for each flat. The 3-lock system made other students virtually inaccessible in the days before mobile phones. The “social” space – just a conference room with a TV and a pool table – was usually vacant. The rents, of course, were much higher than other university accommodation: about twice the average rate in the private sector.

    A couple of years later, I took up a position as a resident subwarden there. I loathed the place: it felt like an open prison. After a term, I wrote a long letter of complaint detailing the inherent problems, pointing out that student morale was low and some students were complaining of loneliness and suffering depression. Of course it was ignored. (Incidentally, weeks later I had to call emergency services to rescue a student who had overdosed.)

    The new halls were popular with students who preferred privacy over community; certainly, there was less overt bullying (although there were often problems within individual flats). In fact, demand for old-style communal halls has tailed off to the extent that most existing accommodation has also been converted to en-suite. This suits the university bureaucrats, who are able to tap into the lucrative conference hotel market more easily. But the figures haven’t stacked up as hoped, and there are continuing concerns over shortfalls. I wonder whether the proposal would have been approved if the subcommittee had an inkling of the outcome. An FOI request might shed some light on the situation.

  • nwd

    Whilst the effect of the environment described on student mental health is obviously the most worrying aspect, there is also a question as to its effect on their quality as academics.

    The sterile surroundings and barriers to interaction that are described, along with the infantilising effects of constantly being in a place where you have constant signs that you are not in control (the doors, the ‘security’, and so on), would seem to be the exact opposite of what would be required for the students to develop in a direction that is conducive to good research.

    Although most success in research is down to drudgery, making advances in any field requires that little spark of iconoclastic inspiration. I would argue that these sparks are less likely to occur in individuals who have never lived in a stimulating environment and who are not given the chance to mingle with people different (both in a personal and disciplinary sense) to themselves.

    The lack of good student social areas, and more importantly a lack of ones that do not feel institutionalised, would also play a role in this downgrading in the potential for originality. In my time as a researcher I can point to many occasions where the last bit of a problem has slotted into place over a pint, and I’m sure that many others would echo that statement. Here it is not the alcohol that I would point to as the main contributing factor though (although it perhaps helps…), but rather the experience of being in a stimulating place that one feels one belongs to, and with varied people who feel the same. The comparison to the coffee houses of 17th century London could perhaps be made.

    In support of my claim I could recount the experiences that I have had working at universities in Canada and Hong Kong. These universities have been extremely institutionalised, with highly officious atmospheres in both the accommodation areas and around the campus in general. (The sort of place one has to swipe through a series of doors to get to one’s bedroom… As an illustration, the one pub on campus in Canada was shut down last summer because there was a drunk person on the premises. Or the fact that the Hong Kong student halls have visiting hours outside of which receiving guests can result in eviction.)

    The lack of students with the kind of inspirational sparks that I have been talking about at these universities has been notable (at least out of the ones that I have had dealings with – maybe I just have that effect on people). They work hard, certainly, but one always gets something of a drone-like impression from the manner in which they do so.

    With the economic future of Britain dependent upon our ability to keep ahead in science, I really worry that we are setting up our institutions in such a way as to limit the number of people capable of the inspirational thought that will be required.

  • Tom Welsh

    At Cambridge, there was in my day (and I think still is) a very practical system where each room/flat has a double door. The outside one, like an old-fashioned front door, is stoutly constructed and can be locked. The inside one is just like any other interior door. So if you are away, our out for a while, or if you just want peace and quiet to study or sleep or whatever you happen to be getting up to, you just shut the outside door. Everyone understands that this means “Either I’m away or I want to be left alone”. When the outer door is open – as it usually is – you can just knock on the inside door, open it, and walk in.

    I suppose nowadays the security of the average Oxbridge college is relatively lax, depending as it does on the porters noticing strangers and challenging them. But maybe that is more appropriate to a university, as Craig points out.

  • Azra

    It is disgusting. The rent is higher than the one in many of the private universities in USA. With the fee, rent, living expenses, the kids are better off going abroad to study. I have a friend who is a retired university lecturer, she was telling me of the very high standard of education in some of the Malaysian universities (and no doubt some Indian one as well), with the fee and living expenses, a year is 12 to 15 thousand US dollars, that is living in a shared flat/house of 2 to 3 students, living on campus cost even less.

  • Ruth

    But who are the shareholders or the main shareholders if it’s a public listed company?

  • Yonatan

    I have had a brief look at the company structure, and it is an understatement to say it is complex. The group structure includes “companies [that] are wholly owned subsidiary companies of wholly owned subsidiaries of Sanctuary Housing Association”. (co website)

    The exempt charity bit means (or originally meant) that such charities were “treated as exempt from supervision because they were considered to be adequately supervised by, or accountable to, some other body or authority, such as Parliament”. Things became much easier after 2006. “The Charities Act 2006 substantially changed the law on exempt charities, introducing the requirement of a “principal regulator” to oversee the compliance of the charity with charity law” (wiki for both quotes)

    I wonder who the ‘principal regulator’ is in this case.

  • mary

    Bennett the Group CEO received £286,000 year ended March 2010 and Moule Group Director £218,000. Parts of these emoluments were recharged to two subsidiaries.

  • James Chater

    “Sanctuary Management Services Ltd is, after all, a charity…”

    It would be interesting to investigate other com,panies that call themselves charities: the Oxford University Press for one..

  • Parky

    I’m sure any enterprising student will soon have those corridor doors propped open by a handy fire extinguisher and with mobile phones in the texting generation no-one is more than a few clicks away. The private rented sector should be able to offer cheaper and hopefully many will look at Sanctuary’s offering only as a stop-gap.
    .
    I remember in my hall of residence days the front doors were only locked after 2am and a porter had to be summoned from his slumbers after that. Sometime it seemed all and sundry off the streets were roaming about the premisies. There were some issues with theft but a recent visit to the same site showed that the the security put in place since makes it look like Fort Knox. More innocent times were then.
    +
    As for the wider issue, this sending 50% of the school population to “uni” was always going to be a money making scam and now as the screws are tightened down to extract more from the kids many will get wise to what’s going on and shun HE in the UK and look abroad or gain self-employment as I doubt any course is worth £9,000 per year or £300 per week. Maybe this HOR will in time become a Travel-lodge then and the “uni” a business park?

  • Derek Condon

    Sanctuary, a word that used to mean a place of safety – I will never see this word as anything other than disgusting after my own dealings with this despicable organisation.
    What I find really disturbing is that none of our elected MP’s, MSP’s or local Councillors seem to either have the wit, integrity or gumption to challenge Sanctuary (in any and all of it’s assorted forms) about anything they do.
    Could it be that the Government are afraid of them?
    Could it be that some senior Governmental officials are either covering for them or “profiting” in some manner by supporting them?
    Could it be that this organisation really is above the law as very much evidenced by this site and blog or as seen on the Tim Burness blog at http://timburness.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/are-housing-associations-above-the-law/ ???

    I for one find the total lack of oversight or investigation by the Government of Scotland (where Sanctuary are affecting me) and the UK as a whole very disturbing. The MP’s etc are supposedly there to represent the people but seem to prefer deflecting criticism of Sanctuary rather than properly investigating it as has been requested many times by myself and others who are exposed to their very dubious practises.

    In conclusion; if there ever was a company or group of companies that deserved to be investigated by the most senior law lords in the UK, this is where they should start. This organisation deserves to be exposed publicly for the downright disgusting manner in which they operate. Tenants who are ignored when problems arise, students who are paying excessive rents for tiny jail like accommodation, factored owners who are being marginalised and ignored as Sanctuary are allowed to asset strip them. Yet the Government and its officials are happy to ignore the evidence and pay ever more for Sanctuary’s continuing expansion. No doubt, once they are large enough, they will float themselves on the Stock exchange and award themselves (senior levels only of course) ever larger wages and pensions. After all, they’re only copying the Parliamentary example of ripping off the voters, as evidenced by the expenses scandal, which is surely but the tip of a very sick iceberg indeed. Will the authorities investigate Sanctuary?

  • mary

    Derek The numerous old people’s homes locally were once all run by the local borough council but I noticed the name of Anchor Trust as the operators in this report of a fraud carried out against the residents by one of their workers.
    .
    I have no idea if they have taken control over all the homes. If so there has certainly been no publicity. Like Sanctuary, Anchor operate both as a limited company and as a registered charity. Why is this? Anyone know what is going on? Taxation benefits?
    .
    http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2098156_women_stole_from_care_home_to_fund_wedding

  • R Young

    The tenancy agreements of this “charity” are illegal. First of all, they charge a registration fee of £75 just for showing an interest in a tenancy. This is not only unenforceable but a crime. No landlord, whether offering student or any other accomodation, can legally charge a fee for “booking”, “registration” or simply enquiring about accomodation.

    The tenancy agreement as published on Sanctuary’s website is full of onerous conditions upon students but offers virtually no equivalent obligations on Sanctuary. Under EU, and now UK, consumer contract laws, which over-ride any previous landlord/tenant law, no tenancy agreement can be enforced where there is an imbalance in terms and obligations between landlord and tenant.

    The rental fees are staggeringly high, and considering the tiny dimensions of most of the rooms, the rents are the equivalent of between £2000 and £3000 per month when extrapolated to dimensions that would be considered the size of a modest flat. But ignoring the dimensions, the actual average monthly rent of between £800 and £1200 for these minute rooms represent a total rip off.

    There are prison cells which offer better accomodation than those illustrated on Sanctuary’s website.

1 2

Comments are closed.