Bovis Homes, one of the country’s biggest housebuilders, got a carpeting this week, courtesy of an exposé by Andrew Ellson, consumer correspondent at The Times. Ellson worked with a Bovis whistle-blower from the company’s customer service team, uncovering evidence the paper claims showed Bovis deliberately frustrating requests by customers to resolve a huge number of historical defects in homes sold by the company.
The debacle piles further misery on a sector which has been accused variously of profiteering from the government’s Help to Buy scheme; paying executives outrageous salaries; of hoarding land to drive up prices and of exploiting vulnerable customers through ground rents.
Impact? A group of some 3,000 customers have joined a Bovis Homes Victims group on Facebook in a campaign that has now dragged on for 12 months or more, contributing to a hit on profits last year as the company set aside money for remedial work.
Bovis, which successfully fended off two takeover attempts by rivals this time last year, talked of the ‘huge changes’ it has made to customer service, which lacked some credibility given the evidence presented, and its claims to have ‘transformed’ Bovis Homes risked appearing glib and out of touch given the human cost detailed of poor workmanship.
The company did confirm that it had bought up the rights to bovishomesvictims.com, in an apparent effort to frustrate efforts by customers to publicise their cause.
Customers took to Twitter to vent their frustration, egged on by TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp, whose encouragement and contribution merited an update to The Times’ story online.
The issue is now threatens to engulf the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, amid questions being raised about the state of building regulations post Grenfell and how it is that shoddy buildings are being routinely approved as safe. The sector as a whole must also be considering how best to insulate itself, given questions around build quality are being asked now of the industry as a whole.
What could have been done differently?
With the exception of its reaction to the original story, Bovis appears largely absent from the debate at the time of writing, prompting The Times to speculate about the apparent indifference of its senior leadership.
In commenting to the paper, the company responded through an unnamed ‘spokesman’, reinforcing a sense of unaccountability, and rather than address its customers directly and acknowledge their concerns with advice or firm commitments, it chose instead to talk about processes, percentages and management. There is no reaction to the story on the company’s website or on Twitter, despite there being a ‘lively’ thread of discussion, and its Facebook feed provocatively continues to promote houses for sale, seemingly indifferent to the storm raging around it.
The company’s decision to buy up rights to bovishomesvictimsgroup.com looks particularly cynical, and its justification that this is ‘standard practice’ for big business will rightly attract some ridicule in the corporate world.
In its leader The Times has already started to call for more regulation in the space. The sector and its trade associations who are also noticeably absent from the debate, might take note.
Hats off to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, who has taken the humble plastic straw and fashioned it into a powerful political movement. The Tory politician’s campaign to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products is drawing admiration from all sides of the political spectrum, including the grudging respect of environmental campaigners. It is also evidence that Gove himself is fully recyclable, with his track record for innovation and reform now spanning the education, justice and environment departments.
One would have no reason to doubt the sincerity of his awakening as an eco-warrior, were it not for his continual reference in all published remarks to turtle’s noses as unfortunate destinations for plastic straws. Could it be that Gove is gently mocking the very cause which is rehabilitating his political career?