Landlord Christopher Fitt paid £6m by his own homeless charity AMAT
The chief executive of Medway’s biggest homeless housing
provider has received more than £6 million in rent.
Christopher Fitt runs the charitable Ashdown Medway
Accommodation Trust (AMAT), which supports more than 300 people
with “chaotic lifestyles”.
Homeless people can turn up on AMAT’s doorstep in Chelmar Road,
Chatham (pictured), and be re-housed the same day.
Accounts seen by the Messenger confirm AMAT paid Mr Fitt, who is
also a trustee, £1.2 million last year.
This was almost a third of the charity’s total income - most of
which comes from Medway Council.
Mr Fitt earned the money by personally owning much of AMAT’s
housing stock and letting it back to the provider.
The revelation comes after a Medway Council report said hundreds
of homeless people were coming into Medway from outside the area,
putting pressure on council finances, as reported in Monday’s
In addition to ex-convicts and addicts, tenants also include
victims of domestic abuse. Many are housed in the poorer parts of
Chatham and Luton arches area.
The AMAT rent deal is legal and the firm’s accounts say the
rents are “considered to be on an open market value basis at arm’s
But councillors and an MP questioned the arrangement.
Conservative councillor Craig Mackinlay represents the River ward,
where many of AMAT’s clients live.
“I’ve been concerned about the whole set-up of AMAT for many
years,” he said. “It’s unusual, I’ve never seen it in any charity
I’ve dealt with as an accountant.
“There’s nothing wrong with it as such but for the tax payer of
Medway who’s actually financing this it leaves a bit of a bad taste
in the mouth.”
Fellow ward councillor Andrew Mackness (Con) said: “It’s clearly
a very clever business model. It may well fit within the law but is
it right? I certainly don’t think morally and ethically it’s good
for the community.”
Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless added: “If it’s considered
legal but in some way wrong, I would like to get that changed.”
He is considering whether to take the matter up with ministers
and in Parliament.
"AMAT saved my life"
Gary Gibbons had a comfortable life until the stress of his job took its toll and he turned to drink. He leapt to the defence of the organisation, saying it saved his life.
“I had a lovely house in Wigmore, a wife, two children and two Mercedes on the drive," he said. “If you told me 10 years ago I’d be in a homeless hostel, I would have bet my Rolex against it.”
With the charity’s help, he gave up alcohol on his 43rd birthday in October, he said, and hasn’t had a drop in the three months since.
Mr Gibbons lives in an AMAT house in Meadowbank Road, Chatham, one of four roads nicknamed “the square” which have several clients.
“When I heard ‘homeless hostel’ I imagined sleeping in a room with 20 drug dealers and addicts,” he said. “They put me in a clean house and gave me new bedding, toiletries and cooking utensils.
“They assigned me a support worker who visited twice a day to check on me.
“They’ve done me proud, they’ve turned my life around. Without them I’d be dead.”
Mr Gibbons agreed it was wrong to put so many people with problems in one place, but added: “If someone told me I can live on the streets or move to Medway, I would go. Can you blame them?”
Medway Council pays
the firm a maximum of £172 per client, per week, according to a
council report, meaning a four-bedroom house can cost tax payers
about £3,000 a month.
Mr Reckless said the high fees were designed to give vulnerable
people extra support but he was worried at the council’s lack of
power to ensure that support is up to scratch.
AMAT’s 2011/12 accounts show it employed 64 staff to manage an
average of 318 residents in 107 properties.
Its income increased by 10% year-on-year to £3.8 million,
meaning Mr Fitt, 50, from Crowborough, East Sussex, received almost
By comparison, the firm spent an average of £1,700 per home on
repairs and maintenance and £14,000 in total on staff training
across the year, the accounts state.
Mr Fitt said in a statement: “The cost/price of a unit is based
upon the Local Housing Allowance. The ‘going rate’ as determined by
the Rent Officer Service at the government’s instruction is applied
to housing benefit claims by the local authority. This is the
amount of core rent paid to EVERY landlord accommodating an
occupant who claims housing benefit.
“Last year Medway Council undertook a comprehensive review of
the AMAT rents and charges (completed in September 2012) - the
local authority were satisfied with the rents as charged to the
occupants and the rents paid to the landlords.
“The quality of the service delivered has passed scrutiny and
been met with positive approval by many local authority departments
and officers. The service was recommended as a bench mark for other
“Messrs Mackinlay, Mackness and Reckless state themselves that
there is no impropriety. Their concerns seem to be about the scale
of operations. I have never met Mr Mackness, however I have met Mr
Mackinlay on a few occasions and it would appear that size is an
issue for him!
Former alcoholic Gary
Gibbons says AMAT saved his life
“I’m sure that AMAT would welcome the opportunity to explain in
great detail and to show to Mr Reckless and his colleagues exactly
how the organisation is constructed and how it runs. It is obvious
they would benefit from greater insight.
“Before calling for a change of law it would seem prudent for
them to come across as better informed; it doesn’t seem at all
clear just which law(s) they would like to have changed.”
A Charity Commission spokesman said: “If there’s a potential
conflict of interest it must be managed.
“For instance, if a trustee stands to gain from an agreement,
the normal way of doing that is that trustee would not be involved
in any decision-making around the issue.”
Full report in today's Medway Messenger.
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