Published: 09:33, 27 April 2022
| Updated: 14:15, 27 April 2022
The head of a property company providing homeless accommodation to district and borough councils across Kent has denied any personal links with a disgraced pension advisory firm.
Press reports suggested connections between London-based Portal Financial Services LLP and Paramount Independent Property Services, based on Medway City Estate at Strood.
There have been financial dealings between the two companies in the past and they share a common director.
But Grant De-Negri, the founder and managing director of Paramount, denied he had anything to do with Portal.
Portal Financial Services had been caught misselling pension schemes and had 27 complaints against it upheld by the Financial Ombudsman Service.
The firm had advised clients to transfer their occupational pension schemes to Self Invested Personal Pension plans with a company called Cherish Wealth Management, which then invested the money in high risk Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes.
Cherish has since gone bust and many clients have lost their pensions.
Paramount Independent Property Services was founded by Mr De-Negri in 2014.
Among the services it offers, it provides emergency accommodation for the homeless on behalf of local authorities.
It is used by 12 borough and district councils in Kent.
Mr De-Negri said: "I’ve never had a role at Portal, my background is in housing and not financial services."
The 38-year-old has previously worked in the housing departments of Medway Council, Swale Borough Council, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and Dartford Borough Council before founding Paramount.
A spokesman for Thanet District Council said: "Paramount Independent Property Services are a significant source of temporary accommodation for Thanet District Council."
“During the financial year 2021-22, we were charged £2,195m by Paramount for its services."
Dover District Council also uses Paramount, paying it around £153,000 in the last three months. Gravesham Borough Council spent £554,078 with Paramount in the last financial year. Swale spent £1,721,265.
The borough of Tunbridge Wells used Paramount both for the provision of ‘nightly paid’ accommodation for homeless households and to manage its own temporary accommodation block called Dowding House in Paddock Wood. It paid Paramount £426,897 in the last financial year.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council said: "Paramount Independent Property Services is one of a number of partners we work with to help meet the growing demand for temporary accommodation to house those facing homelessness. We are, however, reviewing our approach in this area, including options to own more of our own properties."
The authority paid the company £792,582 in the year to March 2022.
Folkestone and Hythe council spent £197,011 with the company.
Canterbury City Council confirmed it had spent £1.135m with Paramount last year. Ashford spent £382,427 and Sevenoaks spent £311,265. Medway and Maidstone councils also use Paramount to find emergency accommodation for the homeless.
Last month, Portal lost an appeal in the High Court to overturn the Ombudsman's ruling. The company had claimed it had carried out due diligence on Cherish, but the Ombudsman had rejected that and found Portal responsible for giving wrongful advice, opening the way to claims for compensation from those who lost money.
The company has not filed any accounts with Companies House for the past year, but the last accounts it did submit showed it had assets of only £855,000. It has since stopped taking on new clients.
Portal is run by a single "designated member", acting as a director, which is a company called Galahad Advisory Limited, which is also registered as "a person of significant control" with more than 75% of the voting rights.
Galahad Advisory Limited is also one of four "designated members" acting as directors for Paramount Independent Property Services. The other three are Agravin Advisory Limited, Gawaine Advisory Limited and South East Housing Group.
Galahad Advisory, Agravin Advisory and Gawaine Advisory share a correspondence address in Culpepper Close, Rochester.
South East Housing Group, which has only one director, Mr De-Negri, shares an address with Paramount.
In its last accounts, Paramount recorded total assets of £2.73m.
It also recorded that there had been various financial transactions between it and eight other companies "under common control" - one of those was listed as Portal Financial Services.
In a statement, Paramount Independent Property Services said: “Paramount Independent Property Services LLP (PIPS) is financially sound with a very robust present and ongoing financial position.
"PIPS is not linked to Portal Financial Services, which is evidentially based in London whilst we are based in Rochester.
"PIPS are very proud of the extensive accommodation and related specialist homelessness support services we provide to many local authorities across Kent. None of our services are impacted in any way (either presently or in the future) by the queries raised by Portal Financial Services."
The statement continued: "Historically as a smaller start-pp, PIPS were briefly linked to Portal Financial Services, but successfully repaid all low value and short-term costs back to that organisation prior to it's moving address and then later ceasing trading.
"This is transparently illustrated through our filed accounts for that period."
A spokesman for Portal Financial Services said this week: "Proceedings in respect of these matters are ongoing before the Court of Appeal and the subject matter in issue involves a third party financial services firm whom we maintain is liable to investors.
"So it would be improper to comment further at this stage, save to mention, that FCA-authorised firms pay for professional indemnity insurance to meet claims and ultimately are subject to other statutory provisions funded by the financial industry."
In fact, Mr Justice Sweeting has already ruled in the High Court that there are no grounds for Portal to appeal against the findings of the Finance Ombudsman Service and dismissed the case.