“Persimmon defends shutting Facebook group to ‘gag critics’ “”

“The chief executive of Persimmon has refused to deny that the housebuilder paid to take control of a Facebook group dedicated to complaints about the company before shutting it down,

The Times revealed last week that Persimmon had acquired the administration rights to the “Persimmon Homes Unhappy Customers” group, which had almost 14,000 members. It subsequently shut down the group, deleting years’ of customer posts sharing problems with their homes.

Outraged group members have speculated on other Facebook groups dedicated to complaints that the housebuilder “paid off” the administrator of the group, whose identity is not public.

Facebook does not allow the sale of administrative rights to groups created by users so a payment would have been a breach of the website’s rules.

Dave Jenkinson, chief executive of Persimmon, confirmed yesterday that it had acquired the administration rights to the group but would not say whether it had paid for them. “That’s a private agreement between us and the administrator and that’s not something I am prepared to discuss,” he said.

The FTSE 100-listed builder, which is based in York, has a market capitalisation of more than £6 billion. In February it became the first British housebuilder to report an annual profit of more than £1 billion. It sold 16,449 homes last year, about half of which went to first-time buyers using the Help to Buy scheme, which is designed to boost home ownership. Since Help to Buy was introduced Persimmon’s profit per house has almost tripled, from £22,114 in 2012 to £60,219 in 2018.

The move to shut down the Facebook group has produced claims from customers that it is trying to censor criticism of the company, which is working to improve its build quality and customer service after criticism by ministers.

James Allan, 23, a planning officer at East Lothian council who has complained about problems at his one-bedroom Persimmon flat in Edinburgh, said: “They are taking away the voices of people who have had issues. It’s good to see the experiences of others so you know that you are not alone.”

Mr Jenkinson, 51, said Persimmon had been monitoring the group for several months to address customer issues as they arose in posts. However, he said that in the past few weeks activity on the page had become “much more aggressive” and there were “signs of bullying behaviour” towards staff. He also said the company had found, when checking users against its customer database, that most complainants were not Persimmon customers; some were friends of customers, tradesmen or from other organisations. “We’ve done this for our customers, we’ve done this for the right reasons,” he said.

In a trading update, the builder said that revenue in the first half of the year had fallen as a result of selling fewer homes because it was focusing more on customer satisfaction. It sold 7,584 homes in the six months to the end of June, down from 8,072 in the same period last year. Revenue fell by 4.4 per cent to £1.75 billion. The average selling price rose to £216,950 from £215,813. The housebuilder said that it expected its operating margin for the full year to remain stable at a hefty 30.8 per cent.

Persimmon has announced measures to improve its customer satisfaction levels and build quality since The Times revealed in February that the government was reviewing its access to the Help to Buy scheme from 2021 as a result of allegations of poor standards. It is to allow buyers to retain 1.5 per cent of the value of their purchase until faults are fixed. Buyers of new-build homes who report snags within a week of receiving the keys to their property will be able to withhold a portion of the purchase price until any faults are resolved.

Its customer satisfaction rating has improved in recent months, it said. Mr Jenkinson said: “Persimmon is listening carefully to all stakeholders and making the changes needed to position the business for the future, while maintaining a robust trading performance.”

Last night the shares closed down 23½p, or 1.2 per cent, at £19.64.”

Source Te Times, pay wall

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