Almshouse charity protests over TV company contracts

United St Saviour's Charity Almshouse claims Studio Lambert imposed "Dickensian" contracts on its elderly residents when they took part in an interior design programme

Residents of United St Saviour's Charity almshouses
Residents of United St Saviour's Charity almshouses

An almshouse has accused a television production company of being old-fashioned, claiming it imposed "Dickensian" contracts on its elderly residents.

Studio Lambert contacted the United St Saviour’s Charity, which provides almshouses for pensioners at two locations in south London, in June. The company asked to film a makeover of its almshouse in Southwark for broadcast on BBC2, with the working title ‘Britain’s Best Interior Designer’.

Studio Lambert brought in a team of interior decorators to make improvements to the almshouse. It says the contract was an industry-wide standard and almshouse residents were always treated with care and respect.

But the charity claims the production company, once residents had agreed to take part in the programme,  issued an eight-page contract to almshouse residents, which it asked them to sign the same day.

Among the clauses in the contract, residents were told: "You agree to comply with our reasonable requests" and "you understand that you shall only be allowed to withdraw from participation in the programme in exceptional circumstances… your failure to complete your participation would cause us irreparable injury and damage."  

The charity claimed the contract, in addition to being authoritarian, contravened the BBC’s own safeguarding policy, which provides that vulnerable adults be treated with "care, respect and dignity".

The United St Saviour’s Charity, founded in 1541, said elderly residents were even subjected to criminal records checks but that the professionals called in to work on their houses were not.

Jim Wintour, director of St Saviour’s, said: "They defended these Dickensian clauses on the grounds that they were required by the BBC, yet they fly in the face of the BBC’s safeguarding policy, so I think Studio Lambert needs to catch up. Then they defended their failure to obtain criminal records checks on staff working in the homes of older, vulnerable adults on the grounds that there was not time to do so."

The charity emphasised that the interior decorating team behaved faultlessly while on site but said it had complained to the BBC about Studio Lambert on 31 July.

Studio Lambert said it behaved in a professional and respectful manner throughout the filming process and that residents were asked to "self-disclose" any criminal convictions, while its own workers were never left alone with the residents.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "The contract was heavily negotiated to the satisfaction and requirements of the charity and we are saddened that is has been described as Dickensian and authoritarian as it was approved by all parties prior to signing. The contract was by no means exploitative and that was borne out by the fact that contributors were always treated with care, respect and dignity during the filming process."

Referring to the specific clauses, the spokeswoman said the first was an industry-wide provision and the second was to protect the company if contributors changed their minds about taking part.

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