The managing director of a Winkworth branch is threatening to report a senior member of a nearby Countrywide office to the police and HM Revenue & Customs for allegedly working while furloughed.
The Winkworth representative is also claiming that the Countrywide manager undertook viewings in person over recent weeks without observing appropriate social distancing and without using appropriate PPE in the form of gloves or masks.
The two managers in question are also believed to have had face to face confrontations at least once in the recent past, and have had disputes over viewings.
Estate Agent Today has been shown extensive documentation sent by the Winkworth manager to Countrywide complaining about the issue, and it has seen some responses from Countrywide.
Countrywide has told EAT that it has undertaken “a full investigation” into the allegations and that it will take “whatever action is necessary.” It has not denied the allegations.
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, those staff members who have been told they have been furloughed should not undertake any work for their employer during this period; they receive 80 per cent of their regular salary up to £2,500 a month with the employer having the discretion to top this up to the regular 100 per cent.
Under government guidance during the lockdown, physical viewings were not allowed at all; since the lockdown eased and the housing market was re-opened, physical viewings have been allowed but only with stringent regulations regarding the processes to be undertaken including observing two metre social distancing and wearing appropriate equipment such as gloves.
Over two months ago, Countrywide insiders approached EAT claiming that some employees at the company’s admin centre in Nottinghamshire felt obliged to report to work against their wishes, with inadequate social distancing and other safety measures. EAT could not independently verify the claims and Countrywide vehemently denied them.
In relation to the dispute between the two neighbouring managers, a Countrywide statement quoting the company’s chief executive has been given to EAT this week. It says:
“Countrywide employs in excess of 9,000 colleagues serving hundreds of communities on High Streets across the UK. Since the Covid-19 pandemic we, along with our entire industry, have worked tirelessly to keep our people safe and support and protect our clients through this profound period of change.
“During this time we received an allegation from a fellow estate agent operating on the same High Street as one of our branches. We have robust policies and procedures in place, and immediately undertook a full investigation into the claim. The investigation has now concluded and we will take whatever action is necessary, in line with our HR procedures.
“Paul Creffield commented: ‘While it is disheartening to hear these allegations and criticisms of the Group, I could not be prouder of the way in which our colleagues have come together to help and support each over the last twelve weeks.’ “
A statement this morning from Dominic Agace, Winkworth's chief executive, says: "We were unaware of this franchisee’s actions and we would like to make it clear that this represents his personal view, not Winkworth's."