A HOUSING association that was heavily criticised after getting into financial difficulties has blamed the problems on “a mistake”.

Cottsway, based in Witney, had its governance and viability ratings downgraded by its regulator, the Homes and Communities Agency, last month.

It had to hand over £6.3m of grants for 289 West Oxfordshire homes to housing association GreenSquare – which it is now in merger discussions with.

The problems occurred after Cottsway failed to secure its debts against the buildings, meaning it was unable to get loans for additional houses.

West Oxfordshire District Council, which handed over 3,600 houses to Cottsway when it formed in 2001, called in the association for questioning last Tuesday.

Councillor Liz Leffman asked: “How on earth did this happen? It seems to be quite fundamental to how the organisation works that the loans were charged.”

Cottsway chief executive Owen Ingram said: “We know how it occurred but I am not sure in the present time it would be sensible for that to be shared in the open arena. Simply, it was a mistake.”

He added: “Cottsway is financially sound, the tenants are safe and new homes will be delivered.”

Councillor Louise Chapman said after the meeting: “I am reassured by what we have heard.”

Cottsway will make a decision on whether to merge with GreenSquare next month.