Neglected Communities: The Ongoing Struggle of Social Housing Disrepair UK

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Social housing disrepair uk
 Allaya Hussain
Legally reviewed by: Allaya Hussain In: Housing Disrepair

This month marks the anniversary of the tragic events of Grenfell Tower, resulting in the death of 72 people on the 14th of June 2017. Six years on we reflect on the communities most affected by social housing disrepair. This article takes a closer look at why social housing disrepair is a rapidly growing UK-wide issue and the impact it is having on these communities.

Social Housing Disrepair Not Just a Winter Issue

Although the wet and colder winter and spring months result in a spike in housing disrepair claims, housing disrepair is an issue that persists all year round. Last year, Inside Housing collected data from councils across the country. The data revealed 70 English councils received around 17,000 disrepair claims in just five years. This has resulted in over £55.1 million paid out in compensation for negligence. The real figures will be significantly higher as around 100 councils refused to release data to Inside Housing.

Large urban areas remain the most affected locations of social housing disrepair, with London remaining at the top for claims. Inside Housing’s report revealed that the 12 London Boroughs that provided details to Inside Housing, plus Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham make up 89% of the total cost payouts for social housing disrepair. The sum comes to £48 million.

Neglected Communities Trapped in Dangerous Social Housing

In December 2020, Awaab Ishak died at just two years old. His death came as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused by a prolonged exposure to mould in his family’s social housing. Reports of Awaab’s death became a catalyst for other social housing tenants to come forward with their stories and news.

News of housing disrepair is more commonly gracing the headlines of newspapers and gaining increased awareness across social media, covering topics such as sewage leaks, fatal mould spores and giant rats rotting in walls.

Each of these stories echoes the same issues that when the tenants reported their housing issues, they were met with delays and poor communication. Unfortunately, figures signify that these delays are only getting worse. Sheffield City Council recently released figures that show from last October to December the number of claims resolved on time dropped from 17% to just 8%.

The topic has recently been covered by BBC’s Panorama in an episode called ‘What’s gone wrong with our housing?’ The programme focused on South London’s Bampton Housing Estate, run by housing operator L&Q. L&Q informed the programme that it had completed almost 2,000 jobs across the housing estate, of which only two properties met the decent homes criteria.

For a property to meet the decent homes criteria it must meet the current statutory minimum standard for housing. The property must be in a reasonable state of repair. Additionally, it must have reasonably modern facilities and services and must provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

Why Social Housing Disrepair is a UK-Wide Issue

Insufficient Supply of Affordable Housing

An insufficient supply of affordable housing is one of the main causes of housing disrepair. The shortage of affordable housing is forcing individuals into substandard living conditions and discouraging property owners from investing in maintenance. Additionally, the shortage in housing is promoting overcrowding, illegal conversions, and limiting residents’ resources to address repair needs.

Mike Amebury, Labour MP states “We have 1.2 million people in housing need, and the number is growing. There are 100,000 families living in temporary accommodation.” He continues, “There are 300,000 children sharing bedrooms with their siblings in very cramped conditions.”

These factors contribute to a cycle of deteriorating housing conditions that are directly impacting social housing communities.

Ageing Housing Stock

Between 1946 and 1979, the UK built 5,804,150 council houses, many of which are still occupied today. A lack of funding has led to the neglect of the ageing housing stock. As a result,this contributes to housing disrepairs due to:

  • deterioration of building materials
  • outdated infrastructure and insulation
  • non-compliance with modern building codes
  • a lack of maintenance
  • the financial challenges associated with costly renovations.

Addressing the issues related to ageing housing stock requires large investments and efforts to ensure the safety of older housing stock.

Economic Inequality and Poverty

Economic inequality and poverty have left many families with restricted access to quality housing. In an effort to save money and due to insufficient housing stock, many families are moving all under one roof leading to overcrowding. Additionally, a lack of investment in low-income communities has resulted in a lot of social housing being unsafe to live in.

Addressing housing disrepairs in social housing communities requires comprehensive solutions. To deflate the rise in housing disrepair claims, the government will need to focus on improving housing affordability, providing financial assistance, enhancing legal protections, and promoting fair investment in disadvantaged areas.

Negligent Landlords and Housing Providers

Landlords have an obligation to ensure their accommodation is fit for a good standard of living. However, negligent housing providers and landlords are continuously failing to maintain properties in a reasonable time. Our housing disrepair solicitors are seeing a rise in landlords failing to regard health and safety hazards, address structural defects, resolve pest infestations, and provide a quick and direct line of communication.

These negligent actions or omissions can lead to substandard living conditions, harm to tenants’ health and well-being, and contribute to the rise in legal claims.

The Impact of Housing Disrepair on the Social Housing Community

While it’s easy to concentrate solely on the physical issues resulting from poor standards of social housing, it’s crucial not to overlook the importance of addressing mental health issues.

The Marmot Review 10 Years On – Health Equity in England, records an increase in research on the relationship between poor housing and mental health:

“Poor-quality housing harms health and evidence shows that exposure to poor housing conditions (including damp, cold, mould, noise) is strongly associated with poor health, both physical and mental. The longer the exposure to poor conditions, including cold, the greater the impact on mental and physical health. Specific physical effects are morbidity including respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease and communicable disease transmission, and increased mortality. In terms of mental health impacts, living in non-decent, cold, or overcrowded housing and in unaffordable housing has been associated with increased stress and a reduction in a sense of empowerment and control over one’s life and with depression and anxiety. Children living in overcrowded homes are more likely to be stressed, anxious and depressed, have poorer physical health, attain less well at school, and have a greater risk of behavioural problems than those in uncrowded homes.”

Around 14 million individuals reside in subpar housing, with 5% of adults say that housing concerns have negatively impacted their physical or mental health, according to reports from the National Institute of Health, NHS.

Tenants living in neglected housing can often feel powerless and unsure of their legal rights.

However, you can file a housing disrepair case against a negligent landlord, adding a claim for emotional distress as compensation. The compensation claim will consider any mental health issues caused as a result of your home’s condition.

The Government’s Makes Things Right Advertising Campaign

On the 6th of March 2023, the government launched their ‘Make Things Right’ campaign. The campaign encourages residents to make a complaint to their landlord in the first instance. If tenants are unhappy with their landlord’s response, or lack thereof, we encourage them to escalate the issue to the Housing Ombudsman.

Since October, residents no longer need to contact their local MP or councillor first and wait 8 weeks before being able to contact the Housing Ombudsman.

These changes follow decisive action to protect tenants in social housing, including time limits for landlords to investigate and fix damp and mould under Awaab’s Law and mandatory qualifications for social housing managers to make sure residents receive a quality service.

Additionally, the campaign will also fund training in 2 pilot areas (London and the North West) so that they can support more residents who have problems in their homes.

The Housing Secretary has also demanded answers from Lambeth Council. This comes after the council received five severe maladministration findings including a case where a household with a vulnerable child was left without a vital repair and a resident was without heating and hot water during winter months. This comes a year after the publication of a special report into Lambeth following numerous complaint handling failure orders.

Social housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa said:

“It’s clear things must change, this campaign is the start of that. The campaign makes clear that disrepair issues from damp and mould to collapsed ceilings must be fixed. Tenants have a right to complain and be listened to, treated with dignity, fairness, and respect but most of all live in a house they can call a home.”

Making a Social Housing Disrepair Claim

Findings from the government’s social housing resident panel, looking at over 200 residents across the country, found 65% of members said their experiences of raising complaints with their landlord had been unsatisfactory.

If you reside in social housing and are experiencing disrepair issues, our team of housing disrepair solicitors are here to assist you in claiming the necessary repairs for your home. We can also help you seek compensation for any physical, mental or financial hardships you have endured due to the disrepair.

Your local authority council or housing association has the responsibility to ensure that the property you reside in meets specific standards and receives proper maintenance. Therefore, if your local authority council or housing association has neglected these obligations, our housing disrepair claims solicitors can assist you in pursuing claims to enforce the necessary repairs. In addition to facilitating the required repairs, we can also assist you in claiming compensation for damage to your belongings, illness, or injuries resulting from the disrepair.

To start the process, our housing disrepair solicitors will provide you with a free assessment of your case. If we choose to handle your claim, we will work on a no-win, no-fee basis, ensuring that we relieve you of any financial burden throughout the legal proceedings.

Find out how our housing disrepair team can help you here.

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