Recent coverage of shocking disrepair in the social housing sector by ITV News has done the sector a great service and given a voice to people who felt powerless. Housing organisations should sit up, take notice and act on the root causes of these problems.
Seeing and hearing residents talk about the devastating harm caused by damp, condensation and infestations in their council and housing association homes makes uncomfortable viewing. The reaction of every reasonable person watching the footage is the same: no-one should have to live this way. Least of all now, when many of the country’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people have already suffered most from the coronavirus pandemic.
More than a decade on from the original deadline by when all social sector homes should have met the Decent Homes Standard, there’s still a big (and it seems still growing) problem with disrepair. The 2019-20 English Housing Survey recorded almost half a million (492,000 or 12 per cent) non-decent social rented homes. Local authority statistics suggest the number of unfit council homes rose by 16,000 between 2019 and 2020.
It’s important to note that the rate of disrepair in the council and housing association sector is much lower than unfitness in both private rented (23 per cent) and owner-occupied (16 per cent) dwellings. Many registered providers have also set and achieved standards significantly beyond Decent Homes, including measures to tackle damp, condensation and mould. But the unsafe and unhealthy homes featured in ITV bulletins are the tip of an ugly, unwelcome iceberg.
These media stories haven’t come out of nowhere. ITV has led the way with a broadly helpful focus on the UK’s wider housing crisis for several years. And its recent reporting of extreme cases has been mostly balanced and well informed. The features just let the conditions and residents speak for themselves. In the circumstances, the presenter’s follow-up questions to landlords about ‘Why has it taken us to get involved for you to take action?’ and ‘Don’t you care about your residents?’ seem perfectly reasonable.
What’s really striking about the reported cases is not the disrepair itself (collapsed ceilings, sodden floors, non-functioning electrics and spore-covered walls) but the apparent inability of providers to respond properly. In some cases, it seems that the worse things get, the less organisations have been willing or able to act appropriately.
In a few instances, there might be genuine and partly mitigating design, construction or dilapidation issues to explain this. But there can be no excuse, and it appears that the reasons people are left to live in such atrocious conditions have more to do with culture and communication. It’s hard to believe that in 2021 there still might be organisations and individuals that fail to treat customers with respect and as individuals. But if so, their time is up.
For all its shortcomings, the government’s Charter for Social Housing Residents White Paper published in November 2020 sounded a clear warning that situations like those covered by ITV just can’t go on.
ARK has produced a free action plan to help housing providers prepare for this long-overdue return to a stronger focus on customers and the tougher regulation that will surely accompany it. Across the seven chapters of the White Paper, our plan lists 66 points on which organisations need to be checking their strategy, policy, compliance and readiness. Meanwhile the Housing Ombudsman Service has launched its Systemic Framework to look beyond individual disputes and issued a sector-wide call for evidence on damp and mould.
This is all good stuff, but it risks missing the point highlighted so effectively by the television news. In the social media age, it’s not enough to have strategies, policies and standards: customers, public opinion and politicians rightly expect and demand action.
Social housing professionals have often complained about how the mainstream media takes such little notice of their work. Now they find themselves hitting the national headlines, but for the wrong reasons. Part two of this blog looks at how organisations need to respond to this unfamiliar attention.
Chris Seeley, Director
Chris has a strong track record in sourcing, delivering and selling homes; strategic asset management; project and programme management; and in mentoring individuals and supporting teams to maximise their success. He is passionate about working with people and about the importance of building strong relationships with delivery teams, residents and stakeholders.
Chris has undertaken a wide variety of interim and project management roles across development-site sourcing, business development and project management as well as procurement and research projects.