UK social housing review reveals ‘shockingly poor’ homes

Urgent action is needed to tackle problems with England’s social housing, according to a comprehensive review of the sector.

Housing associations should carry out a comprehensive review of all 2.5 million social homes in England and give tenants a greater role in the decision-making process, said the authors of the Better Social Housing Review’s final report, published on Tuesday.

Helen Baker, chairman of the charity Shelter and also leading the review, said the recent coroner’s report into the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died from prolonged exposure to mold in his home, had revealed the “shockingly poor quality of some social housing .”

“The power imbalance between tenants and housing providers remains one of the biggest issues facing the sector, perpetuating rather than eliminating the societal stigma and discrimination experienced by people living in social housing. This is particularly true for those from black and minority ethnic communities,” she added.

The review was commissioned by the National Housing Federation, which represents the country’s largest providers of social housing, and the Chartered Institute of Housing, a body for housing professionals.

The investigation into Ishak’s death in 2020 has directed an uncomfortable spotlight on housing associations in recent months.

Awaab Ishak, who died from prolonged exposure to mold in his home, has put an uncomfortable spotlight on housing associations © PA

A coroner found the toddler had developed a respiratory condition as a result of long-term exposure to mold in his home, owned by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has since cut £1m of funding to RBH and has told the sector they need to improve.

“Let this be a warning to other housing providers who ignore complaints and fail in their obligations to tenants. We will not hesitate to act, he said.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said the review was “certainly not easy reading. There are very serious problems with the quality of some social homes”.

She added: “The report reveals some major challenges for the sector: it is never OK for someone to live in a home with severe mould, damp or other problems that need to be repaired.”

She promised to draw up a plan to respond to all of the report’s recommendations, starting with “checking every single housing association to make sure we know where the problems are, like damp and mold, and fix them.”

Social housing providers are an important lifeline for tenants who struggle to afford open market rent, which has risen sharply in the past year.

But housing associations and others in the sector complain that they are trying to do more with less, after funding for the sector was cut by 60 per cent by the coalition government in 2010.

The majority of social housing in England is now managed by housing associations, which are private, not-for-profit enterprises.

They have replaced local authorities, which have pulled back from housebuilding and sold off housing stock in the decades since former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy was launched in 1980.

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