January 27, 2023

Urgent action is needed to address the problems facing social housing in England, according to a comprehensive assessment of the sector.

Housing associations should carry out a comprehensive audit of all 2.5 million social housing units in England and give tenants more of a role in decision-making, said the authors of the Better Social Housing Review’s final report, published Tuesday.

Helen Baker, chair of housing organization Shelter and chair of the review, said the coroner’s recent report on the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died from prolonged exposure to mold in his home, highlighted the “shockingly poor quality of some social rental properties.”

“The power imbalance between tenants and housing providers remains one of the biggest issues facing the sector, perpetuating rather than dismantling the societal stigma and discrimination people experience in social housing. This is especially true for people from black and ethnic minorities,” she added.

The research 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 2020 inquest into Ishak’s death has cast housing associations in an uncomfortable spotlight in recent months.

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

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

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has since cut £1million in funding for RBH and warned the industry they need to improve.

“Let this be a warning to other housing providers who ignore complaints and fail to meet 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 “undoubtedly not an easy read. There are very serious problems with the quality of some social housing”.

She added: “The report reveals some major challenges for the industry: It is never okay for anyone to live in a home with severe mold, moisture or other issues that need repair.”

She promised to create a plan to respond to all of the report’s recommendations, starting with “checking every housing association home to make sure we know where there are problems, such as damp and mold, and to solve them.”

Social housing providers are a vital lifeline for tenants struggling to afford free-market rents, which have risen sharply over 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 percent by the coalition government in 2010.

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

They have replaced local authorities, who have withdrawn from housing and sold off their housing stock in the decades since the introduction of former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy in 1980.

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