THE HOUSING Ombudsman has launched an investigation into damp and mould in buildings – which has shown just how widespread it now is throughout the UK.
And following his report about ‘unliveable’ conditions in a number of homes in the London borough of Croydon, ITV News Correspondent Daniel Hewitt says he has now been ‘inundated’ with ‘hundreds’ more examples.
The news investigations have found that there’s a ‘growing problem with severe mould and damp’ throughout the UK, and councils not dealing with residents’ complaints. He also explains how tenants themselves are blamed for mould in their homes.
And Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway says such mould/damp in a home can have a ‘significant’ impact on health and on their life chances. He said he’s also ‘concerned that we are not seeing cases where we could help, and want to investigate further into this issue’.
An initial review of case data found there had been a ‘high rate’ of ‘maladministration’ on cases that feature damp and mould over the last two years. It said too that the fact that £68,000 in compensation had been ordered in the same period showed ‘significant impact on residents in some cases’.
And following the report from Croydon, the local council issued an apology and took strides towards addressing the issue, with one resident being re-homed. Plus public reaction to the report was huge, with social media users labelling the conditions uncovered as ‘disgusting’, ‘horrible’, ‘heartbreaking’, and more.
The Ombudsman wants to publish the findings of its investigation by the autumn, and aims to ‘make far-reaching recommendations that promote greater understanding of the complexity of tackling damp and mould and share best practice across the sector’.
But those with private landlords will not have their concerns addressed, as the Ombudsman investigation will only look at council housing and housing associations.
Citizens Advice, which has received 49% more complaints this year about unacceptable living conditions, says the Ombudsman investigation should look at all housing. Katie Martin, director of external affairs at Citizens Advice, said the problem is a ‘real imbalance of power’ between tenants and landlords.
‘Landlords are still able to evict a tenant for no reason whatsoever,’ she told the reporters. ‘So many people live in fear that if they make complaints, if they cause problems for their landlords by insisting that they get repairs done, they’re going to get evicted – and all too often that happens.’
The Housing Ombudsman has issued a call for evidence to tenants and landlords, asking them to publicise it.
• ‘We have ten people for every vacant council house in Chesterfield,’ say families in the Derbyshire town who feel ‘helpless’ and have slammed the ‘lack of action to repair their mould-ridden homes as fears for the health of their young children grow.’
Now the Midlands town’s MP Toby Perkins has called for the Right To Buy on new council properties to be suspended, adding that Chesterfield urgently needs more family sized council homes. Hollie-Mai Squires said the issues at her one-bedroom flat in Kirkstone Road, Dunston, have been making her feel stressed and worried for her children, one-year-old Elsie-Mai and Oscar, aged four months.
The 23-year-old moved into the property in February 2019, but shortly afterwards began bidding for other Chesterfield Borough Council properties as the damp was becoming an issue.
And Hollie-Mai Squires is living in a one-bed flat with her two young children, Elsie-Mai and Oscar, as well as her partner, Joshua Walker. There is mould in her bedroom and elsewhere in the flat. Tammi Evans and her eight-year-old son both suffer from severe asthma and live in a flat in Newbould with mould and plaster falling off the walls.
Hollie-Mai, who also shares the flat with her partner Joshua Walker, said she is still living in ‘disgusting’ and cramped conditions. She added: ‘There’s damp and mould all over the ceiling and it’s getting worse. I’ve now got a large crack that runs along my ceiling and have even got damp coming in my hallway and in the bathroom as I’ve no extractor fans.
‘I can appreciate due to the pandemic things haven’t been able to be completed within the normal time ratio, however this has been ongoing for well over a year now. Elsie is having to sleep right under the mould and damp because there’s no room. The doctors have now said she’s got to be on an inhaler as the damp has caused numerous chest infections.’
Hollie-Mai is currently living in a one-bed flat with her two young children – Elsie-Mai and Oscar – as well as her partner Joshua Walker. She has been bidding to get a larger council property for over a year and says issues with her current flat are getting increasingly worse.
‘Oscar has underlying health conditions too, he suffers with breathing and reoccurring chest problems. He wasn’t breathing when he was born and I even told the hospital I didn’t want to bring him back to a property like this.
- Meanwhile, the contractor that led the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower before the fire has sold its regional construction arms, #UKhousing has revealed.
Rydon, whose maintenance arm was in charge of the £8.7m refurbishment of the west London tower which was hit by a deadly fire in 2017, has now offloaded its South West London and South East construction businesses to the newly formed Real Construction.
The move has been met with criticism from groups representing Grenfell survivors and the bereaved, with Grenfell United likening the move to ‘putting lipstick on a bulldog’ – and it would not change the fact that Rydon had ‘failed to comply with fundamental health and safety policies’ and had ‘put profit before human lives’ during the Grenfell refurbishment.
Rydon staff members that were involved in the refurbishment, which saw the deadly aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding installed on the tower, have been key witnesses in the second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry.
Real Construction, which was officially launched on Monday 12th April, has bought all of Rydon’s construction projects that started after 1st January 2020, as well as its stake in two large regeneration schemes in Ealing.
The deal means that Rydon Group is now made up of three operating companies. These include Rydon Homes, which will focus on private housing developments in the South East, and Rydon Maintenance, the arm which carries out hard facilities management of housing, education and healthcare properties across the UK.
Rydon Maintenance was the arm directly responsible for the Grenfell refurbishment. Rydon Construction also remains part of Rydon’s business but will focus on projects that were not sold to Real, which mainly consist of projects nearing completion or those that might require some remedial work.
The last accounts from Rydon Construction show that it made a profit of £914,063 on a turnover of £119m in the 12 months up to September 2019. In 2018, its profit hit £1.7m from a £123m turnover.
Real will focus on partnerships with social landlords, retirement housing providers and other private clients to deliver new housing schemes. It will be led by Paul Nicholls who has a lot of experience in the housing sector, having formerly held senior roles at contractors Wates and United Living.
Nicholls stepped down as managing director of Wates Residential at the end of last year to plan the Real venture. It has been created through a private funding deal put together by himself and Dane Houlahan, the chair of Real and former partner at KPMG, which includes their own money.
The business will be seeking further funding in the next 12 months. A total of 10 projects across London, the South East and South West have been transferred to Real, ranging from £10m schemes to one £180m project.
It has also bought a stake in Rydon’s 900-home Green Man Lane regeneration partnership with A2Dominion, and its 500-home High Lane scheme in Hanwell with the London Borough of Ealing.
Around 100 staff have now been TUPEd from Rydon to Real, with those being transferred making up the majority of its new build and development staff.
Nicholls said that the new group would bring a wide range of development expertise, and it was an exciting time to be launching a new construction business.
Responding to the news, a spokesperson from Grenfell United said: ‘Yet again we’re seeing those responsible pulling out all the stops to avoid the inevitable and try to hide the ‘Real’ horrific reality of Rydon.
‘The only “Real” thing they have done is contribute to the loss of 72 loved ones. Putting lipstick on a bulldog will not change the fact Rydon failed to comply with fundamental health and safety policies, put profit before human lives and lied about complying with building regulations.
‘The Rydon CEO in 2011 said: “You can react more quickly if you are a speedboat but if you hit a rock, you know you’ve hit it.” It seems they haven’t realised how big a rock they’ve actually hit.’
Commenting on the inquiry, Rydon said: ‘We have and will continue to fully assist the rigorous public inquiry alongside the many other parties that were involved in the run-up to and delivery of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.
‘The phase one report of the inquiry has been published, but there is still significant ongoing investigation in phase two, which has included significant evidence given by a number of multinational manufacturers of building products used on Grenfell Tower, as well as evidence given by product certification bodies.
‘While the final outcome of the inquiry is still some time away, it seems clear from the Hackitt report (the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety) and through evidence shared during phase two that there needs to be a wider review of building regulations, product testing and certification, which we would welcome. We will act in keeping with any recommendations relevant to us that come out of the phase two inquiry report. Our thoughts continue to be with all those affected.’