Photo: Peter Lopeman/Alamy
Thousands of social housing tenants in England have waited more than a year for repairs to be completed on their homes, according to data released by the observer.
Concerns about the dilapidated state of social housing have grown in recent years amid a spate of reports and scandals. Freedom of Information (FoI) inquiries to local authorities in England revealed that many local authorities have a significant repair backlog.
Housing solicitor Giles Peaker said he had encountered councils not making repairs “constantly”.
“We will routinely see those that have had repairs pending for over a year, two years … occasionally up to six years,” he said observer.
“There are people in wet, leaky lots who can’t use bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms. We have had ceilings falling due to persistent leaks, people in mold infested buildings and people not daring to open their windows because they think they might fall out.
“Or they can’t open their windows because they’re stuck or the frames are rotting. It depends on the problem, but it can be incredibly severe – deeply awful to live with.”
Dudley Council said 2,065 council houses had been awaiting repair and maintenance for more than a year – almost 10% of all council housing in the region. Another 2,277 social housing units had waited between six months and a year.
Kathryn Jones, Director of Housing at Dudley Council, said: “We recognize that, as the figures show, there are instances where the Authority either cannot or cannot meet the timeframe for repairs and we apologize for that.
“There are a number of factors that contribute to this, such as the availability of labor and materials. Like everyone else, we’re struggling with rising costs and trying to balance the books.” She said the council will overhaul its facilities and maintenance services to speed up repairs.
Haringey Council, which was recently criticized by the social housing regulator for having thousands of substandard council houses, said 3,064 properties had been awaiting repair work for over a year, out of its total of 14,580 council houses.
Last year, Haringey reversed outsourcing the management of its council housing. “We deeply regret that our residents have not received the quality of service they should have provided,” said Dana Carlin, Cabinet Member for Housing Services in Haringey. We are committed to improving our services so repairs are resolved quickly and effectively for our residents, including providing additional resources to reduce the backlog.”
Swindon City Council, which did not respond to a request for comment, provided data showing 1,015 houses are waiting at least a year for repairs and a further 1,902 waiting between six months and a year.
A total of 26 municipalities provided data showing that at least 100 council housing units, excluding vacant properties, have been waiting a year for repairs. In contrast, 24 municipalities reported that no repair work had waited more than six months.
Much of the long-delayed work was excavated by the observer affects roofs and gutters and repairs that communities have started but not yet completed. Among the 456 individual repair jobs in Leicester that have been waiting for more than a year are 120 gutter repairs, 164 roof repairs and 14 window repairs. None are listed as emergency.
Leicester City Council Housing Director Chris Burgin said: “Due to the shortage of tradespeople – a national problem which is also affecting the number of contractors we have available – we have had to prioritize urgent repairs, such as electricity and serious leaks, and 97% of this work was completed within our 24 hour target time.
“We are working flat out to catch up on repairs that are not urgent and to achieve the goals that are important for us and our tenants.”
“There are all sorts of reasons why things aren’t getting done,” Peaker said, “from sheer administrative inefficiency on the part of the councils – complaints aren’t being properly recorded, or they are recorded but not acted upon – to someone doing it without notice attend, don’t come in, and it’ll just be cancelled.”
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He said contractors sometimes stuck cards through doors that said they were present but the tenant wasn’t there, even if the tenant was home: “It’s late in the day or whatever. That’s not uncommon.”
Polly Neate, Managing Director of Shelter, said: “No one’s home should put their health or safety at risk. Tenants pay rent to keep their home livable. But some social landlords have been able to back off on repairs and ignore tenants because there were no means to hold them accountable – that will change if the Social Housing Regulations bill becomes law.
“If landlords manage homes with serious threats like damp and mold and do nothing about them, they should face tough enforcement action under the Social Housing Regulation Bill. The legislation will also require landlords to carry out essential repairs within a specific timeframe, something we hope will help prevent future tragedies like the death of infant Awaab Ishak.”