Families across the UK are being forced to live in damp, dangerous and mould-infested council flats with little chance of escape, an ITV News investigation has found. After reporting on the squalid conditions in a tower block in Croydon, described by several housing experts as the worst they had ever seen, we were inundated with examples of damage and disrepair in properties from around the country. In West London, Oumou Bah lives in a two bedroom council flat with her sister and mother. The bedroom where the sisters sleep is covered in thick, black mould.
In the bathroom, a leak has caused a gaping hole in the ceiling. There has been no electricity and no light in the bathroom in their council-owned block in Shepherd's Bush, West London for five years. The family told us the power had to be switched off after Ms Bah's mother was electrocuted on one of the switches. It has never been fixed. "Not even animals are treated like this," Oumou tells us. "My mum works so hard. She has never missed one rent payment, and for this." Oumou shows us three black bin liners filled with empty fly spray canisters, the insects attracted by the prevailing smell of damp and mould.
The landlord, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, apologised unreservedly to the family and said no one should have to live in these conditions. A spokesperson told us: "To remedy their situation, we have undertaken mould removal works previously and made seven offers to permanently rehouse them from their 9th floor tower block flat to suitable accommodation - including a choice of low-rise, garden access and ground floor properties. Five of these offers have been declined and two await a response."
The family, who are desperate to move out, told us the properties they have been offered so far have not met their needs. Since publishing our investigation into Croydon Council, more than 400 people have contacted ITV News documenting their poor housing conditions.
In Birmingham, we visited 26 year-old Kayleigh Allison in a council-owned tower block with her two children - a five month-old daughter and a five year-old son. On the day we arrived, the ceiling in Kayleigh's kitchen collapsed while her and her the children were in the living room. It's not the first time.
The ceiling first collapsed in December and, although the council came to repair the damage, the underlying cause - a leak coming from above - wasn't fixed. The whole kitchen is covered in damp and the wallpaper is peeling off the walls. Two days after we met Kayleigh, the debris from the ceiling tested positive for asbestos, and the family are now being rehoused. "We appreciate that for any tenant having to deal with damp or a leak is a stressful situation," Birmingham City Council said in a statement. "There are many reasons why these conditions occur, for example other tenants putting in appliances and not getting them plumbed in correctly as happened in the case of Ms Allison's upstairs neighbour. "Birmingham City Council has over 60,000 properties to maintain and we successfully complete hundreds of thousands of repairs every year with high levels of tenant satisfaction."
Kayleigh says she feels forgotten about. "It's just disgusting, I don't know how they expect people to live like this, especially people with young kids," she tells ITV News. "To be honest, I can't live like it any more. "It's horrible, I can't feel make it feel like a home to me and the kids. It just doesn't feel homely."
Jamie Paterson, a Chartered Surveyor at Paterson Harkin, outlined some of the problems with residents living in tower blocks in Britain. "It’s the age of the buildings, in the majority of cases we see buildings were built anywhere from the 1950s to the 1980s," he said. "You do get specific incidences of asbestos or inadequate cladding, but in the most part it’s just maintenance and keeping on top of things. But that doesn't happen, and if you leave something long enough it’ll break. It's neglect. "The budgets available to the local authorities and housing associations, the lack of available staff both to administer any complaints but also to undertake remedial works. It’s almost like a ‘who shouts loudest’ situation, there’s always so much more to do than they’ve got people to fix it. "In a number of incidences what we see is remedial works that have taken place that are cosmetic and don’t deal with the issue. Someone will come in and wipe off the mould but in six months it’s back as the cause hasn’t been remedied as it’s a lot more work and a lot more cost. Mostly they’ve just put sticking plaster on the problem, just kicking the can down the road as they know the problem is coming back in six months. "People have to walk to a pay phone to ring the council call centre, and either they don’t answer or something gets logged. In most instances tenants just give up.
"You almost think that’s what they’re hoping for. If 100 people complain and 50 give up, as a local authority that gives you more capacity."
See the appalling and dangerous conditions some people in a tower block in Croydon have been forced to live in for months
In Dagenham, Marco Deativo also worries about his daughters' health. All three share one damp, mouldy room. Mr Deativo says he has complained to Barking and Dagenham Council repeatedly but the issue has not been fixed. "This will affect them in the long-run, health wise", he says of his daughters. "This is beyond comprehension."
"I can't understand it, no one takes any action or responsibility for it, and they pass it on to me," Mr Deativo told ITV News. Mr Deativo says the family have done all that has been asked of them including opening windows, but he says the council continue to hold them responsible for the mould and damp.
A spokesperson for Barking and Dagenham Council said: "The property was inspected in November 2020 in order to ascertain the problem and following an onsite inspection the issue was identified as condensation and not damp with arrangements made to come in and do the necessary works. "The council did not and has never failed to respond to the tenant’s requests as we contact our tenants by telephone and letter as is practice. Following contact from the resident in February, we acknowledge a delay as a result of the lockdown and for this delay we apologise."
The latest English Housing Survey shows there were 76,814 'non-decent' council-owned properties, or homes in substandard condition, in March last year. That is an increase of more than 5,500 non-decent homes since 2019, and 6,500 more than in 2018. The number of homes for rent from councils or housing associations in the UK has been decreasing from a peak of around seven million in the early 1980s, to just under five million in 2014. We put our findings to the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, who denied the rising number of substandard council homes was down to cuts to council budgets and a fall in social housing under successive Conservative governments.
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