Video report from ITV News Politics Correspondent Dan Hewitt; words by Producer Sophie Alexander
Following an ITV News investigation into abysmal living conditions on a housing estate in London, questions have been raised over the legitimacy of the body that regulates social housing in England.
Conditions exposed on the housing estate in Mitcham, south London included collapsed ceilings, rats, mould and damp that dozens of residents were forced to live with for many years, despite complaining to their landlord Clarion - the UK's biggest housing association.
After our report was aired, the Regulator of Social Housing – the government's official social housing watchdog – launched an investigation into whether Clarion had breached its consumer standards.
To the surprise of residents on the estate, Clarion was cleared by the regulator, who found there was “no systemic failure” by the country’s largest housing association.
This despite 514 repair jobs being carried out on the estate since ITV News' investigation aired, with work ongoing and some residents still awaiting renovations.
ITV News has learned that the regulator did not speak to a single resident on the estate, including Kwajo Tweneboa who first raised the alarm.
‘You can’t sleep, the rats - they are making noise’: Janet Amedline showed ITV News the various holes in her walls when our team visited
The only body the regulator sought evidence from was Clarion, the housing association they were investigating in the first place.
The Regulator of Social Housing told ITV News that this is because, under their current remit, they do not have the power "to carry out visits to inspect tenants' homes or currently, proactively seek tenants’ views on the performance of their landlord".
Mr Tweneboa, who has lived on the estate for four years, said: “It’s not until you come down and you meet the residents and you see the conditions that they’re living in that you get the true picture and if someone from the Regulator would have just done that, they would have been able to see what it is that residents are trying to fight for.”
‘I was shocked to find out how long people have been messaging Clarion’: Kwajo Tweneboa spoke to ITV News earlier this year
Mr Tweneboa is not the only one to question the very purpose of a Regulator who does not speak to those affected by poor housing conditions and only communicates with the object of the investigation.
Mike Amesbury, Labour's Shadow Minister for Housing, told ITV News: “The government are absent in this case.
"We have no referee on the pitch with effective powers and there’s a common thread here, from the government, and that’s ‘leave it to the marketplace’. This is a hands-off approach which just doesn’t wash.”
The long-awaited Social Housing White Paper promises improvements to regulation.
However, when questioned last month, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick could not give a date of when it will be delivered.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The conditions in the homes highlighted in this case were appalling and we have been clear this is unacceptable.
"Clarion have acknowledged this and have committed to take action immediately to resolve any issues and the regulator will monitor their progress.
“Our Charter for Social Housing Residents will strengthen regulation of social housing, improve the quality and standard of social homes and transform the tenant and landlord relationship to ensure complaints are dealt with fairly.”
A spokesperson for the Regulator of Social Housing told ITV News: "The evidence available to us: from Clarion and verified by third parties; and from our own records; did not indicate that tenants were unable to raise their requests for repairs, nor that Clarion’s repairs and maintenance service, overall, was failing to respond to the needs of tenants.
"It was on this basis that we concluded the matters were not systemic, and therefore was not a breach of the current standards.
"While we did not find evidence of systemic failure which would be a breach of the standards, the evidence did show that there were individual issues in tenants’ homes and tenants who were living in poor quality accommodation. This is not acceptable."
On Tuesday, when interviewed by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt, the CEO of Clarion, Clare Miller said: “The regulator has a remit that is established by Parliament and its legislation dictates what it is able to do and the settlement we have at the moment for social housing is that the regulator is focused on organisational effectiveness…
"So they expect us to have the primary dialogue with our residents, so when they're investigating us one of the things they’re most interested in is the dialogue we have had with residents.”
When asked if she would welcome a regulator that could speak to tenants, Ms Miller replied, “I would”.
But when asked if that could have changed the outcome of the Mitcham estate case, Ms Miller said: “I don’t know because it depends on the individual settlement, and you have to operate within the rules that you are given.
"It certainly doesn’t feel cushy, in your terms, this is a regulator that holds us to some pretty serious standards about our organisational effectiveness, our financial viability, our governance arrangements, and they are very proactive in that respect.”
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