Exclusive

The man struggling to breathe in a council flat 'unfit to house humans'

See the conditions Mehdi has to live in, including a leak running down his walls found to be contaminated with faeces - the flat has been declared to be "unfit for human habitation"


For the past six months, ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt has been travelling the country uncovering the shocking conditions being endured by some people and families living in social housing – homes owned and run by local councils and housing associations. In a documentary - Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame - to be broadcast on ITV on Sunday, he hears first-hand from residents being forced to live for months or even years in unsafe and uninhabitable properties - some are overrun by damp and mould, others have fallen apart in front of tenants’ eyes.

The documentary asks why some of the most vulnerable in society are being failed by a housing system that consistently ignores their concerns, fails to fix their problems, and offers them nowhere else to go.


"Please be careful with all the water. Don’t slip," said Mehdi Sheikh when he led ITV News Correspondent Daniel Hewitt into his home as part of our investigation into the country's housing scandal.

Living in among mould, and as we later learned, faecal contamination, he is used to trying to stay safe and healthy despite the odds.

Mehdi suffers from chronic back and leg pain, which affects his mobility, and says the squalor he lives in is only adding to his problems.

"This is what's making my breathing really bad - day in, day out," he said.

"I'm waking up at night with a breathless fatigue because I'm feeling suffocated in here.

"My chest is feeling congested... I am on literally on the verge of nervous breakdown."

Mehdi says he now has to rely on a respirator to get by.

Mehdi says he now relies on a respirator to get by. Credit: ITV News/Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame

For 17 years he's lived in this council flat in south London. Last November a leak, that went unfixed, has now left his home uninhabitable.

He's placed towels and rugs down on top of his carpets in an attempt to soak up the water.

They make little difference and are sodden when we arrive.

"They get squeezed out twice a day. And obviously they get put on again and by next morning, that’s how they are."

Towels and rugs placed on the floor are squeezed out twice a day - still the water comes. Credit: ITV News/Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame

Any attempts at making the place more homely, hanging ornaments for example, just appears to make things worse.

"Any objects that you see are hanging... This is how the mould is."He wipes his hand down the wall of his home and comes away with thick black residue coating his palm.

Mehdi worries about the water dripping down his walls - "It's almost about to hit the electric socket board," he says.

Ornaments on the walls hide more dirt, damp, and mould underneath. Credit: ITV News/Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame

We asked Jeff Charlton, an environmental health inspector, to assess the flat and his findings confirmed Mehdi's fears - and more.

The extractor fan in the toilet was the wrong way around, "actually blowing air in, instead of extracting damp air out".

He found a "100% chance of electrocution" at points in the property.

Worse still, he said he could assume the leak was not just water.

"I don't know whether that's sewage just dripping through, bath water, a leaking pipe... but I must assume that it’s contaminated."

His predictions were proven correct when bacterial analysis we had conducted on the water leak indicated "significant faecal contamination".

Mehdi has lived in his council flat for 17 years, the home has been uninhabitable since last November. Credit: ITV News/Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame

Lewisham Council’s own independent inspection of Mehdi's property also found the conditions were "unfit for human habitation".

The response has been "simply pathetic," Mehdi says.

"Nothing has been done whatsoever. Because they don't have to go and live like the way I am living."

"It just feels like living in a slum. And I just simply don't know what to do. [I feel] totally helpless.

"I don't feel like even going in there because it stinks. I don't feel comfortable.

"It doesn't feel like a home."

Mehdi suffers from chronic back and leg pain, which affects his mobility. In his home, he's walking on wet floors. Credit: ITV News/Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame

Lewisham Homes, the social housing provider who manages properties on behalf of Lewisham Council, apologised to Mehdi following our report.

In a statement CEO Margaret Dodwell CEO said: "We realise Mehdi has been put in a very difficult and distressing position, and we apologise to him for the condition of his home.

"Although we did make attempts to resolve the leaks, the service he has received is of an unacceptable standard.

"We are working closely with Mr Sheikh to find a new home. The increasing complexity of his needs and low availability of accessible properties, along with his understandable wish to keep his pets, have made that very challenging.

"We have commissioned our own independent testing of the property.

"We will begin a £5.5m programme of works on the Dacres Estate by the end of 2021.

Mehdi has since moved out of his apartment and is living in a hotel.

He is still waiting to be rehoused.


Watch more in Surviving Squalor: Britain's Housing Shame, Sunday 12 September at 10.15pm on ITV. It will be available to watch on catch up afterwards on the ITV Hub.

See more of Daniel Hewitt's reporting on the state of social housing in the UK