'There needs to be change': The damning housing report triggered by an ITV News investigation

The Ombudsman's "damning" report accuses councils of creating a "culture of blame" for tenants who are living in squalid conditions, explains ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

The Housing Ombudsman for England has called for a culture change in social housing, accusing landlords of blaming tenants and not taking responsibility for disrepairs following an ITV News investigation.

Richard Blakeway told ITV News he was “shocked” by the news reports, saying councils and housing associations lack empathy and respect for residents.

In a damning report, which investigated 142 social housing providers and spoke to hundreds of tenants, he demanded "changes in culture, behaviour and approach; from being reactive to proactive, and from inferring blame to taking responsibility."

The Ombudsman’s inquiry was launched after a series of ITV News reports which found social housing tenants living in uninhabitable conditions, in homes riddled with mould, damp, leaks and collapsing ceilings.

Dan Hewitt on the damning report and what needs to change to improve social housing for tenants

“The recent media coverage clearly demonstrates the significant impact on residents when things do go wrong, complaints are not responded to appropriately, and lessons are not learned,” said Mr Blakeway.

“There is a strong legislative and policy basis to prevent these issues arising but it is clear that despite this, residents are still facing problems, sometimes extreme problems, and landlords are struggling to resolve these. This means we need a fresh approach.”

'There needs to be a zero tolerance approach, there needs to be a change in culture'

He said the distress caused by landlords' failure to resolve mould and damp cases was "the most profound we have seen", raising concerns about tenants' physical and mental health, and stressing the impact on children.

It has also led, the report states, to “the loss of trust and reputation."

What does the report call for?

The report makes 26 recommendations to councils and housing associations, demanding they:

  • adopt a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould interventions

  • review the accessibility and use of their systems for reporting repairs and making complaints

  • improve staff training

  • avoid automatically apportioning blame or using language that leaves residents feeling blamed

  • treat residents with “respect and empathy."

Ornaments on walls hide more dirt, damp, and mould underneath. Credit: ITV News

Mr Blakeway told ITV News: "I think the focus of scrutiny that you've brought on this issue, alongside our work as an Ombudsman, means that most landlords are waiting for this report, and want to read this report and see what action they can take as a result of it."

The Ombudsman announced in April an inquiry into the prevalence of damp and mould in homes across England, after a series of ITV News reports into social housing conditions.

In March we revealed the shocking state of a block of flats in South London owned and managed by Croydon Council, where for years tenants' complaints of thick, black mould, soaked floors and dangerous leaks had been ignored. The living conditions were described by leading housing charity Shelter as the worst they had ever seen.

Here is ITV News' first report into the shocking state of social housing some tenants have to put up with - the first of a hard-hitting series of reports

ITV News has been inundated with cases across country of tenants living in damp, mould-infested homes struggling to be taken seriously.

The Housing Ombudsman's inquiry is one of five investigations prompted by ITV News' housing investigation, including:

  • An independent inquiry into Croydon Council, which found tenants health and safety was put at risk

  • A Regulator for Social Housing investigation into Croydon which found the Council guilty of breaching consumer standards

  • A Regulator for Social Housing inquiry into Clarion - Britain's biggest housing association - following an ITV News report into conditions on the Eastfields estate in Mitcham

  • An investigation by the Welsh Government into the state of social housing in Wales.

Is the Ombudsman partly at fault for this?

What has the government said?

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “The conditions highlighted by this report are appalling and we will not allow this sort of neglect and poor management to continue.

“The government has given the Housing Ombudsman new powers, which have enabled the publication of today’s important report and for them to hold landlords to account.

“We are bringing forward wide-ranging reforms to the sector, including strengthening our decent homes standard, making sure complaints are dealt with fairly and promptly and giving the Regulator greater powers to take action, such as through regular inspections of the largest landlords.”