'It's harrowing': Mother's despair for her children over terrible mould and damp in flat

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

Words by ITV News Producer Sophie Alexander

Plastic bags cover the children’s toys under a ceiling coated in thick, black mould.This is a two-bedroom flat in south London, built only 15-years-ago, and owned by Peabody Housing Association. 

Cherriene Powell, a qualified teacher, lives there with her partner, a deputy site manager, and five children. She says she has been dealing with mould in all rooms of the flat for 11 of the 15 years she has lived there. 

Like many of the other people we have spoken to in the duration of our social housing investigation, Cherriene feels abandoned and neglected by her housing association.

She feels ashamed to invite friends or family around to her home and at times, instead of staying inside, will take a drive or go for a walk just so she doesn’t have to look at the black and green mould that covers her walls.

On Tuesday, the Housing Ombudsman for England called for a culture change in social housing, accusing landlords of blaming tenants and not taking responsibility for disrepairs following ITV News' investigation.

Richard Blakeway told ITV News he was “shocked” by our news reports and although he did not investigate Cherienne's case specifically, he said some councils and housing associations lack empathy and respect for residents. Mould penetrates clothing, furniture, plastic, wood and anything else it comes into contact with.

To try to save the toys and family possessions, Cherriene covers them in black plastic bags and stores them away. 

Yet still the mould persists, causing the children to cough and break out in eczema as well as untold mental anguish for Cherriene who is trying her best to maintain a healthy and happy home for her children. In a statement, a Peabody spokesperson said: “The conditions in Ms Powell’s home are not acceptable, and we have tried to support the family and fix the issues since the need for repairs were first reported to us in 2018... Our teams visited several times before the pandemic and there were also visits that couldn’t go ahead as contractors were refused access to the property."

Mould on the bedroom ceiling. Credit: ITV New

The statement continued: "In January 2021 we proposed a comprehensive programme of work including ceiling replacements to resolve the problem, but these were rejected."Since the summer our contractors have written directly to the family three times to try and arrange this work but have not received a response. Last week we offered alternative temporary accommodation while we carried out work but this was also refused.

"This case highlights the difficulties of managing damp and mould effectively with residents, especially where there is overcrowding.

"Ms Powell’s circumstances also highlight the acute shortage of social housing in London which means thousands of families are overcrowded and stuck in properties that are unsuitable for their needs."

Peabody has previously carried out mould washes in the property but, according to Cherriene, they do not work and the mould always comes back. 

The housing association recently offered to carry out more work at her property and place them in temporary accommodation, but the family told ITV News they declined as they have lost all faith and confidence in Peabody to fix the underlying cause of the mould. 

Cherriene says she has been asking for years for a roof specialist to visit the block and determine the cause of the problem. 

The family are desperate for another property and have even considered moving far away from schools and family and friends to find a decent home.

But the cost of houses is soaring and for hard-working people like the Powells, buying their own home is just not within reach and social housing their only lifeline.