ITV News investigation exposes racism in social housing sector

The shocking stories of life in council houses are made worse by the racism in the sector, Daniel Hewitt reports

A council whistleblower has told ITV News that racism and prejudice towards tenants is rife within the social housing department she works in.'Helen' - not her real name - works in senior management at a London council. She came forward to ITV News because she was so concerned about the racist attitudes and language she witnesses on a daily basis. Helen says managers in her housing department make racially-motivated judgements about tenants, and are dismissive of their complaints, often blaming them for the problem.Staff would be prejudiced against a tenant based on their surname, she said.

"If you say their surname is Muhammad or Ali or something, they'll straightaway assume they're from a Muslim country. And so they say they should be grateful because 'imagine what they've come from'.

"It's undeniable race remains a defining feature of Britain's housing crisis"

"We had a large number of African residents and we had a big meeting with them because they weren't happy. And then when they were finished, all the managers were sitting around saying, 'what are they complaining about, they've just come from huts'."

"As soon as you hit the management level, you see racism spoken openly, whether it's externally with the residents - they'll make assumptions, they'll make pre-judgments on people because of their race, their colour, their religion, their surname," 'Helen' told ITV News.

"And then internally, you get the same sort of treatment to people who are not white British. I remember one of them clearly saying 'I'm not having some black plumber earning more than us managers' because some of our operatives earned more than the managers."

She says the head of repairs used to say: "'Well, if they lived like us they wouldn't be overcrowded. You know what these Indians are like, they bulk buy everything so the house is full of stuff'

'Helen' works in senior management at a council housing department in London. She told ITV News racism is rife and tenants' complaints are often mocked or dismissed Her recollections have been voiced by an actor

"We had a resident phone up to say they had a blocked kitchen sink, and their surname was a Chinese surname, and the manager turned around and said, 'look at their surname, it'll just be full of rice tell them to clear it themselves'."

The problem is endemic, she says, with many of these racist comments made openly in meetings. 

"'These types' is a really common term that gets used when talking about people in council properties, people that are black, Asian, Muslim people get a really hard time. Somalian people get the worst time," 'Helen' told ITV News.

"We had a resident phone up to say they had a blocked kitchen sink, and their surname was a Chinese surname, they were a Chinese resident, and the manager turned around and said - 'look at their surname, it'll just be full of rice, tell them to clear it themselves", she said. 

"Certain cultures have a certain way of washing, which involved using a jug to put water over themselves, and the managers have turned around and said 'they live in this country, they can wash like us.'

"And that's not one person saying it, that's in meetings that's spoken about. Staff say 'We need to speak to housing and tell them residents have to live like English people live, and not abuse our properties and if they don't want to live like us, they can be evicted and go back to where they came from'", 'Helen' told ITV News. 

Credit: ITV News

ITV News also spoke to social housing tenants who feel they are discriminated against because of their ethnicity. Hamedi Mahamed is a mother-of-four who fled persecution and torture in her native Kenya to the UK. She says she feels racism has shaped the treatment she's received from staff at Hull City Council - which is also her landlord. 

Hamedi told ITV News that a council worker told her, "you know, you could go back" after she raised a problem about her family's situation. 

Hamedi and her family have endured serious disrepair problems with their council house for the past two and half years.

The ceiling in their downstairs hallway collapsed in September 2020 and has not been replaced. When the family uses the upstairs bathroom, water pours through the ceiling, over electrical wires and onto the floor. 

Hamedi claims her complaints have not being treated as seriously because she is black. She said: "I used to say I don't (think that) but I believe now... They think I'm nothing."

"It's heartbreaking. I cry every day. I don't like to let my kids see me crying."Hamedi, whose youngest child, Imran, four, is severely disabled and requires her constant attention, is at breaking point. Hull City Council says it has carried out more than 70 repairs to Ms Mahamed's home and undertaken substantial work in June before the property deteriorated again. The council says it has been in a continuous dialogue with Ms Mahamed to improve and adapt the home to meet her family’s needs.A new home has now been found for the family, but the last two years has taken its toll.

"She told me I could 'go back'" - Hamedi Mahamed says she feels her complaints have not been treated with the same level of urgency, because she is black.

Hull City Council told ITV News it takes any allegations of racism seriously, and although the concern had not been reported to them, the council says it is "now in the process of thoroughly investigating it”.

It says more than 70 repairs have been carried out to Hamedi's home including substantial work in June, before the property deteriorated again. 

In ITV News' eight-month investigation, other tenants have reported racism in their dealings with councils over problems with their sub-standards home.

ITV News spoke to Leroy McNally in March. He had to place four buckets in his living room to collect the water dripping from above. He told political correspondent Daniel Hewitt they filled up every six hours, before he had to empty them. 

He had contacted Croydon Council countless times, but got little response. Leroy believed he was not being listened to because of the colour of his skin.

"I started saying my name is Mr McNally - I wouldn't say Leroy - and I got a better response." 

He said: "I got a feeling, when I used to ring up before, I'd say 'my name's Leroy, Leroy McNally' and I got a feeling that puts them on the off-foot because straight away they're (thinking) 'Leroy - black person, we don't want to deal with this person'. I got a feeling it's something like that.  

"Eventually I started saying my name is Mr McNally - I wouldn't say Leroy - and I got a better response." 

Constant leaks have caused the ceiling in Hamedi Mahamed's hallway to collapse. Credit: ITV News

An official investigation later found tenants were stigmatised and treated with a lack of care and respect but cleared Croydon Council of racism in its handling of housing complaints.

Junior Jimoh, Fransoy Hewitt, Kwajo Tweneboa and Nicole Walters have all endured squalid substandard social housing and struggled to get their complaints taken seriously by their landlord. All say they have been subjected to racial or class-based prejudice.

"I think there is an issue of race because when you look at the people suffering  in social housing that make up the majority and then compare that with those that work at senior levels within these housing associations, and the demographics, they're completely different. The senior positions are taken up by white middle class wealthy individuals," Kwajo Tweneboa told ITV News.

"They don't act, they just fob us off" - four tenants told ITV News their complaints were brushed aside because of racial and social prejudice

Junior Jimoh has a neuro-muscular condition. He receives around-the-clock care in his flat in south London, a flat that is covered in black mould and damp. He says those in charge "don't act, they just fob us off".

"They definitely wouldn't let their families live in housing situations like us," he adds.

Fransoy Hewitt and Nicole Walters both say that social class also plays a part.

"I don't really think the race thing is the overall issue for me, I think it is a class issue. Although if you look at housing disrepair, yes, there are a high proportion of ethnic minorities that are that dealing with it, however, it's an overall issue and the one thing we have in common is that we're poor, we come from working class backgrounds," Ms Walters says.

Ms Hewitt, who was rehoused only after an ITV News investigation exposed the appalling conditions she had lived in for nearly two years, said: "They'll just think you're not fully educated and, if you're not coming from a certain class, then you just feel like they can treat you any way, or just ignore you.

"As far as they're concerned, you don't have no backbone to get at them, and you don't have the information or knowledge on social housing, or even the laws and stuff, to come at them with it."

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Racism has no place in our society and action must be taken to root it out wherever it is found.

“Social housing providers are required to treat their tenants with fairness and respect. We’ve already given the Housing Ombudsman new powers to hold landlords to account and we’re bringing forward wide-ranging reforms to the sector, including making sure complaints are dealt with fairly and promptly and giving the Regulator greater powers to take action.”

Hull City Council's full statement in response to ITV News' report on Hamedi Mahamed

“The evidence refutes the contention that Hull City Council has not responded properly to Ms Mahamed’s frequent requests for repairs, but we take any allegations of racism extremely seriously. This concern had not been reported or raised with us previously and we are now in the process of thoroughly investigating it.” 

“Our Housing and Children’s Services teams have been working closely with the Mahamed family since they first moved to the property two and a half years ago. In that time, the Housing team has responded to, and carried out, more than 70 repair requests to their home.

"We have been in a continuous dialogue with Ms Mahamed to improve and adapt the home to meet her family’s needs. The Council has also provided intensive support to the family through Children’s Social Care, and our Children’s team continue to work directly with them around support plans.

“In May this year, we arranged for the family to be temporarily moved to an alternative property so that further substantial repairs could be carried out. The home was repaired and, in June 2021, the family were moved back in, but the property has since deteriorated again.

"The volume of repair requests is vastly in excess of the normal range expected for the type of property and is inconsistent with identical properties we own on the same street. When the home was repaired, it was checked to ensure there were no potential defects to the plumbing. However, on receiving this latest repair complaint from Ms Mahamed, we will seek a third-party assessment to ensure the condition of the home is not the cause of the water leakages.

“Last month, Ms Mahamed accepted a new home we offered to her, which will provide more space for her family and, working with a specialist team of Occupational Therapists, can be adapted to better meet her children’s needs. With the level of adaptions required, this will take some time to complete, but we look forward to seeing the family settled in their new home."