Michael Gove ‘ashamed’ of poor social housing conditions exposed in ITV News investigation

Housing Secretary Michael Gove tells ITV News that change is needed in the social housing sector

Housing Secretary Michael Gove says he is "ashamed" by the conditions social housing tenants are being forced to live in, as revealed in an ITV News investigation. In an exclusive interview, Mr Gove admitted for the first time the government had failed to deliver the reforms promised to tenants after the Grenfell tragedy in 2017. "Your work and others have highlighted a situation which we promised to fix four years ago and which we haven't," he told ITV News. "The Grenfell tragedy was a tragedy of many dimensions. One of the things that everyone pledged to do afterwards was to make sure that people in social housing had their voices heard, and we haven't done that effectively.”

'Your work and others have highlighted a situation which we promised to fix four years ago and which we haven't,' Michael Gove said

A year-long ITV News investigation has uncovered social housing conditions described as the worst the sector has ever seen.

Residents across Britain have shown us the mould, damp, leaks, collapsed ceilings and risks of electrocution that blight their lives, despite consistent complaints to their landlord.

In a series of reports throughout 2021, ITV News has uncovered the appalling conditions social housing tenants have been enduring. Credit: ITV News

“What you showed is unacceptable and indefensible," said Mr Gove. "Looking at the documentary work that you've done, looking at the circumstances that people in Regina Road in Croydon were living in, you can't defend that. "It's a collective effort that we need to make to change things.”

His comments mark a significant shift in tone and approach from his predecessor Robert Jenrick, who told ITV News in 2021 that the conditions we uncovered were the fault of councils and housing associations, and nothing to do with the government.

In full: Watch our exclusive interview with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick from July 2021

Michael Gove said it is a share of responsibility, not only for the condition of social homes but also the lack of affordable properties to rent and the inadequacy of social housing regulation. “I think some of it relates to the quality of housing that's been built in the past. I think that there were decisions that were made about how people should be housed, which reflected an attitude that was patronising bordering on callous. "I think subsequent to that has also been the case that people in local government, people in housing associations, have been under a degree of pressure for all sorts of reasons, as many aspects of of the public sector have.” A decade ago the Conservative government established the Regulator for Social Housing, but gave it no powers to inspect properties or speak directly to tenants when they complain.

It did however give the regulator the power to speak to the landlord, to get their version of events. Michael Gove, who has been a member of various Conservative government since 2010, admits that was a mistake.

'I have asked myself that question', Mr Gove said of issues raised about the Regulator for Social Housing

“I have asked myself that question. I don't know why that mistake was made. What we should do is learn and pledge to do better.

"The first thing is appropriate regulation. The second thing is making sure that complaints are heard and investigated.

"The third thing is making sure that housing associations and other social landlords are up to the responsibilities. "And the fourth thing is effective tenant voice, all of those things are part of the legislation that we wanted to bring forward."

The housing secretary told us he hopes to publish the detail of those reforms in March and introduce them in the new Queen Speech in May or June. He also said the government needs to build more social housing, another break from his predecessors. Last year fewer than 6,000 social homes were built in the UK. Shelter estimates 90,000 are needed each year just to keep up with demand, with 1.1 million families in England on the social housing waiting list. Michael Gove admitted the government's record is "not good enough".

'We have got to do better,' Michael Gove said of the need to provide more social housing

"I don't want to criticise my predecessors because again, there have been many, many pressures on government spending and on government priorities, but one of the things that I've said since coming here is that we do need to increase the number of social and affordable homes that are being built. "We need to look at the planning system in order to make sure that when the private sector provides homes, that developers do their bit in order to provide more social homes, but we also need to support local authorities and housing associations to do that. "The chancellor made a significant sum for investment in social housing, we need to make sure that that money is spent wisely."

He is the fifth housing secretary in six years, and acknowledges promises have been made in the past and not kept.

"People have a right to be sceptical given the length of time that's passed since the Grenfell tragedy and where we are now. "All I will ask is that people judge the government fairly on what we do in the next two years.”