Salvation Army accused of acting like a 'rogue landlord'

ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills speaks to residents still living in poor housing conditions despite submitting complaints to the Salvation Army over several years

Seaview Terrace sounds like the sort of road you’d love to live on. Not in Hadleigh in Essex it isn’t. Kerry Maher lives on the street with her two children. Her house has rising damp and mould and has done ever since she moved there in 2014. Kerry says her landlord is aware of the problem but hasn’t done anything to fix it. “There’s no real excuse for this,” says Jeff Charlton, managing director of environmental health consultancy Building Forensics, who we asked to inspect Kerry’s home. “People are being made sick or their health is deteriorating living in this property. There is a responsibility under the Landlord And Tenant Act that the landlord makes the home health and safety compliant,” he said. Kerry’s landlord is the Salvation Army. An investigation by ITV News and the Guardian has found that, on this housing estate, the Salvation Army has been allowing some of its private residential tenants to live in substandard accommodation for years.

We found properties here riddled with damp and mould and some which breach fire-safety regulations. The Christian charity, which says it’s dedicated to “the relief of poverty… suffering and distress”, has repeatedly ignored requests to improve conditions. Rita Launn also lives on Seaview Terrace with her son, David. The family moved there in the 1980s when David was a teenager. A hole in the roof of the property, which they say was reported to the Salvation Army’s agent six years ago, has still not been fixed and has contributed to serious damp problems. “It hurts, [we feel] neglected, forgotten about,” David said.

“There’s the damp problem, obviously the roof, because we need to keep the heat in the house not having it blowing up out the house. The windows and doors don’t fit properly…[I] have to have the heating on 24 hours a day to keep the house warm [in the winter]”. Rita is 88 years old. She suffers from arthritis, asthma and angina. She is also a Christian. She said: “[The Salvation Army treated us] badly, but at the same time, I’m sorry for them. Because they don’t realise what damage they’re doing and what harm they’re doing to other people. Not just me, all our neighbours… it hurts really”.

'They don't realise what damage they are doing and what harm they are doing,' Ms Launn said

Where we presented our findings to The Salvation Army it issued an “unreserved apology”. What is extraordinary though is that the church has known about the decrepit state of its properties in Hadleigh for many years. Surveys commissioned by the Salvation Army in 2014 revealed problems with damp and breaches of fire regulations. In June 2018, Alan Read, the Salvation Army’s managing director, held a meeting with the tenants in Hadleigh and apologised for neglecting them. He told them: “The homes you are living in are not up to the standards we expect or we want and we do need to do something.” But Read left many of the 40 tenants present at the meeting with the impression that they might be evicted if the church decided it couldn’t afford to carry out repairs. Nine months later, in March 2019, the local authority wrote to the Salvation Army, threatening to take legal action over the living conditions of tenants. An environmental officer at Castle Point Borough Council described the church’s conduct in Hadleigh as a “sordid mess”. He identified “significant housing disrepair in Salvation Army properties” including “category one and two hazards”.

Category one hazards are the most serious housing problems. They include risks of “death, permanent paralysis, permanent loss of consciousness, loss of a limb or serious fracture”.

ITV News and the Guardian understand that conditions within the homes have not improved since the council’s warning three years ago. The council says that improvement notices have recently been served on the Salvation Army, compelling it to undertake building work. The town of Hadleigh is where William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, created his first farm colony in 1891 to help people escape unemployment and poverty in the east end of London and learn new skills.

The Salvation Army owns around 40 properties there, many of which it now rents out privately. In total, the church owns approximately 1,700 residential properties across the UK, most of which are used by its own officers. The Salvation Army receives donations and legacies from the public of more than £100 million a year. The church has shown a reluctance to spend money on its tenants’ homes in Hadleigh but is in the process of investing in a new home of its own. A six-story “territorial headquarters” is being built in Southwark, South London, at an estimated cost of £32 million. The Salvation Army insists this project is being funded by the sale of its old headquarters, not by donations or rental income from tenants. “They’re not behaving like a Christian charity, they are behaving like a rogue landlord,” Peggy Jane Smith insists. She has been renting a flat from the Salvation Army in Hadleigh for 38 years and has spent the last seven complaining about its dilapidated condition.

In some sense, the Salvation Army 'are behaving like hard-nosed, unscrupulous capitalists,' Ms Smith said

Steve MacKenzie, an independent fire-safety consultant, who we asked to survey Peggy Jane’s home, described it as a “fire-trap”. He said: “There’s inadequate fire detection. There are no fire detectors. There is no separation of the roof from one flat to another…we’ve also got an electrical system that has been condemned at some point. And the list goes on.” He described the Salvation Army’s conduct as a landlord as “delinquent, negligent, [a] breach of legislation, criminally negligent”.

Fire-safety consultant Steve MacKenzie says there is no excuse why the charity has not fixed the housing issues

In a statement, a spokesperson for The Salvation Army said: “It is clear that we let down the tenants of Seaview Terrace and Mount Zion and we are deeply sorry. Considerable refurbishment and improvement work is already underway. We have employed a contractor as a Project Manager dedicated to Hadleigh and will be employing a Building Surveyor on a permanent basis to focus on Hadleigh going forward”. The church declined our request for an interview and has not explained why it has taken more than seven years for it to carry out proper maintenance work.

The statement says the pandemic and the death of the Salvation Army’s Property Director caused delays but it also acknowledges that these factors “[don’t] account for the overall length of time it has taken to put right these wrongs”. Rebecca Harris, the MP for Castle Point, says she had repeated meetings with the Salvation Army over a number of years to try and get the church to improve living conditions. “They kept making promises that failed to materialise,” she said.

“Ordinary members of the Salvation Army would be mortified to know how incompetent their properties department has been. “The biggest fear for the tenants and myself, was that they would claim the properties were beyond economic repair, knock them down and evict families. I kept pressing the Salvation Army to get on and do the work but they’ve left the tenants waiting for them to get their act together which has been incredibly stressful for them.”

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