Britain's pest problem: In the places where society fails, vermin flourish

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent visited homes where lives have been upturned by rat and cockroach infestations

I expected to feel on edge. Or at least mildly uncomfortable.

Instead, the overwhelming feeling when I visited a home where a rodent infestation had taken hold was enormous pity for the people having to live with it.

Georgie Howell has been living in her flat on a council estate in South London for three years.

We chatted in the kitchen which she cleans obsessively.

Georgie Howell said she feels 'like a bad mum'. The picture above shows a rat killed by poison in her home. Credit: Tonight

She tells me about how rats and mice run across her worktops, and cockroaches emerge from the plughole in the sink.

She has two small children who don’t want to come home - they always ask if they can stay the night at their Nan’s house.

They won’t sleep in their beds, she says, because they’re scared of the creatures who share their flat.

“I feel like a bad mum,” she weeps.

The Housing Ombudsman for England, who aims to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords, speaks of an "exponential rise" in the number of complaints about vermin infestations - from just fifty in 2019 to 736 last year.

The state of social housing in the UK is a driver of the problem, he said.

Dilapidated buildings which are no longer fit for purpose provide perfect homes for rats.

Kwajo showed ITV News' Geraint Vincent the severity of the cockroach infestation he documented

People like Georgie are reliant on their local authority to deal with their problem.

In blocks of flats, if one resident has an infestation, their neighbours will almost certainly have one too.

Rodents can move easily from home to home through the cavity walls and the shared spaces.

A mouse can fit through a hole the width of a 5p coin. A rat? 50p.

One woman, Terene, told Geraint that she only noticed how severe the problem was when flea bites appeared on her family's skin. Credit: Tonight

But local authority pest control services vary.

Some councils will charge their tenants for the service, others won’t.

Eradicating vermin from an entire block of flats is a big, time-consuming and expensive job. 

Cash-strapped local authorities may decide they have more urgent priorities.

The government says it’s driving up housing quality, with the number of ‘non-decent’ homes down by two million since 2010.

Dan Dodson is a pest professional working across Hampshire and the South Coast

In south London, Georgie is still waiting for a decent home - a place where her children "don’t feel scared".

In the places where society fails, vermin flourish.

Watch Home Invasion: Britain's Pest Problem - Tonight on Thursday on ITV and ITVX at 8.30pm.

For help and advice on the issues raised in this article, you can visit the following resources.

- To report a pest problem: Gov UK- For advice on the responsibility of dealing with infestations: Citizen's Advice - For advice and help finding a local pest controller: British Pest Control Association- Housing Ombudsman for England- For further information on humane rodent control: RSPCA

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