We cannot have another person fall ill or die because of inadequate housing. We need urgent action now – Kate Osborne MP


“With the elderly and vulnerable cutting back on their heating this winter, without urgent action we will see thousands more excess winter deaths than usual.”

By Kate Osborne MP

No one should have to go to the lengths my constituent Lawrence has had to, to get something done about his damp and mouldy housing association property.

There’s black and green mould on the walls of the family home, which are also wet to touch. Lawrence suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), so is understandably worried about the impact on his health, particularly in the wake of the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy in Rochdale who died from a respiratory condition caused by exposure to persistent black mould.

Lawrence reported these conditions to his Housing Association, Home Group last year and was told action would be taken. But nothing happened until he got in touch with my office, and we wrote to them demanding an urgent intervention. Even then, we didn’t receive a reply. Home Group only responded when the BBC picked up on Lawrence’s case.

I included reference to Lawrence in a press release regarding my letter to Housing Secretary Michael Gove demanding urgent action on the state of properties. 

The BBC and a camera crew visited his house to film the conditions, Lawrence and his family had told us the awful condition the property was in – but when me and my office saw the pictures and video we were shocked. The walls were flaking away in Lawrence’s sister’s hands.

The BBC reporter described it as: “From the living room to the bathroom to the bedroom, damp and mould all too easy to see.” Yet this week the Housing Association have finally written a formal response to me describing the conditions as a “small area of black spot mould”

However in a striking similarity to the case of Awaab the housing association attempted to blame Lawrence – suggesting he hadn’t had the heating on high enough.

This is all too common – landlords seeking to blame ventilation, heating or residents rather than take any action. Landlords/Housing associations and even councils just painting over mould – leaving water dripping down walls and inevitably the mould quickly returns.

Barely a day goes by it seems without the media rolling out experts on how to keep energy bills down during this deepening cost of living crisis. We’re told to turn down our radiators and boilers down and to keep showers to four minutes. Yet all too often, council and social housing providers put the blame on tenants for not ventilating or heating their homes properly, and for not washing the mould off.

No one should be living in the conditions Lawrence has endured and the responsibility for them lies squarely with the housing provider and this neglectful, incompetent government that has starved local authorities of funds for the past 12 years.

Local authorities need both the funding to make repairs to their own housing stock, but also the resources to enforce decent homes standards in the private sector.

Gove has said he will look at regulation in the private rented sector at some point next year – this isn’t good enough – we need action now.

I’m still waiting for a response from Gove to the questions I put to him. These include what action he is taking right now to ensure families living in damp, squalid conditions receive immediate support, what steps his department is taking to retrofit and insulate older social housing stock to make homes cheaper to heat, whether he will re-evaluate every local authority’s funding so they have the resources needed to tackle this issue, and what he is doing to assist investment in social housing, enforcement capacity, and legal help to end this scandal once and for all.

The private rented sector is currently excluded from the decent homes standard – despite almost a third of the 1.2 million private renter households across the north of England living in “non-decent” standard homes, according to a Northern Housing Consortium report.

The housing ombudsman has written an open letter to social landlords urging them to renew their focus on their approach to damp and mould – begging letters for landlords to do the right thing will not cut it.

Last month Gove said there were many housing associations and private landlords who are “not doing the right thing” and the issue needed to be tackled “nationwide”.

Yet we know they won’t do anything to “tackle” the situation – the National Housing Federation’s report yesterday called for Housing associations to undertake a comprehensive audit of all 2.5mn social homes – we know the situation in the private rented sector is even worse – yet Gove wants us to wait until 2023 to look at new legislation.

Millions of people living in fuel poverty cannot wait that long – millions living in damp conditions cannot wait that long.

With the elderly and vulnerable cutting back on their heating this winter, without urgent action we will see thousands more excess winter deaths than usual.

In the sixth richest country in the world this is not acceptable – we cannot have another person fall ill or die because of inadequate housing.  We need more than weasel words from Gove – we need action now.

  • Kate Osborne is the MP for Jarrow and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow her on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.
Featured image: Jarrow MP Kate Osborne is interviewed by BBC North East and Cumbria on the critical housing issues in her constituency.

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