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Housing Disrepair

Volume 709: debated on Friday 25 February 2022

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Rebecca Harris.)

I will speak this afternoon about the truly terrible housing conditions that have been endured for too long by the residents of Evelyn Court on Amherst Road in my constituency. This block is run and managed by the Industrial Dwellings Society housing association. One can see that it would have once been a very nice estate and a pleasant place to live, but when I visited it several times recently and residents kindly invited me into their flats, I was shocked by what I saw. Let me say straightaway that the tenants of all the flats I visited had made every effort to keep them nicely, which made it even more heartbreaking that their flats were disfigured by chronic disrepair problems that were not in their power to deal with and about which the Industrial Dwellings Society housing association had let them down time after time when it had promised to fix things.

I saw dreadful mould covering walls, damp, water leaking in and dampness rising from the floor. In addition, tenants told me about blockages in their drainage system and insect infestations. Among the insects that they had had to deal with in large numbers were ants, spiders and slugs. Worst of all were the health problems that the tenants and their children were enduring because of the damp and mould. I was told about nausea, coughs, colds and chronic asthma. The conditions in Evelyn Court are completely unacceptable and the Industrial Dwellings Society should be ashamed of itself for leaving its tenants in that state.

The Industrial Dwellings Society was set up in 1885 by a group of Jewish philanthropists and businessmen who wanted to relieve overcrowding in the east end of London. If they could see the dreadful conditions that, in 2022, their organisation is housing eastenders in, they would be shocked. Those problems are not confined to Evelyn Court, however: the private sector as a whole has the worst housing disrepair and more than 1.1 million homes in the sector—fully one quarter—do not meet the decent homes standard.

I also deal with terrible housing disrepair problems elsewhere in the public sector. Among the cases that I am currently dealing with is an L&Q housing association tenant who is suffering from a leaking roof, rising damp, slugs, an infestation of drain flies, continually blocked drains, sewage spilling out into the garden and emerging from the sink, and a shower that has been broken for three years. Another L&Q tenant who I and my staff are trying to help is living in a flat with no working toilet, no gas, a leaking roof and an insect infestation.

We are also trying to help a Hackney Council tenant who has been without gas and hot water since 15 December and whose bathroom is in a state of disrepair. A further Hackney Council tenant is in a property with severe mould and raw sewage outside her flat from a drain that has been blocked for six months. That is just a sample of the scores of new housing disrepair cases that I deal with every month.

The Minister must be wondering why housing disrepair is so endemic. There are several reasons. There is a lack of funding from the Government generally and they, quite correctly, put the responsibility for fire safety and net zero carbon emissions on to housing associations. I support those policies and that is the right thing to do, but they fail to fund those issues properly. It would take £15 billion to deal with fire safety issues in London alone.

Another issue is that housing associations—many of them, such as the Industrial Dwellings Society, set up more than a century ago with every intention of helping local people—no longer have a strong local presence. Tenants who need repairs often have to contact call centres situated far away in cities such as Birmingham and Liverpool. The people in these call centres do not know the estate or the individuals, and they often cannot grasp the problems they are trying to explain.

The regulators, including the Regulator of Social Housing and the housing ombudsman, are the Government’s responsibility, but they do not have sufficient powers. They can only deal with the process, not individual cases, and they are not able to impose fines big enough to be a real deterrent.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities promised a White Paper on this sector in autumn 2021, and it has still not appeared—it is now promised for 2022. Will the Minister commit the Government to producing the White Paper on this important sector in 2022?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 requires private sector landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning of a tenancy and throughout. Bearing in mind that 1.1 million homes in the private sector do not meet the decent homes standard, how many cases have been brought under this Act? How many of those cases have been successful? Finally, how much money has been allocated to local authorities to enforce the decent homes standards?

I would not like to conclude this speech without applauding the London Renters Union, which has given so much support to the tenants of Evelyn Court. Furthermore, the London Renters Union, across London, has not only helped tenants but empowered them. The tenants of Evelyn Court are not asking for the world. They want the Industrial Dwellings Society to keep its promise of a 24-hour call out, they want it to communicate with them properly and, above all, they want it to do something permanent about the terrible disrepair in Evelyn Court.

As a Member of Parliament for more than 30 years, one of the biggest parts of my case load is housing and housing disrepair. I cannot stress enough to Ministers the misery, depression and anxiety that long-running housing disrepair causes to tenants. The Government have a role to play in ensuring that tenants have disrepair addressed according to existing legislation and according to the needs of tenants. If the Government cannot meet the needs of tenants in these dreadful conditions, how much do they really care about tenants?

I ask the Minister to look into the issues I have raised and to take action for the tenants of Evelyn Court.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on securing this debate, and I thank her for raising this subject on behalf of her constituents. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of housing disrepair at Evelyn Court on Amhurst Road, and the conditions she describes are unacceptable.

The Government are committed to creating a fair and just housing system that works for everyone, and nowhere is the need to improve quality more urgent than in housing. The right hon. Lady asked several questions that I will address in my response. I do not have figures to hand on the number of cases brought under legislation, but I am sure officials can write to her with an answer.

Good-quality housing can help to improve a wide range of outcomes, including better health, quality of life, educational attainment, community cohesion, labour mobility and carbon emissions. There are significant societal impacts of poor-quality homes—we know that the Building Research Establishment recently estimated that poor-quality homes cost the NHS £1.4 billion a year and research funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities estimates that the total annual cost to society is £18.6 billion.

We have made considerable progress on housing quality. It has improved significantly since 2009. Then, 30% or 6.7 million homes were non-decent. In 2020, that had fallen to 4 million or 16%. Despite that progress, we recognise there is still more to do. Poor-quality housing is not spread evenly by tenure or region. Some 13% of social rented sector homes are currently non-decent. The highest rates of non-decent social housing are in the south-west, at a rate of 16.9%, and the situation is worse in the private rented sector, which has a 21% rate of non-decent homes, with Yorkshire and the Humber having the highest percentage of non-decency at 33.7%.

The Government want to take action and I will let the right hon. Lady know what we are doing. The levelling-up White Paper outlined a set of ambitious missions to level up the country and support communities. The Government set the ambition to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030, with the biggest improvements in the lowest-performing areas. That means we will bring about 800,000 homes up to a decent standard across both the private and social rented sectors, and that will support the most vulnerable in society.

We recognise the issues that the right hon. Lady raised. She talked about the White Paper. That is why we are implementing the commitments in the social housing White Paper, which will drive up the quality of housing stock and housing services, and improve the lives of social housing residents in England. That work is critical to meeting our ambition to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030, with the biggest improvements in the lowest-performing areas as part of our levelling-up agenda.

The social housing White Paper measures will transform social housing regulation and redress, creating proactive consumer regulation and rebalancing the relationship between landlord and tenant. We will introduce legislation to give the regulator of social housing stronger powers to drive up consumer standards, with regular inspections of the largest landlords. We will give the regulator greater enforcement powers to tackle failing landlords, including unlimited fines for the worst offenders and powers to complete emergency repairs where needed. Landlords will be required to report on new tenant satisfaction measures that tenants and the regulator will be able to use to see how a landlord is performing.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the housing ombudsman. We have already strengthened the housing ombudsman’s powers to ensure that when residents make a complaint, landlords take quick and effective action to put things right. In October last year, the housing ombudsman published its “Spotlight on: Damp and Mould” report, which made 26 recommendations on how landlords can improve services for residents based on learning from hundreds of investigations across 142 landlords and more than 500 responses to its call for evidence. In February and March 2021, the Department delivered on its commitment in the White Paper to run a campaign to raise awareness of, and confidence in, the social housing complaint-making process. To build on the success of that campaign, we are running a second four-to-six week campaign, which commenced this week on 21 February. The campaign consists of adverts on social media and radio, which guide residents on how to make things right.

We will publish a White Paper in the spring, setting out how we will support those in the private rented sector, including ending section 21 evictions and giving all tenants a strong right to redress. The White Paper will explore new standards for rented homes, introducing a national landlord register and taking tough action against rogue landlords. We will also review the decent homes standard to make sure it is fit for the present day and applies across all rented tenures.

We will also address poor energy efficiency by targeting retrofit funding at the worst performing homes and those least able to pay. The £2.2 billion funding through the home upgrade grant, social housing decarbonisation fund and boiler upgrade scheme will help to improve energy efficiency and lower energy bills. The future homes standard and future building standards will also ensure that new homes and buildings reach much higher energy efficiency standards. Through the Building Safety Bill, we will also legislate for the new homes ombudsman to support the purchases of new build homes when things go wrong.

I close by thanking the right hon. Lady again for securing today’s debate and speaking so passionately on behalf of her constituents. I hope the residents of Evelyn Court know that we really do care about this issue. I reiterate that we are committed to ensuring that housing works for everyone. The Government understand the scale of the challenge that we face, which is why the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has set those ambitious missions to halve the number of rented homes that fail to meet the decent homes standard across both the social rented and private sectors.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.