CROYDON IN CRISIS: The Social Housing Regulator has this morning issued its formal notice in which it states that South Norwood council tenants’ ‘homes were uninhabitable and apparently unsafe, and the evidence demonstrates that other tenants may also have been at risk of serious harm’. By STEVEN DOWNES
Badly neglected and poorly maintained council flats in residential tower blocks on Regina Road were “uninhabitable”, “apparently unsafe” and placed residents “at risk of serious harm”.
The situation arose, according to government officials, as the result of “widespread and long-standing failures”.
Those are the findings of an official notice of breaches of housing standards and regulations issued this morning by the Social Housing Regulator. By failing to meet proper standards, it means Croydon Council has been acting as a slum landlord.
The notice makes it clear that while the council self-notified the Regulator once it had been caught out in a series of shocking reports broadcast by ITV News in March, the Regulator had already been alerted to the parlous situation (civil servants clearly watch TV and read the newspapers) and would have taken action against Croydon in any case.
The Regulator’s office reports to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
An MHCLG spokesperson told Inside Croydon, “By law all landlords must ensure properties are fit for people to live in and all registered providers of social housing must meet standards set by the Regulator of Social Housing.
“This includes complying with the government’s Decent Homes Standard, which ensures properties are safe and decent.”
The Decent Homes Standard is a set of rules and regulations which were introduced in 2006, under the then Labour government, with the aim of reducing and eliminating slum conditions in the nation’s housing stock.
The Regulator’s notice echoes many of the criticisms of the council’s housing department and repairs contractors, Axis, which have been aired in recent weeks by tenants, many of whom were ignored and shown little, if any, respect over their complaints about their housing conditions over the past four years.
The notice makes bleak reading for Hamida Ali, the under-pressure council leader, and raise further questions around her former political boss and ally, Alison Butler.
Butler was a key member of Tony Newman’s Town Hall clique, the council cabinet member for housing for six years, until she was forced to stand down last October.
However, Butler remains as a Croydon councillor, and she has been subject to no disciplinary action by the Labour Party over her part in the council’s financial collapse, the failures over Brick by Brick, or this latest scandal of the disrepair of council homes.
The Social Housing Regulator’s notice pulls few punches. The notice begins:
The regulator has concluded that:
a) LB Croydon has breached the Home Standard and the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard; and
b) As a consequence of this breach, there was actual and potential serious detriment to LB Croydon’s tenants. The regulator will work with LB Croydon as it seeks to remedy this breach and will continue to consider what further action may need to be taken.
And the report continues: “As a local authority registered provider, LB Croydon is required to comply with the consumer standards, including the Home Standard and the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard. The Home Standard requires registered providers to have a cost-effective repairs and maintenance service and to meet all applicable statutory health and safety requirements. The Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard requires registered providers to treat tenants with fairness and respect and to have an approach that ensures complaints are resolved promptly, politely and fairly…”. Oh dear.
“The information available to the regulator shows that LB Croydon has failed to meet the above standards when delivering its housing service… The evidence shows that these issues arose as a result of widespread and long-standing failures by LB Croydon in relation to its repairs and maintenance service.”
The Regulator quotes from the consultants’ report into the scandal which found “issues in how the council responded to tenants’concerns and complaints and weak performance management”.
The Regulator says that, “The evidence shows that some tenants’ homes were uninhabitable and apparently unsafe, and the evidence demonstrates that other tenants may also have been at risk of serious harm as a result of the conditions in their home.
“As a result, there was actual, and the potential for serious detriment to tenants. In response to the problems identified, LB Croydon is seeking to understand the extent of the issues and is taking urgent steps to address the failings… We will continue our intensive engagement with LB Croydon to ensure action is taken with sufficient pace to ensure the safety of tenants while improvements are being delivered.”
They go on to say, “The regulator considers that LB Croydon has failed to provide an effective repairs and maintenance service for tenants, and we also lack assurance that LB Croydon has an effective system to demonstrate it is meeting its statutory health and safety responsibilities.
“The evidence also shows that LB Croydon has failed to treat tenants with fairness and respect, and has failed to provide an effective process for tenants to raise complaints. As a result of these failures, the evidence suggests that some tenants were living in uninhabitable and unsafe properties, and that other tenants were at risk of experiencing the same conditions in their homes.
“… Taking into account the seriousness of the issues, the durations for which tenants were potentially exposed to risk, and the number of tenants potentially affected, the regulator has concluded that it is proportionate to find that LB Croydon has breached the Home Standard and the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard and that there was a risk of serious detriment to tenants during this period.
“Section 198A of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (as amended) states that the regulator’s regulatory and enforcement powers may be used if a registered provider has failed to meet a consumer standard. In order to use regulatory or enforcement powers, as well as the failure to meet the standard, there should also be reasonable grounds to suspect that the failure has resulted in a serious detriment to the provider’s tenants (or potential tenants) or that there is a significant risk that, if no action is taken by the regulator, the failure will result in a serious detriment to the provider’s tenants (or potential tenants).”
There is no mention of penalties or fines for the council in the report, nor any threat that those responsible for allowing such a situation to fester for years should be barred from holding public office.
Croydon Council already has government-appointed officials poring over its books because it cannot be trusted to manage its own finances.
It has only recently emerged from a three-year period when the borough’s children’s services department was being managed by officials from outside Croydon following a damning Ofsted report – a report which identified many systemic problems at the council which will have appeared very similar to those highlighted in the recent report on housing.
Now, it seems, Croydon is to have housing inspectors looking over their shoulder for some time to come.
The Regulator’s report concludes by stating that they “will work with the council as it continues to address the issues which have led to this situation, including ongoing monitoring of how it delivers its programme and mitigates risks to tenants throughout.
“The regulator will keep under review whether further regulatory action is necessary.”
Read more: ‘None of the tenants in Croydon trust anybody in the council’
Read more: Ali accused of cover-up over findings on council flats scandal
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
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