Nine months on and council tenants are still being ignored

CROYDON IN CRISIS: If 2020 was Croydon Council’s year of Negreedy and bankruptcy, 2021 has been the year of leaks, mould and a local authority exposed as incompetent and uncaring about those living in its properties. And there are worrying signs that little has yet changed.
By STEVEN DOWNES

The shame that won’t go away: the latest edition of Inside Housing magazine, featuring Regina Road and ITV News reporter Dan Hewitt

“The only ‘leaks’ that Steve Reed, Hamida Ali and their chums at the Town Hall should be worrying about are the ones in the council flats in South Norwood,” one Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon this week, as the local Labour Party continued in its course of vendettas,  internal wrangling and self-destruction.

Councillor Ali will go down in history as leader of Croydon Council for less than two years, her political “career” forever stained with the scandal of the council homes on Regina Road – “the worst homes in Britain”, as they were described on national television.

And according to the reporter who broke the story which shocked the nation on ITV’s News At Ten on March 22, there’s still a lot more to come.

“During our investigation, we could have run a piece every single night on this,” Daniel Hewitt, ITV News’s political correspondent, says in an interview in the latest edition of Inside Housing magazine.

Hewitt has spent most of the past year researching and following up countless other instances of appalling conditions in council and housing association homes.

“Rightly,” Inside Housing states, “this is the story that everyone who lives and works in social housing has been talking about this year.”

In the lengthy interview, Hewitt says that the moment he stepped into the council home of Fransoy Hewitt in South Norwood, “It was the most angry I’ve ever been as a journalist, as a human being.”

The magazine reports, “Footage of her flat revealed the appalling conditions that she and her two sons were living in: walls covered in thick black mould and damp so bad the carpet squelched under her feet. Water leaked from lights and into sockets, leading her to unplug her fridge to avoid electrocution.”

And reporter Hewitt said, “Walking into that flat and seeing not just appalling, squalid conditions, but the fact that it was quite obviously dangerous and Fransoy was living there with her two little boys.”

‘The most angry I have ever been’: reporter Dan Hewitt with council tenant Fransoy Hewitt in Regina Road in March

He says that the smell and the cold he encountered in that Croydon council flat have stuck with him – as well as knowing that repairs teams had been round and she had called the council over and over again.

“I remember thinking that I couldn’t live in this for a day, never mind for months and months and months.”

After being exposed, Croydon Council apologised and in May, a damning report from independent consultants found systemic failures and incompetence at the council and its repairs contractor, Axis,  saying there was a “poor operating culture with a lack of care and respect for tenants”.

Which, for most reasonable people, might have been a starting point for a radical improvement in the council’s care and attention to its tenants.

But Inside Croydon is aware of formal complaints being filed within the past month about the supercilious and condescending approach of senior council officials to Regina Road residents at recent meetings.

Poor repairs: the maintenance of the flats at Regina Road is still less than optimal

And while some of the ill-served residents have been moved out or been promised new accommodation away from Regina Road’s badly maintained flats, the notion that repairs are being conducted any more urgently or efficiently are belied by photographs of the blocks.

None of this has the excuse of the council’s bankruptcy, which occurred under Councillor Ali’s predecessor and mentor, Tony Newman and his influential deputy and head of housing, Alison Butler.

The council’s Housing Revenue Account is a ring-fenced fund used to run the borough’s council homes.

The HRA was the source of the money used to pay “Dr” Alison Knight her £800 per day fees when she swanned into Croydon as an emergency interim head of housing, only to leave after less than six months without any obvious sign of actually achieving anything.

Millions of HRA money had been earmarked to buy up Brick by Brick flats when the council’s failing housing company needed a cashflow boost.

Yet when it comes to using HRA money to improve the living conditions of existing council tenants, officials at Fisher’s Folly seem remarkably reluctant.

In charge: Alison Butler, the cabinet member for housing until Oct 2020

There is a borough-wide issue in council blocks with damaged and vandalised security doors. Labour councillors in several wards have lodged formal complaints on behalf of their residents for months on end, as the homes’ security is being placed at risk, and break-ins at the blocks have become more frequent, vandalism and drug-dealing has been an issue.

According to senior council sources, the HRA has more than £900,000 earmarked to pay for a borough-wide door replacement project… but the work has been delayed because a council official has not approved the work to start.

“It’s as if the Regina Road scandal never happened,” said the source.

Fransoy Hewitt had collated a diary of shame – a list of all her phone calls and emails to the council and its contractors over the previous 18 months. Some of her neighbours had been lodging similar complaints to the council’s housing department and Axis for four years.

As Inside Housing puts it, “Many residents in the block and in another across the road had repeatedly complained to the council about the state of their homes…”. Dan Hewitt’s first report on the News At Ten “was the start of an odyssey that would go on to highlight cases of poor social housing conditions across England”.

Hewitt rightly highlights the work of three ITV News producers on the South Norwood report and others subsequently: Sophie Alexander, Imogen Barrer, Sarah O’Connell.

It had been O’Connell, a decade earlier, who had produced Newsnight’s devastatingly critical report into the equally squalid conditions endured by families living in temporary accommodation in Croydon.

The work of O’Connell and Hewitt had done in 2021 what Cathy Come Home had exposed in the 1960s.

“If you could bottle the dignity and resilience of the people we’ve spoken to and sell it, you’d make a lot of money, because they have to put up with so much more than most people,” Hewitt told Inside Housing.

“Everything about their lives starts to crumble and fall apart. How can a child go to school and do well educationally when their home is riddled with damp and is wet and leaking?”

Hard lives: the flats in Regina Road have provided badly inadequate homes

“Families have had their lives completely destroyed by this.

“And because people often don’t have anywhere else to go, when they complain there’s a sense of ‘what’s the urgency, they’re not going to leave’.

“Whether it’s unconsciously, there is potentially this culture that’s seeped in of ‘we don’t need to rush this’ – and that’s a really dangerous conclusion to come to.

“If people in the social housing sector are treating tenants like that… they just lose all hope that anyone is ever going to treat them well.

“It’s quite clear that there’s a pattern of treating tenants like the problems that they’re living with are their own fault.

“And there’s a culture of not actually listening to what they’re saying. There is a culture of not taking their complaints seriously.”

And Hewitt has a worrying message for Croydon Council and other social housing providers who fail their tenants. “We’re not stopping. We plan to continue to shine a light on the treatment of tenants and the conditions they are living in, and keep questioning what is being done about it.”

Read more: Only 10% of council housing repair jobs ever get checked
Read more: Ali accused of cover-up over findings on council flats scandal
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Your staff make us feel less than human’

Become a Patron!


  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named the country’s rottenest borough in 2020 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine – the fourth successive year that Inside Croydon has been the source for such award-winning nominations
  • Inside Croydon: 3million page views in 2020. Seen by 1.4million unique visitors

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Alison Butler, Alison Knight, Croydon Council, Hamida Ali, Housing, London-wide issues, Regina Road Residents' Support Group, South Norwood, Steve Reed MP, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Nine months on and council tenants are still being ignored

  1. moyagordon says:

    This issue is so important, decent housing is a basic human right, surely. How things have been allowed to get so bad is beyond belief. Of all the things most taxpayers would want is for people who are council tenants to have homes that are safe to live in. There doesn’t seem to be any accountability so how will things change? Taxpayers seem happy to allow their money to be thrown around paid to service providers without any regard for whether suppliers are doing a good job.We need tighter controls to improve standards. A body that represents council tenants. Tenants need to know who to contact when things are going wrong when their council isn’t delivering services appropriately.

  2. If Steve Reed OBE MP and Clive Fraser spent less time trying to strangle democracy in the LLP and more time trying to address these dire housing issues, they’d be doing what they were elected to do.

    But Hey, that sounds like hard work and it would expose to public scrutiny just how useless these two are.

    Roll on the elections.

  3. miapawz says:

    why don’t the council just get a decent building firm/plumbers round to fix the place? Sack an ‘executive’ and use that money…..

Leave a Reply