Patrick Marples, the chief executive of the South West London Law Centres, has urged the government to take action to end the misery of thousands of social housing tenants, living in council homes, housing association properties or paying rent to private landlords, whose lives are blighted, and their children put at risk, by mould and other examples of poor maintenance.
Marples’ open letter was sent to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, following the inquest into the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak. The Coroner found that the cause of the toddler’s death was a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in his home.
“Awaab’s tragic and unnecessary death shines a light on the shocking conditions that many households are forced to live in, and the woefully inadequate response of many social housing providers,” Marples said.
South West London Law Centres is a community-based legal practice and registered charity, with offices across six south London boroughs – Croydon, Merton, Kingston, Richmond, Sutton and Wandsworth – “helping people to understand and enforce their legal rights” and addressing the root causes of social injustice: poverty, family breakdown, unemployment and exploitation.
In his letter, Marples emphasised the serious concerns the Law Centres have over the handling of disrepair in social housing, as set out in their written and oral evidence given earlier this year to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee Inquiry into the Regulation of Social Housing.
Marples expressed further concern about the shortcomings of the committee’s recommendations following the Inquiry and the lack of appropriate advocacy and support for tenants.
In his letter, Marples highlights that the most recent English Housing Survey found that 1-in-8 homes in the social rented sector failed to meet the decent homes standard in 2020.
Marples warned Gove that:
- Increasing the regulatory powers of the Housing Ombudsman will be largely ineffective
unless tenants have access to specialist advocacy and support.
- There is too much focus on alternative dispute resolution; tenants need to be able to take legal action against their landlord, including at a court hearing where necessary.
“There needs to be a level playing field in the regulation of social housing,” Marples said.
“If this is a priority for this government, we urge you to examine the funding and availability of the legal advice sector before another tragedy occurs.”
Read more: ‘I had to put my kids on inhalers because of the black mould’
Read more: Regina Road repairs are falling short of required standards
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
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