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Housing

Michael Gove vows to get tough with social housing landlords in warning over horror homes

The housing secretary has written to the head of Clarion housing association after the Housing Ombudsman launched an investigation into leaks, damp and pest infestations, as well as complaint handling.

Michael Gove has warned the UK’s largest housing association he intends to take a “personal and direct interest” in its efforts to fix its horror homes.

Crisis-hit Clarion Housing has been at the centre of allegations from ITV News and housing activist Kwajo Tweneboa over the last year after they both uncovered stories of tenants living in squalid conditions.

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Earlier this month, the Housing Ombudsman announced a wider investigation into Clarion after finding severe failings for the second time in recent weeks.

The regulator launched the probe over Clarion’s complaint handling after a case where a vulnerable tenant was left without running water for days and months at a time and a rodent issue so bad there were mice in every room of her home.

Now Gove has written a letter to the housing association’s chief executive Clare Miller criticising its performance in housing tenants in adequate housing.

“No one should have to live in a home with these conditions – and it should not take years to put them right,” said Gove.

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“I am deeply disappointed that as one of the largest social housing landlords who should be setting an example, you have not been able to meet fundamental standards for your tenants. It is extremely concerning for there to be two such serious cases in quick succession.”

Miller admitted mistakes in response to Gove’s letter but said Clarion is “making good progress” in improving housing conditions and how residents are treated..

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The Westminster government has announced the Social Housing Regulation Bill in recent weeks in a bid to boost the standards of social housing across the board after ITV and Tweneboa highlighted conditions at the Eastfields Estate in Merton, south London.

Those findings and two cases of severe maladministration against Clarion have forced the regulator to act. The housing association said it was “disappointed” with the Ombudsman’s public announcement of the investigation.

Renting Dawn Page kitchen leak
Dawn Page’s story is one of several that have shamed Clarion in the past year. She put down white towels to mop up the sewage in the kitchen, turning them brown. Image: Dawn Page

That reaction came under fire from Gove. He said: “I also note with concern Clarion’s decision to respond to this worrying report by criticising aspects of the Ombudsman’s statement.

“The focus in response to Ombudsman reports such as this must be on putting things right and learning lessons so that some of the most vulnerable in our society get the housing and support they need. A defensive response is completely the wrong approach.”

No timeframe has been given for the Ombudsman’s investigation, which Tweneboa told The Big Issue would mean “people will be able to see how bad things are with that organisation”.

Gove has vowed to keep the pressure on Clarion, which manages 125,000 homes housing 350,000 people.

“I intend to take a personal and direct interest in your association’s approach to housing conditions, engagement with residents and vulnerable complainants in particular,” he said.

In response to Gove’s letter, Clarion chief executive Miller said: “We can confirm we have received a letter from the secretary of state, relating to the ombudsman ruling, where we failed to provide the service our residents have a right to expect.

“As chief executive of Clarion Housing Group, I will never shirk our responsibility to provide and maintain good quality homes.

“We have not got every decision right as an organisation, but we are making good progress and recently published a detailed update on the actions we have taken to significantly improve our service.

“There is no quick fix to the housing crisis and the UK has some of the oldest housing stock in the world. As a charitable organisation, we will continue do all we can to meet this challenge and we hope the government will work with us on our common goals.”

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