Damaged homes, like Tracy Cordery’s pictured here, and slow reaction to complaints has seen housing bosses answering to MPs in a bid to improve the lives of social housing tenants. Image: Kwajo Tweneboa
Clarion chief executive Clare Miller told MPs at the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee that the housing association was “determined to put things right” after tenants spoke out about the conditions they were living in.
An inquiry was launched in November following a year-long investigation by ITV News into social housing conditions. Clarion was at the centre of the investigation with tenants at Merton’s Eastfield Estate in Merton in particular speaking out.
When asked if she thought the criticism of housing associations was fair, Clare Miller said: “I do. I was ashamed and we have apologised to the residents who were involved.
“For me the most important thing is we learn from what has happened here. We undertook an internal investigation and we have spoken to our residents about what we found and we are absolutely determined to put that right.”
Miller said work to repair and regenerate Eastfields homes at the centre of ITV’s reporting is continuing but a focus on “responding to residents’ requests” rather than the “planned replacement of components” meant they “missed the deterioration” of homes. She said: “I am happy doing everything we can to intervene at an estate at the end of its life.”
Vauxhall Labour MP Florence Eshalomi asked Miller about the case. “You’ve outlined to my colleague that you have apologised to tenants and it is lessons learned but in terms of lessons learned I think it’s just same old, same old.”
She added: “The tenant’s calls went unheard. You are seeing a pattern repeating itself where problems and issues are raised with the housing association but no action is taken. You’ve outlined £1.3bn in your regeneration programme. How much of that is going on repairs?”
In response, Miller said: “I cannot answer that question about the specific resident but I am more than aware and we are in dialogue with that resident.
“We run an on-demand repair service and carry out 1,000 jobs a day. There was £100m spent on capital investment in our homes last year and £200m on day-to day repairs. We absolutely run a repair service that responds to the demands of our residents.”
Another housing boss giving evidence to the committee, Ian Cole, chair of South Yorkshire Housing Association, said media reports have uncovered “scandalous” conditions and culture in social housing.
He added: “I don’t think it’s widespread and I think it unfortunate that you don’t see many items on ITV News of positive stories about social housing and, therefore, inadvertently reinforce the stigmatisation of social housing.”
Meanwhile, Suzanne Muna of the Social Housing Action Campaign added there needs to be more robust sanctions in place to force housing associations and landlords to treat tenants fairly.
She said: “Going to the regulator and making a complaint to the regulator or the Ombudsman takes too much time.
“There is serious urgency in a lot of these cases. If you have water coming through your light fittings you need to have something done about it quickly.
“The complaints system is tortuously long and protracted and for our members one of the biggest complaints is they didn’t get things addressed in a timely way.”
Pat Turnbull, representing London Tenants Association, told MPs: “We need to remember a time when having council housing was something to aspire to.
Following the committee evidence session, the government announced a review of staff training and qualifications among the social housing sector.
Ministers said the review aims to drive up standards so staff are better equipped to support tenants, deal effectively with complaints, and make sure homes are of good quality.
The move is a reaction to a surge of complaints that have been sent to the Housing Ombudsman in the past year. The regulator has seen a 139 per cent increase in complaints while the latest English Housing Survey showed almost 60 per cent social housing residents who complained were not happy with the response they received.
Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes said: “Too many social housing residents have told me they feel like they are not listened to or treated with respect – raising complaints time and time again only for the problems not to be fixed.
“This needs to stop. This review announced today will drive up the standard of services received by residents, making sure their concerns are taken seriously and they have somewhere safe to live.”
The safety of social housing has been called into question with a number of stories in the press in recent months, including in The Big Issue.