Social housing tenants claim their health is being affected by damp, mould and vermin because their complaints have been ignored by one of Britain’s largest housing associations.
Two years after an independent review, prompted by an Observer exposé in 2018, criticised London & Quadrant’s repairs service, the charity is still failing to address reports of unsafe and insanitary accommodation, according to tenants. In addition, 89% of contributors to the review website Trustpilot rate its performance as bad, with reports of unresolved leaks and defects.
Antaine O’Briain, a resident of an L&Q block in west London, said he and fellow residents had spent six years trying to resolve the problems of damp and rotting windows.
“Rainwater drips on to the electricity meter cupboard, some residents are scared to open their windows for fear the frame will fall out, as has happened already, none of the flats have adequate central heating and the basement is so overrun with vermin that rubbish collectors refuse to enter the bin area,” he said.
“L&Q promised renovations would begin in 2018 and then in 2019, but nothing happened and the place is falling apart.”
L&Q blamed the delays on the planning application process. Scaffolding was erected in July, two weeks after the Observer got involved.
The mother of a domestic abuse survivor whose battle with L&Q was highlighted in the Observer last year says she has contemplated suicide after three years of leaks and mould in her own L&Q flat. She says the charity ignored her requests to be rehoused even after her bathroom ceiling collapsed due to leaks from a flat above.
The woman, who did not want to be named, was moved into the property from a refuge in 2018 and claims it was already running with damp.
Damp and the effects of moisture are clearly visible among the electricity meters of an L&Q managed block in London. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer
“I was told that it was that or nothing,” she said. “The mould has got so bad it’s got into my food cupboards and is destroying my possessions and my mental and physical health, but when I complained I was just given a bottle of mould spray.” In July L&Q agreed to find her a new home after the Observer intervened, and she was offered compensation for her damaged possessions.
A spokesperson said that her experience had been “unacceptable” and that it was launching an investigation into its failings. “We were aware of a damp problem in the property before the resident moved in,” he said. “At the time we believed this was caused by flooding in an upstairs bathroom, and carried out repairs and cleaning accordingly. It’s clear that these repairs weren’t enough, and that we should have carried out more substantial investigations and repairs to stop the damp recurring.”
L&Q, founded as a charitable association in 1963 to tackle homelessness, has expanded into a multibillion-pound operation with 115,000 social housing properties. It has also become a prolific developer of homes for private sale and last year it announced an ambition to outstrip Barratt as Britain’s leading housebuilder.
Profits are reinvested in its social projects, but after the Observer exposé its then chief executive, David Montague, admitted that its commercial ambitions had diverted focus from tenants. In July, L&Q scrapped a commitment to build 10,000 homes a year in order to concentrate on existing housing stock.
L&Q says it has devised a five-year plan to tackle customer service failings and aims to invest £1.9bn in its stock. It has created a new housing management division overseen by former council housing director Gerri Scott, and an L&Q tenant will be appointed to a newly launched resident services board to ensure tenants’ concerns are heard.
“We’ve made progress, but the pandemic placed major pressures on our repairs and maintenance services, leading to a significant backlog,” said Scott. “But there isn’t an excuse for letting residents down. L&Q is staffed by hardworking people who want to make a positive difference for our residents, but there have been clear cases where our structure and systems have held them back.”