Gemma*

Gemma* (*not her real name) phoned the office in early January because the closer on the front entrance gate to the block she lives on had been broken.

I think the gate has been broken over 15 times in the last year and each time we have a hard time getting it fixed.

When the closer on the gate is broken, I worry about a break-in happening while I am at work, because I have already had someone try to do this, and my window got smashed in. One of my neighbours can’t sleep because they get so worried.

Chasing the Council is exhausting, and I wish a camera could be installed to make the gate more secure instead of the back and forward when it gets broken.


This time, it took Gemma* and the other residents of the block 7 weeks to get the front entrance gate fixed.

According to research by Shelter, most social renters have a reasonable relationship with their landlord, with 65% of social renters agreeing their landlord resolves issues in their home in a timely way. However, people often talk about frustrations with communication, and long waits for essential work to be completed.

There is also an interesting regional variation in the percentage of social renters who feel their landlord doesn’t consider their interests – 16% in the North East contrasts with 38% in London.

Louise*

Louise* (*not her real name) lives in a small two bedroom property with her daughters.

Currently, only the living room and bedrooms have heating. The family are relying on fan heaters for the kitchen and outside lean-to – which contains the only toilet. This means her heating and gas bills are extraordinarily high.

She knew the property had no central heating when she viewed it, but the Council promised to repair this by the time she moved.

When you view a property you don’t have much time, so I felt pressure to accept. It took the Council 2 years to install heating after we moved, and this is still only in the living room and bedrooms.

There are lots of other problems, like damp and dust from the layers of wallpaper. One of my daughters has fractured her ankle because there is no stair-rail. I struggle to cook because there is not much kitchen space.

I don’t invite anyone to our house. I slap on a smile and keep it all in when people are around.

Mostly I don’t feel like I’m living, I’m just existing.




Louise* mentions viewing a property and the pressure she felt to accept the offer. Viewings often aren’t very long – Louise* says hers was about 10 minutes.

When people are given an offer of a property by the Council, they are advised always to accept the offer. This is because not doing so may result in them being deemed ‘intentionally homeless‘. In such a case, the Council can discharge their duty to house someone and they can be removed from the housing register.

This can put families under a lot of stress when they are offered housing that is outside of the area (it is not uncommon for housing to be over an hour away from a family’s work or school) or even the city.

In 2017/2018, 103 homelessness applications in Newham were rejected on the basis of intentional homelessness (Local Authority Homelessness Statistics).

Anita*

Anita* (*not her real name) has three children. Her oldest son was stabbed on Christmas Day, 2017. The attackers were known to the family and intended the stabbing to prove fatal. On the advice of police, her housing association agreed to move her out the area. Over a year later she is still waiting to be moved.

“This last year has been extremely difficult. We feel scared and unsafe in our own home. My youngest son has even tried to sleep with a knife under his pillow. It is hard to tell him not to be scared when I am so fearful myself. 

I have been struggling with my mental health, and struggling to sleep properly. Often I can’t get through to the housing association and have to ask the MP’s office to phone so that I get a response. I don’t feel listened to, and all the time we remain here I am scared. Life feels like it is on hold.” 


Anita* is housed by a housing association.

Housing associations (HAs) are not-for-profit businesses that provide social housing. 

As seen below, they now house approximately 8% of the general population, and about half of social renters (IFS, ‘Long-term trends in British Taxation and Spending‘ p8) .

The growth of HAs was partly driven by two changes.

Firstly, while Local Authorities suffered sharp cuts in government spending on housing ,and strict limits on their ability to borrow, from 1989, HAs were allowed to borrow outside of the public borrowing and accounting regime.

Secondly, the Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) programme (from the Housing Act 1985), allowed for local authority housing stock to be transferred to HAs.

The LSVT programme had a number of aims, including bringing in private finance to tackle backlogs of repairs without increased public borrowing, and bringing (presumed) private sector efficiencies into the sector. Since 1988, 1.3 million homes have been transferred to HAs in this way (IFS, pg 9).

HAs have been highly effective in attracting private finance into the sector for development purposes under the mixed-funding regime introduced by the Housing Act 1988. It should also be mentioned that, because HA residents do not have the statutory right to buy, their housing stock is retained as affordable in perpetuity.

However, there are concerns that HAs are becoming more commercial, with a focus on development and non-core activities, rather than services provided to existing residents (see here and here).

And, whereas local authority controlled social housing gives residents the opportunity to go directly to their elected councillors if they are unhappy, HA boards are, arguably, rather less transparent. This can be seen in Anita’s* case, as she struggles to get through to her HA.