The report was presented by Susan Murray.
The Chair thanked officers for the report. Councillor Redsell said that she did not agree with some points within the report particularly on ventilation as the tower blocks in Blackshots did not have this. She explained that there was water leaking inside and outside of those tower blocks and the Ward Councillors for the Blackshots area had received reports from residents with issues inside those tower blocks. She pointed out that opening windows as suggested for ventilation was not safe as children could climb onto chairs to get to the windows. She stated that the tower blocks in Blackshots needed to be demolished instead of spending money on repairing those. She said that Mears painted over mould inside those flats and the mould would reappear again. She stated that she was not happy with this.
Councillor Fletcher asked if there were specific areas in the borough where damp and mould issues were more prominent than others such as the Flowers Estate in South Ockendon. He said that damp and mould issues had become more of an issue over the past few years and that residents felt that they were blamed for this. He noted that Resident Liaison Officers were trained but pointed out that the issue was desk based staff and said that first responders needed to understand the situation that residents were in. He went on to say that there could be an underlying issue to damp and mould which could be due to the Council housing families in small properties. He also sought further details on the Thematic Review from the Housing Ombudsman.
Susan Murray answered that there were no specific areas where damp and mould was higher than other areas. She said that it was due to the architype of certain properties. In regards to the Flowers Estate, she said that she did not have the specific damp and mould details for this area but would find out and send the information out. She explained that the damp and mould issues in the Flowers Estate had reduced due to the MVHR installations (Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery units). Tracy John added that the service was aware of the issues of overcrowding which was due to a lack of housing provisions nationally for families. She said that overcrowding would put pressure within a home and increase the likelihood of damp and mould issues. She went on to say that the Thematic Review was a call for evidence from the Housing Ombudsman which the Council had circulated to council housing involved residents and TRA groups and had encouraged them to respond. Ian Wake added that the report did not seek to blame residents for damp and mould issues and highlighted that the main cause was condensation. He said that the Transforming Homes programme aimed to improve buildings and noted that some properties had reached the end of their life expectancy which needed to be replaced. He explained that a deep dive had been carried out on the complaints in the media and social media and that the service had found that most of those complaints were in regards to Blackshots tower blocks. He went on to say that the Council was currently looking at a scheme for those flats in Blackshots and would need to work with residents on a solution.
The Vice-Chair questioned how often the service carried out inspections of their council housing properties. Tracy John answered that the service relied on residents to report faults and an inspection would follow on. The service aimed to undertake three yearly inspections as part of the tenancy audit which was primarily to check in the tenants on how things were going with regard their tenancy but also looked at the conditions of properties. She said that the service was working with Mears to identify properties with potential damp and mould problems. In addition to this, the service looked at sample checks of council homes, condition surveys and other relevant data to pick up potential damp and mould problems.
The Vice-Chair felt that three yearly inspections were too long and needed to be on a more regular basis. The Chair said that she had never known of a three yearly inspection and asked for a report on the last three yearly inspection to be brought to committee. Councillor Redsell agreed and said that some of the properties were not in liveable conditions particularly the flats in Blackshots.
Councillor Pearce questioned the thoroughness of checks on council homes that became available. Susan Murray answered that a full void inspection was undertaken on returned properties. She said that these had to meet a fit to let standard as well as the Council’s fit for habitation standard. She explained that some properties had a quicker turnaround time than others which may require a longer time if damp and mould needed treating in a property.
Referring to page 19, the Chair noted that the data was over a period of two years. She asked that more in-depth detail be provided on the issues and causes of damp and mould such as if some had been caused by condensation or if some were more dangerous types of mould. She said that a breakdown of the data was needed to identify what mould spores were present and how the condensation had occurred. She also asked if there was a qualified damp and mould specialist that checked the Council’s properties. Tracy John answered that a deeper research would need to be undertaken into the details of the data. She said that the Council’s surveyors were qualified and trained but that there was no specific qualification for a damp and mould specialist. The surveyors also had access to expert advice if needed.
The Chair said that families had approached ward councillors with damp and mould issues and had shown them doctor notes highlighting asthma problems as a result of mould. She questioned whether the service accepted a medical note as evidence to move a family out of that home and into a new home. Tracy John answered that the Council had a responsibility to resolve the damp and mould issues and repaired these to ensure it was safe to live in.
The Chair noted that the report stated that residents needed to take some responsibility with damp and mould issues. She pointed out that the Council needed to take responsibility too as most of the council homes were old. She highlighted that a state regeneration programme was needed and a holistic approach to be taken in resolving damp and mould issues. Regarding the Thematic Review, she stated that Councillors had not been asked and should have been despite the timing of purdah. She asked whether the Tenancy Excellence Panel had been involved and when the review would be published. Tracy John explained that the Housing Ombudsman had announced the review in the news and the Council had shared this with involved tenants and TRA groups. She said that the Council had no ownership of the review and would check when the Thematic Review would be published.
The Committee stated that they were not happy with the damp and mould issues and that they were dissatisfied with the work that had been undertaken on these. The Chair pointed out that it had been a long time since the last damp and mould report was brought to committee and needed to come back again. The Committee agreed that the report needed to be brought back to the Housing O&S meeting on 9 November 2021 and that the report needed to address the issues that Members had raised in tonight’s meeting.
The Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee were invited to comment on the Council’s approach and performance in relation to the management of damp and mould within the housing portfolio.