This report presented provided an update on how the Council was addressing the management of damp and mould within its housing stock in the context of the Housing Ombudsman’s Spotlight on Damp and Mould Report published in October 2021. The Ombudsman’s report had identified 26 recommendations across four main themes to assist social landlords with the management of damp and mould within its housing stock. The Committee had received two reports in June and November 2021 which had set out the Council’s approach to managing damp and mould within its housing stock. Since the publication of the Ombudsman’s report, Thurrock had made progress in adopting a number of service improvements and measures in managing damp and mould within its properties which were consistent with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. There remained some further progress in some areas, which were highlighted in the report. Members were reminded that the report had been written prior to the tragic event in Rochdale with key learnings coming out of the coroner’s report which the council were reviewing in light of their own approach and practices. Ewelina Sorbjan stated the coroner’s findings would be taken very seriously and that the council already had a very proactive approach. A task and finish group had already been put in place to look at wider partners and other housing associations that operate within the borough.
Councillor Redsell stated she had been fighting this for the last 20 years but still people were being placed in properties they should not be in, some of those buildings had been built a long time ago and were falling apart. Councillor Redsell referred to “reasonable state of repair” and stated this should be “good repair”.
Councillor Worrall referred to the 18 properties that were known to have on-going issues with damp and mould and stated these were quite high numbers where it was known of reoccurring issues of damp and mould. Councillor Worrall questioned officers if they were confident there were no houses in the state of repair with mould across the ceiling, kitchen and bedrooms, confident that there were no children living in bedrooms with bronchitis and whether there were any medical cases or any live court cases against the council because of the conditions they were in. Mohammed Ullah referred to the legal disrepair cases, the live cases, and stated he received a weekly report of live disrepair cases and would be attending weekly meetings to review the current track of properties where residents had sought legal recourse. Efforts were being made to resolve those cases with those properties being reinspected, resurveyed, treated and matters resolved before they go to a tribunal hearing. That delays with communications with legal representations may occur but would communicate with residents. There was a live repair tracker of live cases that would be reviewed on a weekly basis as part of the council’s practice. Councillor Worrall noted that some government decarbonation fund had been applied for and questioned when this would be known if successful and whether this would be a for a specific program. Ewelina Sorbjan stated the bid submission date was last week with government making announcements early next year as the conditions of delivery of the works under bid would start next April and hoped to hear by January.
Councillor Worrall referred to the heat pumps and questioned whether these were in place to ensure the flats at Chadwell would be warmer this year and questioned whether the Gray’s Tower had now been finished. Ewelina Sorbjan stated the heat pump programme would run until the end of March with the programme being on track. Ewelina Sorbjan referred to Gray’s Tower where all the insulation had been installed, windows were being replaced and finishing works on individual flats being completed. With feedback already from residents that the insulation having made a huge different to temperatures.
Councillor Liddiard referred to the ombudsman’s recommendations of four key themes and questioned whether this would be adopted as the council’s policy. Councillor Liddiard also questioned how the council knew that they were getting to everybody who was living with damp and mould. Mohammed Ullah stated the council was already proactively adopting ombudsman’s four themes in the council’s own policy. That working with residents, providing information, guidance and support when necessary, addressing the structure of the building and all external elements and communicating with residents to get works programmed and actioned.
Councillor Liddiard questioned whether damp and mould would be a priority and how much money had been put aside in financial terms to get the job done properly. Mohammed Ullah stated this had always been a priority and listed as a key objective within the housing asset management strategy. Working alongside residents was crucial by giving them the necessary information to help them report back any issues. In terms of finance, budgets were healthy, with HRA in good shape and set to deliver on damp and mould and all the asset management activities that were taking place.
Councillor Mayes stated that listening to residents was vital and that residents may have felt, in the initial stages, that they were to blame. Councillor Mayes agreed that the inferring from blame to take responsibility was really important. That residents should not have to live nor suffer from damp and mould when the council had the power to help.
Councillor Hebb referred to page 34, paragraph 4.8, The Housing Repairs Quality Assurance, and questioned there should be some form of independence in that team, potentially between the council and collaborators. That by creating a degree of independence would create trust into the system and provide an impartial view. Councillor Hebb also questioned how organisations and the quality of their work was validated and whether spot checks would be undertaken following the work being undertaken. Mohammed Ullah highlighted members to the report where a trial had been undertaken on some of the most prevalent properties, with surveys being sent and contact had been made with residents questioning whether there had been any reoccurrences after three or six months after the work had been undertaken. Ewelina Sorbjan thanked Councillor Hebb for the challenge and would take this away. Councillor Hebb stated with the agreement of the committee to add this as an additional recommendation.
Councillor Redsell thanked Mears for the meetings they had with councillors and stated that sometimes the council were asking them to do things which were not always possible.
Councillor Mayes stated the council had to be open and honest and it was very sad that it had taken the death of a young child to spearhead this, with national news and members across all parties fighting for the issue to be resolved for many years. Councillor Mayes stated that councils and other bodies being on notice by the Minister was a tragedy, but also a good thing to ensure residents get the service that they desperately need.
Councillor Worrall referred to the proposed damp and mould survey to be sent out properties and suggested this could be posted with rent letters.
Councillor Worrall also stated there were a lot of housing stock in Thurrock with no damp and mould issues.
Members requested the housing stock data be presented to them in the form a briefing note.
1. The Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on the Council’s progress on the management of damp and mould within the housing portfolio in relation to the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on Damp and Mould.
2. The Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on the Council’s measures that were still in development on the management of damp and mould.
3. That Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommended the appointment of an independent body to effectively quality assure on the work being undertaken and to give residents confidence.
4. That Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed that all council tenants be wrote to regarding the completion of a survey at the next possible opportunity.