Islington Council under investigation for ‘failures’ in dealing with mould and damp complaints

Mould on a living room window in Barnsbury. Photograph: Julia Gregory

A housing watchdog is investigating Islington Council’s “failures” in dealing with mould and damp.

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway will look into “whether continued complaints around damp and mould are indicative of wider failure within the landlord”.

The harm caused by damp and mould was tragically highlighted by the death of a two-year-old in Rochdale from respiratory problems caused by a mouldy home.

Blakeway said his investigation in Islington comes “after repeated failures in this area over the past year”.

He explained he had been “alerted to two new damp and mould complaints concerning the landlord that have been assessed as high risk. Under the circumstances, I have instructed my team to expedite these investigations. Other cases with us concern similar issues and may indicate a repeated failing.”

He said his investigation team will do a deep dive into the way Islington Council tackles mould and damp problems.

They will monitor the council’s performance and draw up a dossier of recommendations to improve its response.

Last year, the ombudsman highlighted 11 complaints of mould and damp in Islington Council homes as part of its spotlight report, and ruled there was maladministration in four cases.

It has also found problems in cases it looked into this year.

The investigation follows housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa highlighting the situation of a Canonbury family home beset by problems of mould, damp, sewage leaks and mice.

The Citizen also reported on problems at a family home where a GCSE student was forced to sleep on a sofa in the living room because damp and mould in his bedroom exacerbated health problems.

The council has taken steps to sort out the problems in both properties.

The Ombudsman said it could not comment or identify specific cases while the investigation is live, but it will publish a report when it is completed.

Last month, Cllr Una O’Halloran, executive member for housing and communites, told a scrutiny committee that what happened “is not good enough”.

She outlined a range of urgent measures, including a review into repairs of mould and damp problems over the last three years and teaming up with health experts to offer support to residents who feel their health could be affected.

Responding to the Ombudsman’s latest move, she pledged to “keep working to eradicate damp and mould until our tenants have the secure, decent, genuinely affordable homes they need”.

She added: “It’s vital all our tenants live in homes that are free from damp and mould. We know that in some cases we have fallen short of the high standards our residents deserve. We are very sorry about this, and are urgently reviewing these cases.”

She said residents who reported damp and mould problems in the last three years could expect a review to check the problem is resolved, with further work if not.

The council is also spending £1m to recruit specialist surveyors and fund more insulation and ventilation in its homes.

Cllr O’Halloran said non-specialist housing staff would also get training to spot damp and mould concerns when visiting homes on other issues.

In 2019, the London Assembly’s environment committee, chaired by Green Islington Assembly member and leader of the opposition on the council Caroline Russell, investigated the scourge of mould and damp.

In Keeping out the Chill, it recommended work to ensure homes have good ventilation, appropriate energy advice to help tackle condensation, more support for social housing providers to invest in improvements to their homes and better quality energy advice, “particularly for fuel poor and vulnerable residents”.