‘Good opportunity’: Council housing officers to visit estates as drive to tackle damp and mould continues

Housing chief Cllr Una O’Halloran. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Housing officers are holding surgeries on council estates in Islington to help sort out problems with mould, damp or disrepair.

The council’s handling of cases is being investigated by the Housing Ombudsman.

The move, which follows the death of toddler Awaab Ishak in Rochdale from respiratory problems caused by poor housing, has led the council to look at the way it conducts itself.

The housing team is updating the relevant scrutiny committee on its progress.

Cllr Una O’Halloran, executive member for homes and communities, said the Town Hall is keen to monitor its interventions.

This includes twice-weekly meetings looking at the most serious cases, with 102 currently on its radar.

Residents at 31 homes have called in lawyers to help with their problems and 14 cases are on the Housing Ombudsman’s desk – eight of them resolved.

The council pledged to follow up cases of mould and damp from the last three years.

Council staff called 100 households with the highest risk and have commissioned an external company to phone others.

Out of 190 families they spoke to in the last month, 174 said damp and mould are still a problem.

In the first month and a half of this year, the council has carried out just over 1,000 damp and mould surveys – compared to the 3,600 or so it undertook in the whole of 2022.

The council is planning annual home visits starting this month, and these will include a check for damp and mould in every room.

Ian Swift, director of housing needs and strategy, said: “It is a good opportunity to talk to our tenants and ask about any specific concerns they may have.”

Scrutiny committee member Cllr Valerie Bossman-Quarshie called for more work in “trying to engage with our residents” so they don’t resort to using “ambulance-chasers”.

She said there should be more talks for residents “so they know we are on their side”.

Dean Donaghey, a resident member of the committee, said he had had three leaflets through his door in the last week alone from lawyers seeking to take on cases.

Cllr O’Halloran said she heard the calls for the council to be proactive in making sure its tenants get in touch and get housing problems fixed.

Scrutiny chair Cllr Jason Jackson said it was essential people can get through on the phone.

The council is updating its phone system in the autumn.

In November last year, housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa highlighted two serious cases of mould or damp. The council said it fixed a leaking room the same week and moved the other family and has offered them permanent homes.

The Housing Ombudsman’s investigation follows four cases where it said there was maladministration in the way the council handled them.

As part of its response, the council has reorganised its customer complaints and enquiries team. It hopes this will mean residents get a “seamless” service.

People can also meet the Housing Ombudsman at an event at the council chamber on Upper Street on Thursday 30 March.