Tenants invited to play lead role in council’s drive to improve its housing services

Croydon Council in south London has pledged to deliver major improvements to its housing services including giving council tenants a much greater say in how services are run, after a highly critical report on appalling living conditions within a high-rise block were broadcast on national TV.

A leaking water supply pipe into the 11 storey block on Regina Road, in South Norwood left tenants living in mould ridden flats with water running down internal walls, through ceilings and collecting in puddles on sodden carpets. Rooms within flats were left uninhabitable and electrical supplies were left in a dangerous condition. Tenants’ personal possessions were ruined.

After the ITN broadcast in late March, the Council commissioned an independent investigation from Ark Consultancy. The consultants’ report exposed a wider series of flaws and shortcomings in service delivery, including a poor culture within the housing service, as well as weak performance management and poor use of data and intelligence.

The water leak had initially been reported four years beforehand, with tenants regularly reporting problems within the block but their complaints were poorly handled. The Regina Road block also suffered from roof leaks.

The council re-housed a number of the worst affected tenants and has begun a series of stock condition surveys on all its high-rise blocks, as upto 25 tower blocks across the borough dating from the mid 1960s to early 1970s, are understood to suffer similar building design and component faults. More widely, repairs and complaints procedures are also being reviewed and improved as a priority.

The council is drawing up a programme of improvement works to make its housing services fit for purpose and setting up a Housing Improvement Board to oversee this work. The board is to include tenant representatives and an independent chair, will hold regular meetings in public and examine the council’s housing services, both in terms of resident satisfaction and overall performance.

Existing vacancies and skills gaps are being addressed immediately to boost service delivery and two new specialist teams are being set up to improve both investment in housing stock and performance including repairs, complaints handling and contract management. Alison Knight who was previously Executive Director, Neighbourhoods at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council has been appointed as interim executive director to oversee the changes.

Councillor Hamida Ali, leader of the council, said: “Ark’s report raises some very concerning issues about our housing services, and on behalf of the whole council I apologise to the residents who we’ve let down.

“We fully accept the report’s findings, and although we have taken urgent steps to address immediate issues highlighted at Regina Road, it is clear we must do much more to improve things for all our residents.

“This will be much more than repairing bricks and mortar; we must, most importantly, also repair our relationship with our council residents, build back their trust and make sure they are listened to and heard as we make these changes.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor