It’s become a familiar story, but no less devastating for the victims.
When Selma was offered a home exchange by her landlord Clarion, she went to visit their prospective new home in Wimbledon, south London. What she saw was a nice property, albeit cluttered and overfull as the sitting tenant clearly had a hoarding problem.
Despite some misgivings about the conditions inside, the structure seemed sound, and she was promised a full clean and redecoration to get it habitable again. Selma agreed to the exchange.
Four months later, Selma, her husband, and their three children, were told that their new home was ready and arranged for the family to move in.
On arrival, they were met with a scene more suited to the set of a horror film. The property was in a state of utter destruction.
Not only had the previous tenant not moved all of their possessions or rubbish, but has left the house in such a state where mould is visibly forming on the walls”Images from Selma’s new home
There had been no clean up, no redecoration, no decontamination, and no repairs.
Unsafe and Infested
The problems did not end at dirt and grime. The heating is not functioning, and the electricity is unsafe. Subsidence is causing cracks in the walls. “It’s a living nightmare” says Selma. The bathroom is almost unusable. Selma found “what appeared to be decades worth of ingrained faeces in the toilet, it doesn’t flush properly, and the handle is broken”.
The property is also infested with rats.
I have to highlight the rat holes not to mention the rats themselves and the rat droppings we have found. There is an unbearable stench in this home from a dead rat.”The family battle an encrusted toilet and rat droppings
The family live in perpetual fear of intruders because the front and back doors, and some of the rear windows don’t close properly. Everyone feels unsafe, especially at night. The new front door and replacement windows they were promised by Clarion have never been installed.
Selma notes that
The house somehow passed Clarion’s inspection, although none of the Health and Safety Standards for Rented Homes seemed to have been checked. Clarion should have never allowed this house to pass inspection.“Selma
Despite multiple complaints, Clarion remains deaf to all the appeals from the family and supporters to address the problems and make their home safe from the physical, psychological and security risks.
Clarion’s Failing Governance
As consistent press reports have shown, the problems at Clarion stem from the top. Clarion’s governance is in a state of disrepair, leading to multiple failings in the way it delivers housing services.
Selma’s case is not a first offence for Clarion. The UK’s largest landlord has repeatedly hit the headlines for disrepairs, and for failing to address complaints from tenants and residents across a range of issues.
Clarion has been subject to intense naming and shaming in the media, but show little improvement
Between March 2021 and April 2022, the Housing Ombudsman declared Clarion guilty of ‘Severe Maladministration’ in a total of 20 cases, and guilty of ‘Partial Maladministration’ in a further 36 cases.
In May 2022, the Ombudsman was forced to conduct a special investigation into the landlord. It concluded five months later with a damning report on damp and mould, complaints handling, and record keeping. None of this was news to Clarion’s long-suffering tenants and residents.
Also in May, Clarion was ‘put on notice’ by Housing Secretary Michael Gove in a highly critical open letter shared widely across the media. Gove slammed Clarion for the poor condition of its housing and the length of time it was taking to put things right.
Secretary of State Michael Gove has taken to the press to criticise failing landlords, but seems reluctant to use any effective powers against them
In June, Clarion allegedly suffered a cyber-attack which shut down most communication systems such as the call centre phonelines and almost all emails. It also disabled electronic platforms through which tenants and residents view rent their accounts, report disrepairs, or submit anti-social behaviour complaints.
The cyber attack has impacted directly on Selma and her family.
I’ve received an incomplete tenancy agreement from Clarion. It was issued after the cyber attack. It doesn’t say what my rent is, therefore it has affected my benefits. I can’t get the Council Tax relief I’m entitled to without a legally compliant tenancy which sets out what I pay”.Selma
Most bizarrely of all, Despite the fact that Selma has been living in the Clarion-owned property for some months, Clarion claims that it has no details for her on their system. They blame this on the disarray caused by the cyber attack, but haven’t yet put it right.
SHAC Disrepairs Campaign
The problems at Clarion and other landlords are well-known. The institutions which should protect tenants and residents such as the Regulator of Social Housing, Housing Ombudsman, and First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) are ineffective. They do not have enough staff to process complaints quickly, even where the conditions pose risk serious and imminent harm or fatality to tenants and residents.
Longstanding disrepairs must become a thing of the past. SHAC will be launching a new campaign to bring tenants and residents with persistent disrepair problems together.
These institutions have been ordered in such a way as to rely primarily on naming and shaming bad landlords in the hope that they will voluntarily reform their practices. It isn’t working, but the regulatory organisations have few powers to act more robustly when housing associations ignore their orders. As yet, government has shown little interest in strengthening their powers.
Tenants and residents will need to force government to change the legislation and make landlords more accountable. Later this year, SHAC will be organising tenants and residents to take concerted action against government’s tolerance of disrepairs and slum conditions in housing association properties.
If you would like to get involved, please join us.
9 January 2023
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