Lancaster University researchers have helped to evaluate an indoor air quality (IAQ) campaign to improve the health of children living in social housing. It’s with North West housing association Torus. However, the timing is perfect – as Torus has just been condemned by the Housing Ombudsman for leaving a resident in a damp-and mould-ridden property. So, it begs the question: why is Lancaster University helping Torus in this blatant PR exercise?
Lancaster University and Torus: a new campaign
Lancaster University and Torus have been trialing some new devices for residents to monitor the air quality in their homes. Dr Emma Halliday from Lancaster University said in a press release:
Following the death of Awaab Ishak, a young boy from Rochdale who died from a respiratory condition caused by mould in his home, there has been greater political scrutiny of social housing, with housing providers using monitors to find and fix problems.
The university said:
Dr Halliday is a member of a team who have helped evaluate an Indoor Air Quality campaign in collaboration with one of the North West’s leading housing providers, Torus, with the aim of creating an innovative pilot that focused on the respiratory impact of indoor air quality while empowering social tenants in their homes.
The project was delivered by Torus’ charitable arm Torus Foundation, whose colleagues, along with volunteers from its Healthy Neighbours Project, engaged with Torus families with children aged 11 and under, who lived across Liverpool, St Helens and Warrington.
Good for Torus – because from some news reports it seems like the housing association was long overdue acting on the conditions in its properties:
Multiple failures and… lies?
Clearly, the Housing Ombudsman agrees. Just as the Canary was going to ‘print’ with this article, the ombudsman found Torus guilty of two cases of severe maladministration, after it:
failed to respond to mould reports and also poorly handled the associated complaint, resulting in resident distress and reports of physical and mental health deteriorating.
The Housing Ombudsman noted that:
The investigation found excessive delays in the landlord progressing the works to remedy the damp and mould issue. Specifically, works did not start until nearly 9 months after the issue was first reported. When damp progressed through the property, the landlord failed to replace the resident’s bed quickly, leading to the resident sleeping on the floor for at least 3 months.
The landlord claimed it cancelled the order for repair works after 3 failed attempts to gain access to the property, but there is not enough evidence to support this claim.
Also, the landlord did not record any consideration of decanting the resident from their home, despite the evident distress and inconvenience for the resident.
Communication was poor throughout, and the landlord frequently failed to communicate its plans with the resident and left him to call to obtain updates.
The landlord also did not apply its complaints process in line with its policy or the Complaint Handling Code. It treated the resident’s initial complaint as being at an informal stage, causing further delays in responding to the complaints and failing to acknowledge the landlord’s failings.
There were also delays in responding to his stage 1 and 2 complaints and those responses did not fully acknowledge the landlord’s failings in addressing the issues raised repeatedly by the resident.
The response to enquiries made by the resident’s MP also failed to fully acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and the landlord further wrongly instructed the resident that he would have to wait for 8 weeks before he could take his complaint to this Ombudsman when changes to the law meant that restriction no longer applied.
It’s all the tenant’s fault if they have damp
Anyway, if Lancaster University’s press release was anything to go by, you’d think that Torus was the epitome of responsibility. It continued:
As a result of the engagement, 200 devices were installed and monitored pollutants such as levels of particulate pollution such as smoke from fires or tobacco use, carbon dioxide, humidity, and airborne chemicals from everyday household products.
One tenant shared, “When I’d used fly spray the device was picking up the type of chemicals and levels. I won’t use it in the living room now and I also stopped using the brush to pick up as it was recording dust levels in the air, a quick once over with the hoover from now on.”
Participants were provided with a report detailing their monitor readings and received practical hints and tips to make improvements to the air quality inside the home. Where issues related to damp and humidity were identified, or families were struggling to heat their homes, cases were referred for housing or energy support.
However, in the press release Lancaster University then got to the root of the issue. It noted:
The resulting reports highlights that there was a marked increase in tenants’ awareness of IAQ based on tenants’ self-rated knowledge. This newfound knowledge triggered behavioural changes, such as altered cleaning habits.
Right – so, Torus installing monitors is to get tenants to clean their properties more – absolving the housing association of the shred of responsibility it takes over mould and damp. Gotcha: mould and damp are clearly the fault of tenants.
Spoiler alert: they rarely are.
The only “positive example”, perhaps?
We’ve seen this all before – when housing associations blame tenants for mould and damp. This was what happened in the case of Awaab – where racist Rochdale Boroughwide Housing blamed his parents “ritual bathing” and “cooking practices” for the mould.
Dr Halliday, failing to see the irony of earlier referencing Awaab when discussing Torus, further said:
The findings offer a positive example of how a housing provider has been working with local community organisations to address improvements to indoor air quality with a view to improving the respiratory health of children.
As this campaign has shown, projects delivered in partnership with communities are more likely to achieve improvements rather than the use of monitors alone. It is vital that people’s lived experiences of these issues are central to efforts to improve indoor air quality, and housing conditions more generally.
Torus suddenly caring about the health of residents? Too little too late for some, Dr Halliday. Or maybe Torus could just provide clean, well-maintained homes in the first place?
Whitewashing housing associations
Helen Cibinda Ntale, head of health and wellbeing at the Torus Foundation, said in Lancaster University’s whitewashing press release:
As a social housing provider, Torus has a responsibility to ensure that our homes support the health and wellbeing of our customers. We’re extremely mindful of the harmful impacts of damp and mould amongst other indoor air quality factors on respiratory health and were keen to be involved in an initiative which sought to empower customers to achieve changes to their own indoor air quality to improve their and their family’s health.
Again, Torus is very keen to look like it’s acting but also quick to put the onus onto residents over mould and damp – which are problems invariably of its making, as the Housing Ombudsman verdict showed. Leopards don’t easily change their spots – and this whitewashing from Torus is unlikely to wash with residents.
Plus, shame on Lancaster University for helping with this transparent PR exercise in the first place.
Featured image via the Liverpool Echo – screengrab