Complaints about social housing are through the roof

A social housing estate in London
Support us and go ad-free

Complaints to a government watchdog over the state of social housing properties have increased since 2020. New data shows some housing associations are performing far worse than others. Meanwhile, people are dying, and the government is failing to act.

Awaab Ishak

The death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak on the watch of Rochdale Boroughwide Homes’ (RBH’s) has thrust social housing back into the spotlight. Awaab died on 21 December 2020, after living in a flat infested with mould and damp. As the Canary‘s Steve Topple previously wrote:

The coroner ruled that Awaab died due to mould exposure that RBH failed to deal with. The housing association repeatedly ignored Awaab’s family’s desperate pleas for help. Since the coroner’s verdict, RBH has sacked its boss after he refused to resign.

The bottom line is this housing association committed what some people are saying is corporate manslaughter against him.

Awaab and his family’s situation was fuelled by RBH’s racism and classism. The problems with social and private rental housing are entrenched across the UK. As the Canary previously reported:

  • 3.5 million currently occupied homes did not meet the Decent Homes Standard in 2020.
  • 2.2 million had at least one category one hazard – such as black mould.
  • 941,000 had serious damp.

Now, a legal firm has gained access to figures which show the extent of social tenant complaints against some housing associations.

Social housing complaints up

The Housing Ombudsman is the government’s social housing watchdog. It is the body tenants can go to to complain about housing associations. Now, data obtained by civil litigation experts CEL Solicitors via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed the scale of the problems in social housing. CEL has uncovered just how many complaints tenants made to the ombudsman between January 2020 and June 2022.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

CEL said in a press release that:

London & Quadrant (L&Q) Housing Trust was the subject of 1,348 objections to the Housing Ombudsman Service between the start of 2020 and the end of June 2022. That puts the private company well ahead of its nearest rival Clarion Housing Group Limited, which racked up 885 complaint cases during the same period.

The solicitors said the data:

shows that complaints are set to more than double over the past three years – from 2,891 in 2020 to a projected figure of around 7,800 by the end of this year. But despite almost 13,000 being registered during that time, many of these private bodies are ignoring the plight of vulnerable people and leaving them to live with dangerous mould and serious structural issues.

A table of the number of complaints to the Housing Ombudsman over social housing providers


Jessica Hampson, owner and director of CEL Solicitors, which specialises in housing disrepair litigation, said:

These figures are truly shocking and highlight the horrendous situation millions of people in the UK – one of the richest countries in the world – are being forced to live in.

They are also a rare glimpse into the state of property managed by housing associations, who are not compelled to share such information by law because they are private companies and not public bodies.

Hampson continued:

No-one should be forced to live in a house or flat that is infested by mould which can have serious health impacts, as we have seen in the heartbreaking case of Awaab Ishak.

But we are seeing more and more families reaching out for legal assistance as they feel it’s the only way they can get something done about these devastating scenarios.

Even then, housing associations as well as local authorities are often ignoring court orders to carry out repairs – we’ve seen cases where up to six breach orders have been needed to spark any action.

All this comes as the government has failed to meet new house building targets. Parliament’s public accounts committee reported that the government pledged housing providers would build 180,000 new “affordable” homes by 2029. However, the committee says it will miss that target by around 32,000 homes. Crucially, of these, the committee says the government:

has a target for just 33,550 homes for social rent.

That is, social housing. This is despite over one million households waiting for social homes and the number of these type of properties constantly falling. Little wonder, then, that with no new properties being built, and with housing associations not maintaining the homes they do have, complaints to the ombudsman are up.

“The tip of the iceberg”

Hampson said:

The worrying thing is these new figures are very much the tip of the iceberg.

Many vulnerable people living in appalling and dangerous housing conditions either don’t know who to complain to if the housing association is not listening to them, or simply don’t have the means to lodge an objection.

We see reports about the high salaries bosses at some of these organisations are being paid. It is therefore shocking to discover how the people relying on them for safe and habitable homes are being so very badly let down.

The Government needs to act on this growing crisis before any more tragedies occur.

However, the government clearly isn’t going to act. On 7 December it revealed it had watered down targets for local councils to build homes. Meanwhile, social housing is literally killing people like Awaab. Something needs to change, and quickly – however, it is unlikely to, any time soon. Social housing is, to many people, someone else’s problem or a system to be proud of. But for those of us living in it, it is invariably a grim and terrifying nightmare – one which should be a national scandal, but sadly won’t be.

Featured image via the Canary

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. I live in a privately rented flat which has not been visited or inspected by its landlord in several years. Social housing is probably in substantially better condition than private rented housing, and it seems that there are much better regulations for social housing tenants. Sadly, that isn’t a high bar to reach. It’s also sad that many on the Left, while outwardly campaigning on social housing, are also private landlords or own property which they will pass as unearned wealth to their families.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.