Tens of thousands of properties across the country are unsafe because they “have not been properly maintained,” the upgrade secretary admitted.
Michael Gove said a significant number of properties needed repairs or maintenance. His comments come days after a coroner ruled toddler Awaab Ishak’s death was caused by exposure to mold in the home.
Gove told BBC Breakfast on Thursday: ‘The problem is…there are tenants living in houses that have not been properly maintained.’ Asked if he was bothered by the figure, Gove said it angered him that people were living in poor conditions.
“We need to tackle this problem nationally,” he said. “My goal is to improve people’s living conditions. I fear there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the condition they should be,” he said. When asked if tens of thousands was correct, he replied, “Yeah, at least.
“We know there are a significant number of properties out there, some of which were built in the 60s and 70s and are in poor condition, but some of which have been poorly maintained and just need to be properly repaired and properly maintained.”
The remarks come weeks after a coroner concluded Awaab, two, died in 2020 of respiratory failure after prolonged exposure to black mold in the apartment where he lived with his parents.
Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, had lodged a complaint and demanded rehousing from the social housing provider, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), years before his son’s death. A health visitor wrote to housing officials in 2020 to express his concerns and asked that the family’s rehousing request be prioritised.
The Upgrade Secretary’s admission that at least tens of thousands of properties across the country were unsafe comes after he decided to cut £1m funding to the association of Rochdale accommodation.
He also pledged to block new funding to other housing providers found to be failing and gave an additional £14m to enforcement teams to inspect private landlords.
Responding to the £1m grant reduction, an RBH spokesperson said: ‘We are fully focused on our existing homes and welcome the opportunity to work with the regulator on this.
Gove has written to six housing providers who have recently been the subject of serious maladministration findings by England’s Housing Ombudsman for various issues relating to cold, damp, mould, leaks and behavior antisocial.
“Once Rochdale borough-wide housing, once the other housing associations do their jobs properly, they can grow,” Gove told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. “We don’t give money to organizations that operate incompetently and, in some cases, ruthlessly.”
Asked if he trusted Rochdale to provide safe accommodation and if they should operate, Gove, who said he was visiting Rochdale on Thursday, added: “I want to see the situation on the ground.”
Gove said the government should have acted more quickly after the Grenfell Tower tragedy to “take a particular set of measures to help people living in social housing”, but said it was doing so now.
He said legislation was being introduced to strengthen the powers of social housing regulators. The legislation is due to come ‘next calendar year’ – six years after the Grenfell fire. Gove, who said the problem extended beyond the public rental sector, also promised more legislation for individuals in the private rental sector.