Tens of thousands of properties across the country are unsafe because they “have not been looked after properly”, the equalization secretary has admitted.
Michael Gove said a significant number of properties needed repair or maintenance. His comments are coming days after a medical examiner ruled the death of toddler Awaab Ishak was caused by exposure to mold in the home.
Gove told BBC Breakfast on Thursday: “The problem is … there are tenants who are in homes that have not been looked after properly.” When asked if he was embarrassed by the figure, Gove said it made him angry that people were living in poor conditions.
“We need to tackle this problem nationwide,” he said. “My aim is to improve the conditions under which people live. I fear that it is the case that there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the condition they should be,” he said. Asked if tens of thousands was correct, he said: “Yes, at least.
“We know there are a significant number of properties, some of which were built in the 60s and 70s and are in a poor condition, but some of which are poorly maintained, which simply need to be repaired and maintained properly.”
The statements come weeks after a coroner concluded two-year-old Awaab 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 filed complaints and requested rehousing from the social housing provider, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), years before his son’s death. A public health nurse wrote to housing officials in 2020 expressing concern and asking for the family’s rehousing request to be prioritized.
The equalization secretary’s admission that at least tens of thousands of properties across the country were unsafe comes after he decided to cut off £1m funding to Rochdale housing association.
He also promised to block new funding for other housing providers found to be failing tenants and allocated an extra £14m to enforcement teams to inspect private landlords.
In response to the grant cut of 1 million GBP A spokesman at RBH said: “We are completely focused on our existing homes and we welcome the opportunity to work with the regulator on that.”
Gove has written to six housing providers who were recently found to have serious maladministration against them by England’s Housing Ombudsman for various problems relating to cold, damp, mould, leaks and anti-social behaviour.
“Once Rochdale Borough-wide Housing, when other housing associations do their job properly, then they can expand,” Gove told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. “We do not give money to organizations that operate incompetently and in some cases irresponsibly.”
Asked whether he had confidence Rochdale could provide safe accommodation and whether they should operate, Gove, who said he visited Rochdale on Thursday, added: “I want to see the situation on the ground.”
Gove said the government should have moved more quickly after the Grenfell Tower tragedy to “take a specific set of actions to help people in social housing”, but said it was doing so now.
He said legislation was being brought forward to increase the powers of social housing regulators. The legislation is expected to come “next calendar year” – six years after the Grenfell fire. Gove, who has said the issue extended beyond the public rented sector, also promised more legislation for individuals in the private rented sector.