Reply To: Housing in London: damp, mould and high charges


Sylvia Crowe and her carer, Sarah Myland, live in fear of heavy rain. The pair, who have lived together in social housing for more than 20 years, say they have never known a time when their flat was not at risk of flooding.

Elliott Dennahy says he felt like he’d won the lottery when he moved into his central London flat alongside the river Thames in 2015. Now the 35-year-old father of two says that service charges he considers excessive and unjustified have turned his living situation into his “worst nightmare”.

Desmond Williams vacated his Islington home in July 2022. The kung fu teacher says he was forced to find alternative accommodation after his ceiling collapsed twice due to a leak. He says he resorted to spending one night sleeping rough in London’s Victoria train station after his landlord did not extend his stay at a hotel.

All of these individuals live in homes run by the Peabody Trust, the third biggest housing association in London and one of the oldest in the UK since its first estate opened in Spitalfields in 1864 as an antidote to the squalid slums housing the capital’s poor.

Many of the UK’s largest and oldest housing associations are rooted in philanthropy: they were established to provide safe, affordable homes for people facing poverty. “They [housing associations] were supposed to provide housing that people were proud to live in,” says Suzanne Muna, a secretary at the Social Housing Action Campaign. 

Housing associations — which are regulated, licensed and partially funded by government to provide public housing — are “supposed to adhere to higher standards than private landlords would”, according to Muna.

Over the past 25 years, as successive governments have encouraged councils to transfer housing stock to housing associations, they have come to be some of the UK’s largest landlords. Providers of social housing are especially needed by people in the capital struggling to afford open-market rents, which have risen dramatically in recent years.

Since its founding, Peabody has grown to oversee 104,000 homes for 220,000 individuals, adding modern flats and private leasehold properties to its original stock of Victorian dwellings. 

But the group’s stated mission — “helping people flourish” — stands in stark contrast with the findings of a Financial Times investigation involving testimony from 35 Peabody residents in 34 properties across the UK capital, from Islington to Shoreditch to Deptford.

The investigation reveals widespread mismanagement of homes, affecting social housing tenants, shared ownership residents and private leaseholders alike, and shines a light on problems with housing associations the government is pledging to fix.

The social housing regulation bill going through parliament, which will subject social landlords to tighter regulatory standards by giving more powers to the social housing regulator, gained urgency after the death, in 2020, of two-year-old Awaab Ishak as a result of mould. 

An amendment to the bill, known as Awaab’s law, places more onerous requirements on landlords to fix dangerous living conditions within a tight timeframe. 

But the bill will not help private leaseholders interviewed by the FT, who also spoke of neglect, mould, chronic disrepairs, as well as rising service charge bills and a culture of poor communication which makes resolving issues a maddening task. 

Some residents say the root cause of the neglect they experienced with the housing association was ineptitude. Others blame a lack of care, lack of accountability, greed or a festering culture of “us and them”.

“There’s no care whatsoever [in] the way they treat us,” one resident says. “They know we don’t have another option. They know they have all the power.”

In a statement, Peabody said: “Everyone has the right to live in a decent, safe, comfortable home and our job is to put things right when they go wrong and learn from our mistakes. Our teams are working with the residents you have highlighted to resolve outstanding issues, and we are sorry in the cases where things have gone wrong. We know there is room for improvement and our aim is to never give anyone cause to complain.”

All of the accounts highlighted in this piece are supported by documentary evidence including photographs and videos of damaged homes; emails to and from Peabody and other parties such as local councils and MPs; as well as visits by the FT to some residents’ properties.