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


In their ground floor flat in north-east London, Sarah Myland and Sylvia Crowe keep their clothes hung on rails in waterproof plastic bags. It’s the only way to keep them safe from the damp, they say.

Crowe and Myland say they have spent two decades trying to resolve problems caused by water which “swoops” through their flat on very rainy days, carrying debris and pigeon waste from the guttering. 

Crowe, a former outreach worker, says she has stepped out of her bed in the past only to find herself “up to my ankles in water”.

Scaffolding is wrapped around their flat — which was owned by a smaller housing association until Peabody acquired it in 2018 — situated in a townhouse sandwiched between eight others. It was put up in September to fix issues with the guttering which caused a flood the month before.

They say Peabody has refused to implement regular maintenance to prevent the flooding and instead sends contractors to complete repairs in a “money-saving, piecemeal” matter. “You cannot relax as soon as there’s any kind of heavy rain or storm coming. You’re just on constant alert. You don’t sleep,” says Myland.

Crowe, who suffers from lupus and has also been diagnosed with pneumonia, says living in a damp flat has aggravated her health complaints. “They don’t treat you as if you’re part of the human race,” she says. “I feel a sense of real outrage. I’m really, really angry.”

Peabody said it took issues of mould and damp very seriously but that this particular block was complex and situated in a conservation area which limited what work it could do. It added it was sorry for the length of time taken.

Each of the almost three dozen residents who spoke to the FT says they have difficulties communicating with Peabody and getting their complaints resolved. Several describe the sprawling organisation’s communication style alternately as “dire”, “dismissive” and “condescending”.

Jane, a social housing tenant of 15 years who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, says she is terrified to move her family of seven back into their three-bedroom maisonette in Southwark due to mould that has spread following a leak in December.

The mother of five, a full-time carer to her children who are disabled, tells the FT that Peabody ignored multiple reports of a leak, culminating in her child’s bedroom floor collapsing three days after it was first reported. The family spent Christmas in a Travelodge hotel in south-east London. 

A sufferer of regular chest infections, Jane now fears repairs of her mouldy, soaking home will be completed as a “rush job”, based on her previous experience of how Peabody handles repairs. Her concerns were “laughed off” by a surveyor sent by Peabody, she added.

Peabody said the works had been put on hold for insurance purposes, but that they were hoping to start work soon.

The criticisms of Peabody are echoed throughout the housing association system. A recent report from the Housing Ombudsman said complaints about damp, mould and leaks increased by 77 per cent between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 to 3,530.

Less than half of the 40 landlords surveyed had implemented a specific policy to deal with mould after recommendations were initially made by the Ombudsman in 2021, according to a follow-up report after the inquest into Awaab Ishak’s death. Landlords were still blaming residents and their lifestyle choices, the Ombudsman found.

“It is scandalous that anybody has to live in mouldy, damp housing,” says Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up and housing secretary. “Measures to improve standards and treat social housing tenants with more respect are long overdue.”

Peabody was among 12 per cent of landlords surveyed who said they were in the process of implementing a damp and mould policy. But residents tell the FT they still have problems drawing attention to their concerns.

One shared-owner resident of St Paul’s House, a Peabody-managed property in the south-eastern area of Deptford, says contractors for the housing association described damp on the wall as “just a mark” and attributed problems with condensation to “too many plants”.

Others say neglect and inadequate repairs means the cost of repairs and labour adds up, leaving homeowning residents to shoulder higher costs.

Residents of the BedZED estate in south-west London, the UK’s first zero-carbon community of scale, say they were initially drawn to the estate’s unique features, including wind cowls and woodchip burners.

But they say neglect and botched repairs made by contractors who do not understand the specialised systems have left them feeling demoralised. “Expensive, quality, triple-glazed wooden windows are now rotting because they’ve not maintained them and that makes me livid,” says Dave Tchil, a public health worker and community activist.

Peabody said it planned further investment in maintenance at BedZED. Tchil’s experience lobbying for residents inspired him to become a local councillor for the Labour party in May 2022. Dealing with Peabody, he says, has caused him an “unnecessary mental burden”.

Scale of charges

The issues surrounding leaks, defects, or neglect of repairs to their homes is all the more infuriating because of the service charges residents pay for their property’s upkeep.

At City Angel, a block of 70 Peabody flats in Old Street, shared-ownership residents say they are subject to escalating service charges which have only once been backed up by annual accounts — which were unaudited — while services provided are insufficient.

Hot water access had been limited between November and February, a resident says, while mould first reported to Peabody in October went unchecked for three months.

A total of 29 Peabody residents across London interviewed by the FT raised complaints about service charges, including those who say the charges are unjustified, incorrect, unclear or gleaned from services that they believe are unfulfilled.

A dozen residents say the actual accounts based on the amount spent in a year have arrived late. Eleven say Peabody has underestimated costs in its annual budget, meaning they are confronted with additional bills.

“They are basically using residents as a cash machine,” says Jean-Baptiste Merkel, a private leaseholder whose service charges on his property in Clapham have increased by about 50 per cent since 2017. “They tell us they have a budget but they don’t, they just spend money and at the end ask us for the difference.”

Peabody said: “We do not make a profit on service charges and do all we can to ensure they are accurate and reasonable. Errors and inconsistencies are incredibly frustrating for residents, and we know that improvements need to be made to both the way they are collected and in how we deal with and answer queries about them.”

Housing associations collectively receive about £1.5bn annually in service charge payments, according to the Social Housing Action Campaign, which lobbies on service charge issues.

Around 96 per cent of 300 residents recently surveyed by the organisation say they had experienced issues with service charges, including excess, unexplained or unclear costs. 

“We wouldn’t tolerate it from the banking system and yet tenants and residents are paying literally thousands of pounds a year in service charges,” says Muna of SHAC. “It is so, so sloppy, and sloppy in favour of the landlord.”

She says widespread, unaccountable service charge errors exist because there is no system of scrutiny in place to monitor costs being passed on to tenants. A “light touch” auditing process allows errors to go unchecked, while institutions, such as the ombudsman, are limited in terms of fines and compensation they can impose.

Many Peabody residents describe the painstaking process of tracking down cost breakdowns and receipts, which they believe are often passed on directly from management companies unchecked.