Poor housing harms health of 20% of renters in England, says Shelter

Housing charity says many renters are affected by damp, mould and cold

Poor housing is harming the health of one in five renters in England, with mould, damp and cold the main triggers of sickness, a major survey by the housing charity Shelter has revealed.

Approximately 1.9m households could be suffering physical and mental problems as a result of poor housing conditions as well as uncertainty caused by struggles to pay the rent and repeated evictions, polling of over 3,000 private renters suggests.

A quarter of all renters said they were affected by damp and mould and by being unable to heat their homes. They were three times more likely to say housing was harming their health than those without the problems.

The study also detailed how almost one in four renters said their housing situation had left them feeling “stressed and anxious” since the start of the pandemic.


The findings came as councils warned that waiting lists for affordable housing are set to double next year to as many as 2.1m households. One in 10 of those in the queue have already been waiting for over five years. The Covid pandemic has dented housebuilding with at least 100,000 fewer homes built by 2023, according to the Local Government Association which anticipates rising demand in the coming months as the cost of living crisis helps drive up rent arrears and evictions.

“The cost of poor housing is spilling out into overwhelmed GP surgeries, mental health services, and hours lost from work,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate. “The new housing secretary must get a grip on the housing crisis and tackle a major cause of ill health. Listening to the calls flooding into our helpline there is no doubt that health and housing go hand in hand. Yet, millions of renters are living in homes that make them sick because they are mouldy, cold, unaffordable and grossly insecure.”

Jude Geddes, 40, a married mother of three in Shoreham, said she had been left sleepless and her children anxious after facing three “no-fault” evictions in the last nine years, the latest during the pandemic.

“You try to keep it from the children and make it fine, but it’s the most horrendously stressful experience,” she said. “I feel like I am going through a grief process. [Eviction] is really unsettling and it makes you feel like it could happen at any moment.”

Krystalrose Shirley, 27, a private renter who only a month ago managed to get out of a mould-ridden flat she shared with her three-year-old daughter, urged tenants: “Don’t stand for it, don’t give up, fight.”

Both she and her daughter developed eye infections because of the mould in their ground floor rental in London and she had to throw out both her daughter’s cot and the bed she replaced it with after both were infested with fungus.

“You could see the spores going through the mattress,” she said. “I had a panic and had to throw it out straight away. It is disgusting that people can allow a family to live in a house in that state and not care about it.”

She said that the problems affected her health physically and mentally, but the landlords didn’t acknowledge it and treated her as if she was “deluded”.

“Now is the time to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades,” said David Renard, LGA housing spokesperson. “The benefits are clear – a programme of 100,000 social homes a year would shorten council housing waiting lists, reduce homelessness and cut carbon emissions, while delivering a multi-billion long-term boost to the economy.”

The most deprived council areas have the biggest concentrations of housing need and the longest waiting list, the LGA said. “With housing costs accounting for over a quarter of all expenditure by families with the lowest incomes, access to decent affordable homes is central to the success of any attempt to level up the poorest communities.”

A low-income household typically saves £37 a week renting in social housing compared to the private rental sector.

The Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities has been approached for comment.


Robert Booth and Patrick Butler

The GuardianTramp

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