Tens of thousands of properties across the country are unsafe because they “have not been looked after properly”, the levelling up secretary has admitted.
Michael Gove said a significant number of properties were in need of repair or maintenance. His comments come days after a coroner ruled that the death of toddler Awaab Ishak was caused by exposure to mould at 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 angered him that people were living in poor conditions.
“We need to tackle this problem nationwide,” he said. “My aim is to improve the conditions in which people live. I fear it’s the case that there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the state that 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 poor conditions, but some of which have been poorly maintained that simply need to be properly repaired and properly maintained.”
The remarks come weeks after a coroner concluded two-year-old Awaab died in 2020 of respiratory failure after prolonged exposure to black mould in the flat where he lived with his parents.
Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, had made complaints and requested re-housing from the social housing provider, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), years before the death of his son. A health visitor wrote to housing officials in 2020 expressing concerns and asked for the family’s rehousing request to be prioritised.
The levelling up secretary’s admission that at least tens of thousands of properties across the country were not safe comes after he decided to cut off £1m funding to the Rochdale housing association.
He also pledged to block new funding to other housing providers found to be failing tenants, and awarded an extra £14m to enforcement teams to inspect private landlords.
Responding to the £1m grant cut, a spokesperson 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 that have had recent findings of severe maladministration made against them by England’s housing ombudsman for varying problems related to cold, damp, mould, leaks and antisocial behaviour.
“Once Rochdale Borough-wide Housing, once other housing associations are doing their job properly, then they can expand,” Gove told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. “We are not giving money to organisations that are operating incompetently and in some cases callously.”
Asked if he had confidence in Rochdale to provide safe housing and whether they should be operating, 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 moved more quickly after the Grenfell Tower tragedy to “take a particular set of actions to help people in social housing” but said it was doing so now.
He said legislation was being brought forward to boost the powers of the social housing regulators. The legislation is expected to come “next calendar year” – six years after the Grenfell fire. Gove, who has said the issue stretched beyond the public rental sector, also pledged more legislation for individuals in the private rental sector.