Residents describe ‘appalling treatment’ in debate over council housing repairs

Labour and Lib Dem councillors clash in debate on Haringey housing repairs backlog after residents talk of their experiences, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Broadwater Farm Estate with (inset left) Lib Dem councillor Dawn Barnes and (inset right) council leader Peray Ahmet
Broadwater Farm Estate with (inset left) Lib Dem councillor Dawn Barnes and (inset right) council leader Peray Ahmet

Haringey Council has faced calls to urgently improve housing repairs after hearing from residents whose lives have been blighted by poor service.

The calls from Liberal Democrat opposition councillors follow a report by the Housing Ombudsman earlier this year that identified a “culture of apathy” at the local authority and “unreasonable delays” to repairs.

The Labour administration announced extra investment of £2.8million to boost the repairs service and pledged to make a series of improvements.

But it was urged to do more during a full council meeting on Monday (20th), when two residents told councillors how their health had been affected by delays to repairs.

Robert Randell, who lives in Crouch End, said he and his neighbour had been “treated appallingly” by the council after being told they had to move in July 2020 to fix issues linked to a crack in the wall that was reported in 2018.

He said they were initially told it was so urgent they had to move immediately, but are still living there, and were informed their move would be temporary, then permanent, and then temporary.

Robert said the work was initially due to take six to ten weeks, but now they have been told it will take 24 weeks, adding that there was “no communication between departments” and they had to chase their own repairs. He said moving dates were cancelled twice, and the situation had affected their physical and mental health.

Highgate resident Marianne Larios spoke of the ordeal she and other residents of Hillcrest Estate have faced over fears toxic gases are entering their flats and causing health problems including headaches, fatigue, breathing difficulties and heart palpitations.

Evidence uncovered by residents suggests sewer gas containing volatile organic compounds is causing the problems because the council’s failure to carry out routine maintenance has led to blocked and collapsing drains.

The council was alerted to the problems in January, and Marianne explained that since then the repairs team had been notified about the issues “almost daily” yet residents were still “entirely in the dark” about when repairs would be carried out.

She said she had been forced to evacuate her home “more than 350 times” and keep doors and windows open to ventilate the flat, adding that the experience had left her feeling “exhausted, drained and diminished”.

Speaking after the residents, Liberal Democrat councillors called on the authority to take action. Scott Emery said the state of housing repairs had “fallen far short of what the community deserves”, with delays reaching an “unacceptable level”.

The council insourced its housing service from former council-owned company Homes for Haringey in June last year. But opposition leader Luke Cawley-Harrison said residents were not seeing any improvements and called for regular review meetings between councillors and officers to discuss repairs, adding: “We have to improve this service, and urgently.”

Dawn Barnes, Lib Dem spokesperson for housing, said the council’s acceptance of most of the Housing Ombudsman’s conclusions was a “necessary first step”, but the culture of the organisation needed to change. She warned the failure to improve the service was affecting the health of residents.

Council leader Peray Ahmet said the borough’s housing service should be first-class, but acknowledged there was “a long way to go” and insisted that the Labour administration was “dedicated to getting there”.

She said setting up a housing improvement board – designed to scrutinise performance against an improvement plan – was “the right thing to do”, and the administration was tackling the problems “head on”.

Labour’s George Dunstall said boosting the repairs service was an “absolute priority”, and the council was “well on the way” to taking some of the critical actions outlined within the improvement plan, including recruiting a team of staff to tackle the backlog of repairs.

Cabinet member for housing services Sarah Williams insisted there had been an improvement in the repairs service, which she said had been “hit hard by the [Covid-19] pandemic”. She told the meeting the council was “working to address the housing crisis from every angle”, while the Conservative government was “refusing to invest in this country”.

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