The truth about social housing

This is not the ceiling of my kitchen, but it does represent what it looks like (I haven't taken a photo of it - yet).

This is not the ceiling of my kitchen, but it does represent what it looks like (I haven’t taken a photo of it – yet).

Today I’m a little angry. More than a little, in fact. Here’s why:

Long-term readers may be aware that I rent my house, from a Housing Association, with my partner – the famous Mrs Mike. She has long-term disability issues affecting both her physical and mental health. She is, in fact, due to go into hospital tomorrow for a carpal tunnel operation.

This is an operation on her wrists, after which she will not be able to use her hand for 24 hours or so. It will be strapped to her body and she will need my help to do certain ordinary household things. She will also need a warm, comfortable environment in which to recuperate.

When I discovered on Friday afternoon that a pipe had burst under the bathroom floor and our boiler wasn’t working, I was not worried. I had been to the gym and was just about to step into the shower when I realised the water was ice-cold. Checking the boiler showed it had depressurised down to nothing and attempts to repressurise it failed. Then Mrs Mike told me there was a wet stain on the kitchen ceiling (directly below the bathroom) and we realised something serious had happened.

Not to worry – our Housing Association operates a within-24-hour call-out service for emergency repairs. This means, once we’ve called them out, they must get to us and perform the repair within 24 hours of the call. So we called, between 3 and 4pm on Friday.

Aaaaaaand we’re still waiting.

We started relying on friends and neighbours for fresh water straight away, at first filling saucepans and then slowly accumulating larger containers. Heat became a problem very quickly, though. By mid-afternoon yesterday (when the job should have been done, it was warmer outside the house than in it.

Luckily, and by a complete coincidence, another friend was able to offer us two heaters, when I mentioned the problem during a conversation about her Work Capability Assessment (she’s been put in the work-related activity group and rightly intends to appeal, using my article about Mrs Mike’s experiences for support as she has the same condition).

I phoned the Housing Association’s out-of-hours service at 4pm yesterday to ask what was going on. Of course they didn’t know, and promised to chase up the repair man and then give me a revised time of arrival. So I waited an hour and then called again. Bear in mind that it was now 5pm on a Saturday. The woman at the other end said she was very sorry but the repair man seemed to be out of range on his mobile but she would call me back. She never called me back.

Out of range! He’d gone home, hadn’t he? Never mind the fact that people were without basic services – water and heat – and he was contractually obliged to restore them. Nothing was going to stop him enjoying his Saturday evening!

This morning Mrs Mike was on the phone to them before I had managed to lever myself out of my not-very-warm bed and into the freezing bedroom. By the time I did manage to get myself vertical, she’d had a response that the man would be here between 11.30am and midday. It is now 12.35pm.

This is the kind of service for which poor people, and those on benefits, are being told they must pay more.

Let’s all just think about that, for a moment. When you’re on benefit – or on low-paid work, which is my current position – you can’t afford a mansion and you can’t afford to have dedicated people on hand, day and night, to fix every slightest problem. You know that. However, there are still rules that should be met, even on the lowest rung of the housing ladder, and the fact is that these rules are being broken all the time.

I write from experience. Back in the very bad winter of 2010-11, we were without water for a whole week because the repair people from the same housing association couldn’t be bothered to come all the way from Wolverhampton (or wherever they were based) to Llandrindod Wells. The rules state that it doesn’t matter where the company has its properties – wherever they are, they must enjoy the same services – guaranteed.

We got a not-very-large compensation payment after that little debacle, and a promise it wouldn’t happen again.

Now it’s happening again.

12.50 Update:

A man turned up on the doorstep as I was typing ‘again’ – the wrong man, as it happens.

The housing association phoned him up, told him a load of rubbish that it was a problem with the boiler and sent him here – it’s a problem with the pipes, and a completely different company is responsible. He reckoned he’d been told the contractor – who should have been asked to fix the problem – had been! As you can imagine, Mrs Mike let loose with a stream in invective that would make hardened soldiers blanch. Fortunately the guy took it all in-stride and is seeing what he can do to at least identify the true nature of the problem.

The point, of course, is that the government’s legislation, demanding that poor people pay more, doesn’t take account of the fact that the service poor people receive is appallingly bad. And there will be no proper regulation of it because Conservatives don’t believe in regulation. Their attitude is libertarian – you negotiate a service and pay for what you get – without taking into account the reality that the service negotiated is rarely the service received. The lack of regulation means there is no mechanism to guarantee improvement, which is why I, together with Mrs Mike, am facing the exact same situation we had two years ago.

The housing association recently refitted our bathroom, too. The nice new flooring they put down will probably have to be ripped up in order to replace the pipe. Who knows what kind of a mess we’ll have afterwards?

Considering all of the above, why should we pay more for a service that is worse?

Social housing? More like ANTI-social housing.

28 thoughts on “The truth about social housing

    1. Mike Sivier

      No, it isn’t!
      In fact, I should probably give my apologies now, if you expect a reply and don’t get it for a while. It’s actually too cold to work in here at the moment.

  1. changelifechangeworld

    I’m sorry to hear about your problems. I am also a social housing tenant, but I’m glad to say that our landlord is far better than this. So good in fact that residents almost run the strategic side of the business. We know all the problems that occur and make sure they get it right next time.

    Just complain. If people don’t, then nothing changes.

  2. jaynel62

    Empathy Mike, last year my bathroom ceiling did the same leaving us forced to use an unlit, damp indoor room with no light for 13 weeks. Like Mrs Mike I have various physical/Mental Health issues including instability & incontinence – so this was extra fun!

    My HA gave me more excuses than the proverbial Liptons & tea leaves & in the end were forced to pay me for my carpet, general damage & ‘compensation’; which I’m sure you can guess was NOTHING like it ought to have been.

  3. Em

    Our housing association left us without running water for 60 hours one weekend. Which is a little bit illegal. Took calling environmental health on the Monday to get them moving.

  4. Elle J Morgan

    Like Mrs Mike I too have hand/ arm issues which are in my case spine related…I had my tribunal on Friday, oh MIke the woman was frightening, Independant Ha, don’t make me laugh, everything I said was picked at, I was doomed before I got there as apparently it’s a 70m walk to the room…Mike I’m sure you know the rest…I too am in the WRAG btw, and no I still don’t know wether I was successful………….As for Social housing I waited 9 weeks for a new toilet, but that was ok because I had another didn’t matter it was upstairs….

  5. colin

    my heating works but because we are on reduced money for almost a year while we go to the tribuneral i cant afford to have it on

  6. Angie

    I have been very luck I have lived in this house 10 years and my landlady is very very good any thing needs doing she get’s the people in to fix things and has kept my rent at 480 for the last 7 years BUT the house I live in before this was a nightmare would not fix a thing got the council involved and he did not renew my contract. I hope you and the lovely Mrs Mike get it all sorted soon.

    1. Mike Sivier

      It looks to me like you’ve had private landlords, Angie. Is that right? If they were social landlords you wouldn’t be referring to them as individuals.

  7. Mike Sivier

    From Jules Clarke via Twitter:
    Nightmare with your pipes thing. sorry to hear that, seriously.
    My worry is that the bedroom tax, universal credit, and housing benefit cuts will strangle the accepted circular nature of funding for HA’s. 30 yr mortgages, repayments, balance into maintenance and services. FRon Rental Income and service charges. Then – Income strangulation, and rise in arrears, debts, court actions, will remove vital circular flow money for services for all stock, not just those in arrears or affected by the changes through draconian welfare changes. Theres a universal impact across all tenants which H.A.s are shit scared of RIGHT now, with all sorts of disaster worst case scenarios written almost daily.
    The fear is that Value For Money excercises, which are admirable, desirable and essential will not breach the financial impact of changes.
    This is 2013 UK Toryland. And its disgusting.

  8. Elle J Morgan

    Slightly off subject but what annoys me more than anything is tht my rent is £420 per month in my council house, I have one spare bedroom which will only be spare for the next four years or so until my eldest returns home, if I were to downgrade to a 3 bed private property in this area it would cost the state twice as much, houses in this area are £800 + per month as we are just outside London….It should be ablout how much your rent is not how many bedrooms you have……I hate this Toryness

  9. Karen Brown

    I have had a similar problem recently with my housing association, my heating went off and they did send someone out within 24 hrs but he couldnt work out why it wasnt working. Had the same problem the year before, and they needed to change the programmer, I told him this and he said he didnt have one on him and would put one on order this was a friday afternoon also, so I knew nothing would happen until the monday. Over the weekend I spoke to a couple of other tenants who had had the same problem and it was a simple fix just needed a bloke to come round with a reset fob, so I rang the housing first thing on the monday morning and asked what was going on they told me the part had been ordered and would be fitted a week tuesday, so I told them that it didnt need replacing just needed resetting, but they didnt know what I was talking about and fobbed me off. So I rang a few more times over the course of the week and got nowhere, then my son told me to get in touch with the head of operations so I emailed her and explained everything…. they sent a man round that afternoon and reset the programmer!!! amazing, at least now when I get shoddy service from them I know who to contact to get it sorted!

  10. rainbowwarriorlizzie

    Dear Mike & Mrs Mike, holding you in our prayers at this time and especially pre.op for Mrs Mike before carpal tunnel op bless you. We also have these worries with our housing association, with us it is severe damp in our bedroom and through the the whole flat. It has taken nearly a year so far with complaint procedure, leaks in roof through ceiling in kitchen and 12 year old leak in guttering outside bedroom which soaked the wall and now we have damp traps, dehumidifier etc collecting at least 2 pints of water a day. With my asthma and both our severe spinal problems. I too am pending a Discectomy in my cervical spine in my neck to remove my C6 cevrical disc. We have complained again and again. The survevor came round and said its nothing worry about its only condensation when sleep. Bxxxxxxt I said. How would they cope in these conditions, they wouldn’t. Luckily kind friends and neighbours have given us the dehumidifier and ironiser which would have cost more than our incapacity benfit , which we both live off due to Dwp stopping my fiance’s esa after his wca which is another story. And still they wack up the rent for what. Meanwhile we are bidding for a ground flat due to disabilities, with 200 bids per property, no chance. So we are fighting the damp, heating over food, cuz its a darn nightmare. We stay strong and live in one room to be able how’d heat one room. Like Mrs mike, the worry of having an op and aftercare in such conditions is a daunting thought and reality. We so hope that your heating and pipes are sorted out soon for you and. Mrs Mike, blessings and praters to you both and all that are in the similar circumstaces in this crazy nightmare. Take care of you and Mrs Mike . Blessings, Prayers, Warm huggs 🙂

  11. Elle J Morgan

    Rainbowwarriorlizzie..feel for you I really do..I was meant to have that op a year and a half ago on that exact disc, I have my right arm affected…went in on the day for the op but hospital had forgotton to send me for pre assessment and I was also pregnant at the time, 16 weeks, it was an emergancy…I was sent home with a view to them operating 5 weeks later..They sent me for emergancy steroid to get me through untilthe op…Steroid isn’t a fix when you are deemed to need surgery it’s merely temporary, anyway I’m still trying to get them to put me on the list…Have been palmed off with yet more physio and other half measures..I have had L5-S1 previously operated on so leg/foot is stuffed, and have also Damage in thoracic area which affects left arm, ribs, Torso….I’m seriously struggling can’t get help from anyone, got refused any award from DLA and am a lone parent as the ex did one….Mike keep writing, i’m praying things change….btw..i’m in the WRAG awaiting awaiting decision from tribunal which was held last Friday…I’m 34 years old…

  12. An Elephant's Child

    Good luck. I have been without heat since the 1st week of November & there is no sign of them doing anything about it.

    I live in a council house, but the council has handed the day-to-day maintenance of their housing stock to Dane Plus Housing Association.
    A man turned up on Nov 6th to do my annual gas safety check, told me the fire ‘wasn’t safe’ & said he would ‘cap the gas meter’.
    I had no idea what he meant so I let him go ahead. It was only afterwards that I realised he had in fact turned my gas off.
    I have no hot water, no heating & no means of cooking hot food. The only warmth I have comes from my kettle, via hot-water bottles, cups of coffee & pot noodles.

    I have tried, repeatedly to get some sort of resolution from either Dane Plus or the coucil, but both claim it is nothing to do with them!
    I have yet to even get an explanation of why I needed to put in this position!

    You are right, this is NOT social housing!

    1. Mike Sivier

      What does your councillor have to say about it?
      These people should be fighting on your behalf – especially as this is a council house. You can try to get it raised in the relevant committee or the full council meeting. Write to the newspapers about it as well.
      Kick up a stink – and ask how many other people are being treated the same way. The last thing these people want is to be embarrassed publicly.

  13. Joanna Terry

    I was without heating for 3 years because my HA thought I should have been better able to upkeep my house (they refused to help me move into more suitable accomodation as well, they wanted me to completely redecorate before they would do so, it’s long and complicated the story but this is the short and curlies), they knew how disabled I was but used every trick in the book to deny me service. I finally found a nice sheltered housing complex out of the district all together and with help from friends moved. They then tried to send me a bill for £5,000, which I then got a DRO so that I did not legally have to pay. If I tell you that with the help of friends that by the time I left that house the only deco needed doing was the kitchen and you could have seen the place you would have spat blood. where I lived was remote with little public transport or service and no CAB’s or Law Centres, this gov. plans to stop us having these services so that we cannot fight for our basic rights, I couldn’t where I was but where I am now I have all of this and I have used it to stop anyone from ever doing this to me ever again. I still suffer from nightmares, I still get depressed about it but moving for me was the best, I now have a beautiful 1 bed flat inside a secure building and any work that is done will not be at my expense, when the workmen leave my property it has to be that the property is as good as it was before they came. In the past I have had telephone wires cut, chunks of plaster ripped from walls, newly papered rooms ripped apart etc: there are some very bad HA’s out there. Complain to the highest level do not take shit from any of them. With very best wishes to you and Mrs Mike for her op.

  14. Jacky Bafoot

    I love saying I will just ring my friend who is treasurer of the clerks of works for England and Wales, they jump like soldiers on parade to get out…as they know a snag report will arrive if the works not done or its shoddy.. one phone call and I can cause a mountain of crap to fall on their heads

  15. Jacky Bafoot

    Elephants child. dane Plus are well known for been crap in cheshire. You have to join the residents group and really hammer them.

  16. sue

    This is so familiar. Ten years ago I was desperate to move from my three bed HA house as my kids had left home and the high rent was too much and stopping me taking up work. I asked to be put on a transfer/swap list and was told I wasn’t eligible because of the major outstanding repairs to the roof which they hadn’t done, despite being repeatedly told. I used to have to go into the loft with buckets to gather the water pouring in. Eventually the bedroom ceiling collapsed and they left it like that for three years! I got a solicitor involved and they soon perked up and got the work done, plus compensation. The whole process took 5 years during which time I was stuck in jobs I didn’t want and couldn’t move on. Now, lo and behold! I’ve got a life-limiting illness and still in the same house and have to pay the bedroom tax to the tune of £33 per week . When I was well enough they effectively prevented me from moving and now I’m ill I’m to be penalised. I despair.

  17. J Jackson

    Sorry to hear about this, and I hope the whole saga is not as drawn out as your experience two years ago. I hope the operation goes well and that Mrs Mike gets to return to a dry house with heating.

  18. Mike Sivier

    Thanks to everyone who wished Mrs Mike a good operation; it went without a hitch and she’s now recuperating at home. We got back to find a heating engineer working on our boiler (we’d left the keys next door) – and saying he couldn’t do anything about the leak under the bathroom floor. Because we had a new bathroom put in last year (all the fittings plus new decor), it was up to the firm that carried out that contract to put it right. So this company (the third to be involved, not counting the housing association itself) has (allegedly) been contacted and should come out tonight. Meanwhile the boiler would be fixed if it wasn’t losing pressure all the time (it would do, wouldn’t it – it’s got a leak!) so I have to go in an repressurise it every 10 minutes!

  19. David Elms

    Having watched ‘Pats Petition’ being debated in Parliament it was farcical ,the Labour MP who brought it up did not present it as the worded petition we all signed and it took Cameron approximately 1 minute to dismiss it ,so much for Petitions .We all agree that the Government are acting inhumanely and immorally ,in certain circumstances you have to fight fire with fire .We have two basic scenario’s .Councils cannot rehouse all those tenants that the Bedroom Tax applies to and cannot afford it .Those that will pay it because they are too attached to their homes and will not move although it will be a struggle .What happens if you all collectively refuse to move and refuse to pay the Bedroom Tax.
    The Bedroom Tax will have to be reviewed because Local Councils would throw the ball back into the Governments hands .The Poll Tax caused riots and was amended ,riots engage violence ,non compliance is a legal method of showing discontent .How did women eventually receive the vote .What about the Jarrow March .ACTIONS speak louder than words .The by word for 2013 should be NON COMPLIANCE ,they don’t have enough bailiff’s or court time to deal with just one forum all at once never mind other groups .

  20. Geoff V

    Four Days no heating over Christmas (2011) no hot water only source of Heating was the cooker. 2012 new heating system put in in April December they decided it needed servicing 2 weeks later you guessed it it packed in wouldnt come out till gas board had checked it they were here within the hour. Housing assocation repairman turned up four days later at 7 oclock that night (xmas eve) when I mentioned it he said he`d only just got it as they hold them until they got enough to send out a guy his next 3 appointments were scattered all over north east west and south Yorkshire. 4th Christmas in a row my heatings packed in. All there interested in is the rent you threaten to withhold it until you get some repairs done and see what happens

  21. Kizzy

    I am having a similar problem here with my housing association but a leak from my water tank has resulted in it having to be emptied so we have no water and because we have an immersion also no gas. I am a single parent of a three year old we have no use of toilets bath, washing, heating, hot water. it has been three days and a repair hasn’t even been booked yet I have been calling them constantly which checked my bill has so far cost me £28 in phone calls which I never receive a call back. I didn’t think it was allowed for them to leave people in these states. I understand now why people steer clear of housing associations!

  22. sian holton

    My hot water packed up in the middle of September. This is how it went…..phoned housing on the Tuesday…workman came on the Wednesday….didn’t have the relevant part would come back Friday….no show…2 gasmen came the following Tuesday fixed majority but said they were missing a part…rebooked for Friday….first workmen returns apparently fixes it says we wont have any more problems….no hot water in bath…….2 weeks ago new gasman comes out, hasn’t got relevant part will rebook… show again….returns 1 week later in my house 4 mins apparently fixes part…no hot water in bath still, phone housing send gasman again he’s adamant that its the plumbing….phone housing, plumber comes out- turns tap on, feels the water says its the boiler….phone housing, send gasman out, he says boiler fine phone up for a plumber….phone housing, explain I need a plumber, after 52 mins on phone they send the gasman, gasman comes tells me boiler fine, need an isolation valve on hot water pipe. Phone housing, relay everything gasman has said…their response ‘well its not a repair if you just need something fitted, I won’t be booking it in’ after a very heated discussion…I had a plumber out tonight who has fitted an isolation valve and tells me that the gasman needs to return and fit a new heat exchange to my boiler!
    74 days I have been like this with 4 children aged between 4 and 10, apparently its acceptably because I can fill my bath with saucepans of water I’ve heated on the hob.
    I have put in a claim for compensation but I’m not holding my breath, I’m sure they will come up with a reason to not give it to me!

  23. sophie

    what amazes me is that the government have decided on an `affordable rent scheme` (affordable for whome i might add – outrageous)….and housing associations rent out properties under this new scheme that are in a disgusting state……I really do think there should be some kind of watchdog that oversees the state of some of these properties…..yes, they will `repair` shoddily over other shoddy `repairs`…….It is truly insulting to the tenants……
    Some of these housing associations are well off…..they are supposed to be `charitable organisations` ploughing profit back into their properties……There is one huge housing association with almost 60,000 properties that had a surplus of millions…….which is no surprise when you look at the state of their properties……(can’t afford to replace disgusting old, cracked baths that have been in the property since it was built………..corroded pipes causing leaks and water running down the walls…..blocked drains, blown plaster…..i could go on and on and it is disgraceful).

    Moreover, if these properties are at subsidised rents…..what is the subsidy paying for i would like to ask………..these housing associations have had a fortune in rent over the years and continue to neglect their properties whilst expecting the tenants to take them on and turn them around themselves……..i think they should be ashamed of themselves……

    The government and many others allude to social housing as a walk in the park and that we should be so grateful…….what for? for living in a dump? and taking days off work losing money whilst their repair companies trapse in and out to continue repairing the irrepairable………….A lot of people in social housing are vulnerable and therefore i believe that these associations feel they can pull the wool over their eyes, expect them to live in dumps…….and should you ever ask for an actual `improvement` you are fobbed off………..

    A disgusting state of affairs and there has got to be an independent authority that oversees the condition of these properties…..

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