Delays in housing repairs causing extra stress for tenants in Cornwall says Citizens Advice

Social housing tenants in Cornwall are waiting months for repairs they feel are damaging their health and causing stress and anxiety, according to a report by Citizens Advice published this week.

The charity launched the investigation after a growing number of people contacted its advisers with their concerns. Issues involving local authority housing increased by 100% between July 2019 to June 2020 (from 16 to 32) and those involving housing associations rose 63% from 19 to 31. There were an additional six cases involving fitness for human habitation.

The report highlights cases across the county involving several housing associations and providers, including single-mum Kelly from South East Cornwall, who has a five-year-old child and has been battling to have the leaky roof of her flat repaired.

Kelly said: “I have raised numerous complaints to my landlord about repairs and damp issues that have either not been dealt with in a timely manner or not dealt with at all.

“It’s really hard to get anyone there to accept that it is a real issue. It took six months to sort, and that was with the help of a parish councillor and my local MP and going to the senior management.

“It’s exhausting and you just feel like a hamster on a wheel all the time. No-one should have to fight like I have to get things done. They really do need to improve their understanding of how these housing conditions affect people’s mental and physical health.

“You go to bed every night thinking this is never going to be sorted and wake-up dreading being in your own home, which is just not right.”

Donna, 20, was placed in social housing after leaving the care system. She lives with her partner and three young children in a two bedroom ground-floor flat in Redruth.

The flat suffers from rising damp throughout. There is a thin carpet but no underlay and concrete floors.

Donna says you can smell the damp as soon as you walk inside, the mould has ruined their furniture and black mould is present behind the headboards in both bedrooms.

She says there are water marks around the windows and rainwater gets in through the broken vents. There are no seals around the windows, inside or out and cracks around the window frames.

When Donna was pregnant with her last child, her midwife warned against a homebirth because of the state of the property.

Donna, who spoke to us in March 2021, said: “Mears, who manage the property, said they would send someone to fix the windows last December (2020) but no-one ever came.

“The mould is growing worse all the time. My partner and I have been sleeping on a mattress in the living room because our bedroom is unusable, and now even the mattress is getting damp from the floor.

“I am getting depressed about the whole situation. The conditions are dire and we are overcrowded as well. It is affecting my mental health and both my two-year-old and I become dehydrated because of the conditions inside.”


Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gill Pipkin, said:

“While we recognise that lockdown has pushed back some repairs, this mustn’t be used as an excuse to delay work which is making people’s lives a misery.

“We know some housing providers in Cornwall are facing issues such as skills shortages in various repair trades and a backlog of repairs, while trying to improve the situation for their tenants but the situation is putting pressure on people who are the least able to cope with these issues.

“We would like to see social housing providers take urgent action and our report lists some recommended measures, such as a much speedier response to tenants’ concerns and for people to be kept informed of progress and the reasons for any delays.”

Gill added:

“We’re pleased that some housing providers are engaging with us following the issues we’ve highlighted and we’ll be their following progress on behalf of our clients.”

Citizens Advice Cornwall are also calling for all social housing landlords to have dedicated housing officers for vulnerable clients, greater use of hotels and B&Bs while major works are undertaken and closer work with local authorities to provide better standards of homes for families in crisis.