Page last updated at 02:47 GMT, Sunday, 4 October 2009 03:47 UK

Decent homes target 'impossible'

By Phil Kemp
Donal MacIntyre show, BBC Radio 5 live

Teresa Howell's kitchen floor
Teresa Howell's kitchen and bathroom have not been updated for decades

Teresa Howell's council home on the St Saviour's estate in Southwark, south London, is officially not "decent".

Eight years ago, the government pledged to bring all social housing in England up to a basic standard by 2010.

According to a manifesto pledge, all homes would be made warm, weatherproof and have reasonably modern facilities.

But with a year to go, Teresa's home is one of the 700,000 properties in England which the National Audit Commission projects will miss the target.

"The cupboard units are falling apart, my sink's dropped, the kitchen cupboards are breaking, there's holes in the floor where it's part concrete, part wood," the mother of four told BBC Radio 5 live.

"Basically it's out of date. The council's done nothing in this kitchen for I don't know how many years."

To qualify as a "decent" home, Teresa's kitchen would need to be less than 20 years old, and her bathroom less than 30 years old, and not fail on space, noise, layout and location points.

However her bath and sink were installed more than 50 years ago.

Health risk

Teresa's neighbour, Simon Lupton fears the state of his two-bedroom flat is putting his family's health at risk.

Damp in the bedroom belonging to Simon Lupton's daughters
Simon Upton fears the damp in his flat is damaging his daughter's health

"My eldest daughter has asthma and my partner has asthma as well, and it does get a bit concerning because, when it's very cold in here, you can smell the damp," he says.

Behind him, under his daughters' dressing table, the purple damp-proof paint he used to decorate the room just two years ago has turned black.

"You get spores with the damp that goes in the air, and it can be a health issue."

Southwark Council deputy leader Kim Humphreys admits the council will not meet the decent home target because, he said, it manages 55,000 properties, more than any other local authority in London.

He told the Donal MacIntyre programme that the council had to spend its budget on repairs that fell outside the decent homes criteria.

"Southwark has more lifts than any other landlord in the country," he explained.

"If you live in a tower block, it would be fine having a nice new flat but if you can't get to it, you won't be very happy."

Funds diverted

The problems faced by Southwark tenants are far from unique. According to the latest data from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), 22 councils across England have as many as one in two "non-decent" social homes.

Our commitment to the decent homes as strong as ever
Communities and Local Government spokesman

In East Durham, nearly nine out of 10 homes fail the standard.

A significant number of properties in the north eastern council still have coal fires as their single source of heat and need total re-wiring.

Many councils set up so-called Arm's Length Management Companies (ALMOs) to manage the programme of improvement for their housing stock, because ALMOs were eligible for extra government funding.

But earlier this year, the government announced it would divert £150m which had been earmarked for the newest ALMOs and spend the money on building new homes instead.

Homes In Sedgemoor, a Somerset ALMO, is one affected.

Chief executive Gary Orr said the funding decision was ill-considered.

"I believe that the government is making a serious error of judgement here."

He predicts that, without the expected funding, Homes In Sedgmoor's housing stock will deteriorate to 80% non-decency.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has already faced criticism for reallocating money from the Decent Homes budget to help fund the Olympics.

Gwyneth Taylor, of the National Federation of ALMOs, shares Gary Orr's frustration at this latest development.

"One of the successes of ALMOs is the involvement of tenants, so they feel betrayed and let down," she said.


An Audit Commission report on social housing published in September said the government's "high ambitions" for the Decent Homes scheme had not been "matched by reality".

It concluded that, given the deterioration in the economy, meeting the 2010 deadline was now "all but impossible".

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The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is also working to the same 2010 deadline as England, but it estimates that a quarter of its homes still fail to reach the standard.

The Scottish and Welsh authorities have longer to meet their deadlines for housing improvements. The Scottish government hopes its social sector homes will meet the Housing Quality Standard by 2015, while the Welsh Assembly has put in place a 2012 deadline.

The Department for Communities and Local Government insisted that "massive improvements" have already been made to England's public housing.

"Our commitment to the decent homes programme and maintaining that standard is as strong as ever," said a spokesman.

"By 2010 around 3.6 million homes will have had work carried out to them thanks to £40bn of investment, and we are determined we will complete the job.

"Those ALMOs that have passed their inspection and have been promised funding will still receive it in 2010-11."

The spokesman also highlighted new powers given to councils to keep the rents from new build properties and the proceeds of homes sold through the right-to-buy scheme, which the government says will give councils "more scope to maintain and improve their current stock".

Meanwhile Teresa, Simon and thousands of other council tenants wait anxiously for the improvements they have been promised.

"They're running out of money, and our worry is, on our estate, where does that leave us?" said Simon.

This story will be broadcast on the Donal MacIntyre programme on BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday 4 October 2009 at 1930 BST. Or download the free podcast. You can contact the programme at

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