The long shadow of Brexit falls on those in the most desperate need of better housing

In a world of mega housing associations, standards are fraying, and it is currently unknown how many of the current EU regulations the UK will keep

Rabina Khan
Thursday 03 October 2019 16:03
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I have become increasingly concerned with the way Housing Associations are treating elderly and vulnerable residents, including those with mental health issues. From my casework, it appears that the situation has deteriorated further since the EU referendum, with housing associations merging together to form conglomerate companies that are less client focused.

Are they preparing for Brexit?

In February this year, Fiona MacGregor, chief executive of the Regulator of Social Housing, wrote to English associations urging them to stress test the potential impacts of a no-deal Brexit and put mitigation strategies in place.

The letter advised that six key risks should be taken into consideration, including deteriorating housing market conditions; interest, inflation and currency risk; access to finance; availability of labour; access to materials and components and access to data.

Kelsey Walker, a director at Savills Housing Consultancy said that building costs may rise faster than CPI, the government’s standard measure of inflation, so even if the government sticks to the rent settlement, housing associations shouldn’t assume that increased rents will cover increased costs.

Housing is affected by EU regulations relating to the environment and climate change, construction, health and safety and materials used, such as the requirement for CE marking for construction products and the UK’s compliance with a common rule book regarding materials standards and energy consumption.

Social housing is particularly sensitive to the changes associated with Brexit as it affects the supply chain and EU citizens are major contributors to the construction workforce. Fewer available homes will mean that housing associations will have to fulfil their obligation to rectify poor housing conditions.

It is deeply worrying. I already have had to deal with several failures of social housing providers, including that of a tenant where rainwater had affected the flat and the gas meter, causing serious health and safety issues. Recently, I met with a group of women in Kensington and was deeply upset to hear about the death of an elderly woman whose body was not discovered for two days.

We cannot forget the isolation suffered by many elderly people, particularly those who are disabled and do not have any close family members to check up on them regularly.

This is where housing associations not only need to balance their books, but also be able to meet their duty of care towards their tenants and leaseholders. The fear must be that the pressures of a no-deal Brexit would push that duty of care down the list of priorities, while potentially removing existing obligations.

I’m currently dealing with the case of a single parent father raising three children, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum and suffers from severe mental health issues, including OCD, depression, extreme social anxiety and suicidal ideation. She cannot be left unattended for long. Another child suffers from severe asthma, which has been exacerbated by their living conditions.

His family was given a three-storey house in an appalling condition, but because it is a listed property, it does not have double glazing. Every room is damp and water drips through the ceiling into the bedrooms. The leaking roof has caused safety issues with the electrics and although builders have repaired the roof once, water still leaks through.

The housing provider is a large, merged housing association entity.

It left the family in situ whilst carrying out the works; images of a building site in a home with walls broken down, electric wires open and a family with immense vulnerabilities left to live, eat, sleep and keep clean in the midst of debris was shocking. When the father threatened them with legal action, they put him in a tiny hotel room with his three children for a month; such insensitivity lacks an understanding of mental health.

Last Friday, after insisting on a multi-agency meeting to meet the needs of a paranoid schizophrenic woman in her sixties, her housing association is finally taking steps to mitigate the risk. She is living on the ninth floor of an apartment block, which is located in a narrow alley in a high-risk crime area. I could go on with my list of cases.

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The government boasts of a huge housing programme, but there is no talk about holding housing associations to account for their failure to meet the needs of vulnerable people, tenants and leaseholders. High service charges are also impacting household finances and yet the money leaseholders pay is not congruent with the level of maintenance and repair services received.

It is currently unknown how many of the current housing association EU regulations the UK will keep post-Brexit.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, has said that the UK needs a retrofit strategy "to ensure that our existing homes are fit for the future, and to alleviate the scourge of fuel poverty.” But in the shadow of Brexit how will these emerging mega housing associations get the sustained and detailed monitoring needed at a time when the government is failing to deliver its own house building programme?