It’s the season for black mould. It forms on window frames. Spreads to the ceiling. Forms on the skirting boards. Invades carpets. Grows out through vents and extractors. And it can lead to ill health.
In this longer than usual article, we talk about some of the local issues we have heard about in the least few weeks. We won’t name housing associations, landlords and tenants.
We councillors are very concerned about black mould. Tenants have been worried for years but the issue has largely been on the backburner for housing associations. They have taken the view that black mould and other problems will be eliminated when they upgrade properties and its up to the tenants to deal with the mould.
Recent reports about the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in Rochdale in 2020 have brought the danger of black mould into public view. But the mould has been around longer. Housing associations and councils received warnings from the housing ombudsman only last year after upholding a flood of complaints.
There are an estimated 120,000 households living in social housing in England with problems with condensation and mould, three times the proportion of privately owned homes. Around 176,000 private renting households are also living with mould.
Is black mould really a threat to health? Yes. The death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak brought the danger of black mould into public view after the coroner said earlier this month:
“Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment. Action to treat and prevent the mould was not taken. His respiratory condition led to respiratory arrest.”
She asked how this could happen in the UK in 2020 (details of the verdict).
That was a landmark verdict and it is shocking that it took a death to highlight what many tenants already know.
Mould is a fungus, often several varieties of fungus. Fungi give off spores and it is these that cause reactions among people who have allergies and respiratory conditions. Sometimes skin contact with mould can trigger an allergic reaction. Not all people are affected but prolonged expose to mould is believed to detrimental to health (though the issue seems to have been ignored by medical researchers).
In some parts of the country, housing associations and councils have blamed the tenants for the mould problem, in one case blaming the budgie – I kid you not.
The blame culture was a major theme in the housing ombudsman’s report into black mould published last year (PDF). This followed a significant number of findings of maladministration against housing associations and councils over black mould during which the tenant was blamed. The ombudsman recommended that “landlords should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould.” Only today, the housing ombudsman wrote an open letter to housing associations to remind them of their responsibilities on dealing with black mould and not to blame the tenants.
Some of the people contacting us have young children with respiratory conditions and they are understandingly worried.
One social tenant mother who works as a cleaner has extensive black mould on the upper floor. She is scrupulously clean and ensures the filter vents are open. However, the mould is so bad it has spread out through bathroom fan and can be seen outside the property. She is worried because her four-year-old has asthma.
Another mother in a social home told us: “
It is getting really mouldy it’s in all the windows and also growing from the ceilings I have a 2 year old that is constantly getting poorly and now I see why… I have a vent in the kitchen and bathroom both are used at all times and out of all my windows I’ve only got 2 trickle vents.”
Again, a social tenant:
“Everything is damp, rotten and falling apart. They don’t like to admit its rising damp but you can see it coming up from the floor. Both my kitchen and wet room floors have gone too.”
And again, a social tenant:
“My husband and me have the day off on Thursday. While our youngster is at nursery, we are emptying the cupboard under the stairs and bleaching out the black mould which is everywhere. I don’t know how to get rid of it in the bathroom”
This time of year, mould gets worse as condensation forms in poorly ventilated and poorly heated properties. There is a strong link between fuel poverty and black mould. Well heated homes suffer less but so many people cannot afford to keep their property warm, the more so since fuel prices have soared.
Ludlow councillors are currently dealing with several cases in social housing. So far, the housing associations have been responsive.
If you have black mould, you should contact your landlord, whether social or private. We recommend email rather than phone because then you have a copy of the correspondence and the response (or lack of it). If you phone, make a note with details and the date and time. In social housing you may want to talk to your agent, neighbourhood coach, estate manager (the titles vary). But always back this up with an email saying: “I spoke to you today about black mould…” and send photos and details. Too many complaints get lost in the system.
We would also recommend that anyone suffering from mould contact their unitary councillor as well as their housing association or landlord. Most councillors are on Messenger or WhatsApp these days so it is easy to send the images.
It is vital to provide photographs to whoever you are communicating with.
Tracey Huffer says:
“We have realised that black mould has been a problem for decades. Many properties have inadequate heating or people can’t afford to run it. Too many homes lack adequate ventilation, including trickle vents, on windows. Condensation occurs too often and with condensation comes black mould. Although many properties are old, some of the housing less than 20 years old has black mould.
“A lot of people in social housing have low incomes. Many have health conditions. Too many have black mould in their homes.
“I am worried that the secretary of state for levelling up is threatening to cut government grants to social landlords that don’t deal with mould and poor living conditions. That won’t solve anything. If there is less money, there will be fewer repairs and fewer properties will be upgraded.”
Andy Boddington adds:
“I live in social housing have personal experience of black mould. My flat had inadequate heating and insulation for years. The heating eventually failed. The mould was everywhere from wall to ceiling. I have asthma and that was getting worse, though mould was probably only a contributing factor. I was so ill at one point, I had to ring friends and ask them to take me in for a few days so that I could get warm and heal.
“Then a miracle happened. The housing association replaced the windows and doors, put in a new combi boiler, cavity wall insulation, even a new kitchen. The contrast to my earlier years in the flat is remarkable and my asthma is much reduced, though that is also due to new medication.
“Black mould has been ignored for too long. The housing ombudsman’s letter to social landlords today along with the coroner’s verdict is a wake up call. Housing associations should listen to their tenants and make reducing condensation and black mould a priority.”
Finally, there is a common misconception that social housing is council housing. That’s only true in Oswestry and Bridgnorth, where council owned houses are managed by STAR housing on behalf of Shropshire Council. Bromford, Connexus, Marches, Wrekin and other homes are owned by the housing associations and maintained by them.
If you have problems, let us councillors know.