Housing Action Teesside (HAT) surveyed Thirteen Housing Group tenants in the Tees Valley and found a number of consistent problems faced by tenants.
Despite rents increasing during 4.1% 2022 and Thirteen having a surplus of £19.3 million (2021), there appears to be a failure on the part of Thirteen to complete necessary repairs. According to Housing Action Teesside’s survey of Thirteen tenants across the Tees Valley, 73% had experienced problems with Thirteen completing repairs and had waited a long time for repairs on their home to be completed.
Some of the most concerning problems faced by Thirteen tenants reported to HAT included damp (resulting in health problems), having to wait weeks, months, or even years for repairs to be completed, and tenants suffering from stress and anxiety as a result of waiting on necessary repairs.
We call on Thirteen to use its resources to implement a strategy to get repairs completed within one month, deal with widespread issues of damp, mould and infestation on a proactive estate-wide basis, and recognise renters’ unions which can collectively negotiate with Thirteen around rents and housing conditions.
Housing Action Teesside (HAT) has compiled this report on Thirteen Housing Group after gathering evidence and testimonials from Thirteen tenants.
HAT conducted a number of street stalls in Stockton High Street and Middlesbrough town centre, and spoke to a number of tenants. Although HAT expected to hear from tenants with rogue private landlords, the tenants who spoke to us about their problems with their landlords were predominantly social tenants.
In HAT’s Stockton street stall, all but one tenant was a Thirteen tenant, with a majority of them living in Primrose Hill, Stockton. The issues which were mentioned included repairs, mould, overcrowding and delays to moves to more appropriate housing. HAT was also contacted by social tenants, mostly Thirteen, via social media. Many of these tenants spoke to us at length about the issues they were facing. Just like at HAT’s street stall, the problems around repairs not being done adequately, or within a reasonable time frame were common themes. HAT then conducted door knocking in Primrose Hill in order to speak to more Thirteen tenants to find out if this was a wider problem. Just as HAT had found from the street stall, tenants discussed problems they were having around repairs, mould, overcrowding and delays to moves to more appropriate housing.
The UK as a whole is facing a significant shortage of social housing. Only 6,000 homes for social rent are built each year, while waiting lists are estimated at more than 1 million.
Since the 1980s social housing has become dominated by housing associations, as local authorities have been encouraged to transfer their council housing over to private housing providers. This was achieved in part through ‘rent equalisation’ in which council house rents were forcibly raised above inflation, with other incentives to pressure local authorities and social housing tenants to accept transfers of their council housing into private housing providers.
Thirteen Housing Group are a Teesside-based housing association, which owns and manages 34,000 properties, mostly in Teesside. Thirteen was created through an amalgamation of other social housing providers. The history of Thirteen is a complicated one. Firstly, Stockton Borough Council set up Tristar Homes as an ‘arm’s length’ company in 2002 to manage council housing stock having received a 2 ½ star rating. Unfortunately, it then went on to receive a 1 star with no chance of improvement from the regulators before improving.
Meanwhile in Hartlepool, the housing stock was transferred from the council to Housing Hartlepool in March 2004. Tristar Homes went on to take ownership of the council’s stock in 2010, joining Housing Hartlepool in a partnership to form Vela.
In Middlesbrough, Erimus Housing was created from the transfer of council housing stock in November 2004. Four years later, Fabrick Housing Group was created by the joining of Tees Valley Housing, a traditional housing association, and Erimus Housing.
Thirteen Group was formed when in 2014 Fabrick and Vela amalgamated to form one group with four landlords. In the first year alone, Thirteen Group saved £7.5m and consolidated in 2017 to become one landlord as Thirteen, to bring “even further strength and a simpler, easier business to work with”. Gus Robinson Developments was purchased in 2018 to help play a part in building houses within the North of England for Thirteen. Thirteen now manage some 34,000 homes across the North East region, spanning North Tyneside to York, with the majority of properties (30,000) in the Tees Valley.
Currently, Thirteen’s plan is to build 3,300 new homes over the next five years across the North East and North Yorkshire at increased profit margins to boost surpluses. Operating surplus was £36.9m for 2021 (2020: £37.6m), delivering an operating margin, before disposal of assets, of 19.4% (2020: 18.7%) adding to the total reserves of over £630M (Thirteen, Annual Report 2020-2021).
Thirteen also offers homes for outright market sale in addition to the 400 ‘affordable homes’, not to be confused with houses for a social rent, they have committed to building in their strategic plan each year. This is to ensure continuing growth of their overall housing offer to potential customers by providing homes for outright sale through joint ventures with private developers or directly by Thirteen.
Housing Action Teesside produced a short online questionnaire to gather both quantitative and qualitative data from Thirteen tenants.
This questionnaire asked tenants:
- if they have had problems with Thirteen conducting repairs
- what that problem was
- if they have had to wait a long time for repairs to be done
- if they have had consequences (e.g. financial, health) from Thirteen not
completing the repair properly, or taking too long to carry it out
- if they are aware of Thirteen’s complaints process
- if they believe Thirteen have enough staff to support them
- if they have any further comments they would like to add
This questionnaire was distributed on social media, via HAT’s own social media pages, as well as being posted on local Facebook groups. HAT sent the questionnaire to every councillor in Teesside (Stockton-on-Tees, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland) asking that they support in circulating the questionnaire, to help ensure a large enough sample size to be representative, a number of councillors from different political groups did support with this. There were also a small number of paper questionnaire distributed to those without IT access, where requested. However, this was limited due to budget constraints.
An overwhelming number of tenants who responded to HAT’s questionnaire had experienced problems getting repairs done. A total of 73% of respondents said they had experienced this issue. When asked to elaborate on the issues, common problems included damp, mould, broken windows and doors, storm damage (fences, roofs etc) that was not repaired even months later and broken boilers. One in five respondents mentioned damp or mould as an issue they were facing which was not being dealt with by Thirteen.
Waiting a long time for repairs was also a very common issue Thirteen tenants faced, with 73% saying they have had this problem. Many tenants mentioned reporting a repair which needed doing, but having to wait weeks or even months to even receive a response. Some tenants were still awaiting a response when they completed the questionnaire. One tenant even mentioned a roof which had been awaiting repair since 2019, and another with broken windows which have not been replaced over 12 months after it was reported. Another tenant said “I reported lumps of concrete falling from the roof onto the pathway. They sent someone to have a look, and he did not have a ladder with him. They have scheduled a repair for 15 weeks time. Debris continues to fall, with the risk of hitting someone and causing a serious injury” and another said “I have been waiting since December to get my kitchen ceiling repaired which is about ready to collapse.”
HAT also asked if tenants had faced any consequences as a result of having to wait significant time for repairs. Examples of consequences included:
- not having use of a washing machine for a month as a result of an
- not having use of their shower
- health problems as a result of damp (frequently mentioned)
- damaged floor from a poorly fitted door
- mental health affected by repairs not being completed (frequently
- lost income from waiting in for workmen who never arrived
- leaks causing further damage
Many tenants are not aware of the complaints process. 57% of respondents said they were unaware of Thirteen’s complaints process. It is worth noting that it is unlikely that all of the 43%, who believe they are aware of Thirteen’s complaints process, will be. This leaves tenants in a position where they are having a serious problem with a repair that may need doing urgently, but do not know the procedure if Thirteen are not responding to their reported repair appropriately.
HAT asked tenants if they thought Thirteen have enough staff to support them, however, just over a third of respondents said they did not believe they did. It appears that delays in repairs may be, in part, a result of a lack of staff to do the repairs which are necessary to tenants.
Nearly half of respondents said they would be interested in joining a renters’ union, which would support them in dealing with the problems they face as tenants. If this sample is representative of Thirteen tenants, this equates to tens of thousands of tenants across the Tees Valley.
The tenant moved into the house in Stockton in June 2020. She was told by the previous resident there was a serious recurring damp problem, which emerged first in January 2021 and was repainted.
This seemed adequate until 22nd November 2021 when damp appeared in an upstairs bedroom, with water running down the walls. Upon further investigation this appears to be because the property had little to no loft insulation. This damp was again painted over and treated. The water and damp came back through almost immediately, therefore the tenant reported it to the local Thirteen representative, by phone on a number of occasions, and left a message which was not replied to.
The tenant contacted a local councillor for support, as by this point she was pregnant and her health visitor had concerns about a baby coming into the house.
The Tenant was told that the repairs would be done by the end of March and was asked if the tenant could vacate the property in the meantime. The tenant responded that she had nowhere to go and the work needed to be done sooner as her baby was due. In December the damp situation worsened. Despite sending photos to Thirteen, there was no response. The councillor continued to raise this issue, along with problems around windows, central heating and loft insulation. Loft insulation work was finally completed on 15th January. By late January the tenant was now getting a series of chest infections and was on antibiotics, which led to her being hospitalised due to breathing difficulties. The tenant was sleeping on the sofa due to conditions in the bedrooms, which had also forced her to throw out the mattress intended for the new baby, caused by the damp. By 1st February, as no date had been set for repairs to damp, installation of ventilation/fan and Thirteen were no longer replying, a complaint was made to the Ombudsman. The tenant then informed Thirteen she would be withholding her rent until the repairs were dealt with. Following this the work was commenced by contractors although on a number of occasions workers did not turn up when they were expected.
The tenant has lived at a property in Primrose Hill for 7 years – during the whole time there has been a rat infestation.
Thirteen failed to deal with it quickly, and in the last year the problem has become much worse, with rats visible in the house and in the garden. On Thirteen’s recommendation the tenant had to rip up all their decking. to try to deal with the problem. Thirteen set out traps and poison. However this hasn’t dealt with the problem, and while Thirteen initially promised more work in the kitchen and rest of the house, it has not followed through.
The rat problem continues to get worse, which is having an enormous impact on the tenant and her four children, one of whom is disabled.
It is no longer safe for the children or dogs to play in the garden. Several weeks ago the tenant smelled gas, and found that a rat had chewed through a gas pipe in the boiler.
If Thirteen do not complete a full refurbishment of the house to make it safe, or provide alternative housing in the local area for the family, it could have major mental and physical health impacts.
Testimony of Tenant:
“Back in March, concrete fell from my roof, I’ve since learnt that it’s quite possible that this has asbestos in it. It actually fell on my 4-year-old daughter. Thirteen said they’d ‘make it safe’ but the dust and concrete was left all over the garden and they won’t replace the tile until June. I didn’t know about the potential asbestos until yesterday so I am terrified that both myself and my children are going to get sick. They’ve ignored my complaint so I can’t go to the Housing Ombudsman so I don’t know what to do, I can’t afford to get an asbestos test but another tenant has said that it’s in the external pipes, in the concrete of the roof and the shed roof (the last one is my responsibility according to Thirteen but I cannot afford to deal with it and they didn’t declare the asbestos). All of these things are in a very poor state of repair and I’m struggling to get anyone to listen to me, I feel that they are exploiting the fact that I am a single mother on a low income and no other options.”
On the Central Mews estate in Middlesbrough, one tenant has been experiencing problems including anti-social behaviour, black mould and still un-repaired damage from Storm Arwen. He informed HAT this was impacting his mental health so badly it played a role in him attempting to take his own life. Moreover rent increased by £20 per month recently, supposedly to cover Covid-19 safety measures, but he never saw maintenance staff wearing masks. The black mould is growing up the walls and across the ceiling in his bedroom. This is due to damp problems which he knows are present across the estate. He was advised just to clean the walls with damp spray, but the mould keeps returning and Thirteen have said there is nothing further they can do. The tenant has had to sleep with the windows open, even in winter as he has experienced several health issues due to the damp. Other issues have been made worse by Thirteen – they replaced all the stairwell doors in the estate with new doors that slam loudly, so the tenant is woken up constantly at night. He has been complaining about this since July 2021, and was told a joiner was being sent out to fix the issue, but this was never done. After Storm Arwen, Thirteen informed him they would fix the doors but storm damage in other estates had to take priority – however the storm damage in his estate including destroyed trees, fencing and roof damage has still not been repaired.
A tenant in Middlesbrough sent Housing Action Teesside photos of the black mould and damage in his home.
This case study was covered by Teesside Live (E Lewis, Billingham bungalow’s damp plight as Grandad claims it affects his and family’s health, 2022) and permission was granted by the tenant to include them in this report.
These tenants live in a bungalow in Billingham, rented through Thirteen, and have lived there for nine years. In 2017, they started experiencing damp in a bedroom, which spread to the walls and carpet, causing damage. According to the tenants, Thirteen have done nothing to permanently the problem. The tenants were visited by a Thirteen employee, and they thought they had dealt with the problem, however, the damp came back.
They state that the bad weather has made the problem worse and is now so bad that their grandchildren cannot stay with them, despite having previously stayed every weekend. This is due to to the damp making chest problems worse. Both tenants themselves have health conditions, including COPD.
The tenants themselves have noted that a number of tradesman have stated that they have the wrong windows, which could be contributing to the damp problem. They stated that when the street’s windows were changed, their bungalow’s windows were left, and would have to wait until 2028 for theirs to be changed, having been told by Thirteen that they do not need changing.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The response from speaking to tenants has been clear – far too many do not feel their living conditions are comfortable or healthy. They do not believe their landlord follows through on its promises, listens to their concerns, or reacts quickly to their complaints.
Many tenants are under the impression they are in council housing run by a democratically accountable local authority. They are not – and HAT’s survey reveals tenants feel unable to hold their landlord accountable. One tenant reported to us that he was told by a Thirteen representative that the reason for their lack of responsiveness to urgent issues he had raised was “we are a big company… sometimes we get things wrong.” As a ‘big company’, Thirteen feels remote from those renting from it, and our survey reveals tenants do not believe their individual voices are heard. However, as a ‘big company’ Thirteen should also be using its resources to invest in big solutions and deal with problems which are affecting tenants throughout the estates it owns – tenants waiting years for repairs, suffering from the ill health effects from black mould, feeling unsafe in their community. Thirteen would save money by addressing problems quickly and proactively before they get worse, it has enough money in its reserves to meet its obligations, without raising rents on tenants struggling during the cost of living crisis, and also build the new social housing which Teesside needs. Thirteen is not alone in these issues – concerns have been raised across the country about poor quality social housing, a lack of accountability and failings with the privatised housing association model. The Social Housing Regulation Bill being discussed in Parliament may increase powers of the Register for Social Housing to inspect properties and act on failings. However, tenants should not need a national regulator to be given powers to step in for them to have a voice. Thirteen should work with tenants, now organising in a renters’ union, to act urgently on the concerns tenants have raised.
We call on Thirteen to:
- Commit to one-month timescales for repairs without rises in rents
or service charges.
- Deal with problems of black mould and vermin infestation, which
are recurring across multiple homes in whole estates, collectively
and proactively to prevent these issues getting worse and becoming
- Commit to rehoming and compensating tenants whose homes have
become unlivable due to failure to deal with issues, prioritise
building homes at social rent to enable them to do this and also
meet housing demands.
- Implement a staffing strategy which meets the needs of tenants for
repairs and support, and which also guarantees staff the pay and
conditions which Thirteen workers organising in Unite the Union
have been demanding.
- Commit to recognising renters’ unions, including Housing Action
Teesside, which their tenants choose to join, and negotiating
collectively with renters’ unions around rents, service charges,
repairs, and issues facing Thirteen tenants in their estates.
- Chair, HAT
- Qualified as social worker, University of Lancaster
- Has worked in homelessness, addiction and social care sectors
- Secretary, HAT.
- BA (hons) British Politics and Legislative Studies, University of Hull
- MSc Inequality and Society, University of Sunderland
This report has greatly benefited from Housing Action Teesside volunteers, who helped gather questionnaire responses, but it would not have been possible without the Thirteen tenants who took the time to complete Housing Action Teesside’s questionnaire and the tenants who spoke to us in greater depth. We hope their input can help benefit all current and future Thirteen tenants.