The Human Cost of the Social Housing Shortage

Middlesbrough has nearly 1,500 people on its social housing waiting list. Behind those statistics are families kept in limbo, in unsuitable housing or temporary accommodation. 

Our member Alwiya and her adult daughter are trapped in this situation. They are living in a house owned by North Star housing association in Middlesbrough, waiting on a move. The house is too big for them, their energy bills have skyrocketed, and it has problems with damp, mould and repairs not being dealt with.

Mould in Alwiya’s home

Both Alwiya and her daughter suffer with their physical health, which means they cannot use the stairs. They can’t even access the upstairs in their home.

Because they can’t get upstairs, both Alwiya and her daughter have to sleep together in their crowded front room, on mattresses that are too small for them. This is a strain on both their mental and physical health.

Alwiya and her daughter need a bungalow they can live in properly. Thousands of others are in need of social housing now. 

And because local housing associations aren’t building the housing we need, that means we need Middlesbrough Council to build real, genuine council housing now!

Write to your local councillor calling for them to propose building real council housing. Contact details can be found here:

Win for CIAC Residents!

Thanks to the campaigning of residents of the CIAC building in Middlesbrough and Housing Action Teesside, and to the advocacy of Andy McDonald MP, the Government has finally promised justice for the tenants and leaseholders support under the Government’s energy bill voucher scheme.

Like others across Middlesbrough and the country, CIAC building residents are struggling with the cost of living and especially with sky-high energy bills. However while the Government has announced measures including the “Energy Support Scheme” £400 rebate off energy bills, CIAC building tenants were told they are not receiving this support. This is supposedly because they are on a collective commercial energy contract held by the building management company CRM Limited, which is then sub-metered to the actual residents of the building. As their contract is commercial they are treated as a “business” and not eligible for any household support.

Residents of the CIAC building signed a petition, coordinated by Housing Action Teesside, which was shared with local MP Andy McDonald. The petition demanded that residents in the CIAC building, and others in a similar position across the country, receive the £400 energy bill voucher as soon as possible.

Andy McDonald raised this issue in Parliament’s Business Select Committee, and the Chair of the Committee then raised it with the Government. Finally on 5 December we have received a reply from the Minister for Energy Graham Stuart, recognising the problem and agreeing to put a new “Alternative” scheme in place. Under this, from January 2023 residents will be able to apply on the Government website for the £400 energy bill rebate.

We will be tracking this scheme closely to make sure it works for our members and other CIAC residents.

But this win goes to show; pressure from below works!

Damp and Mould

Housing Action Teesside has written an open letter to housing associations across the area demanding action on damp and mould issues.

This is in response to the national scandal after the tragic death of 2-year old Awaab Ishak, caused by damp and mold in his housing association home.

Tenants are demanding that action be taken by housing associations in Teesside to prevent a similar tragedy occurring here. In a report that HAT drafted in June 2022 it found repeated issues of significant damp and mould.

HAT is also demanding that housing associations take into account the dire cost of living crisis for social housing tenants, and choose not to impose the maximum legal rent rise of 7% in April 2023.

The open letter has been sent to the Board Members of the Beyond Housing and Thirteen Group housing associations.

Text of open letter

We are writing to you in an “open letter” format due to the urgency of the subject matter i.e. the recent Coroner’s ruling into the death of 2-year-old Awaab Ishak from a respiratory disorder that was caused by exposure to mould in his home. We agree wholeheartedly with the Coroner Joanne Kearsley, who posed the question “How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die as a result of exposure to mould?”

Housing Action Teesside (HAT), a tenants’ union and housing campaign group representing members across Teesside, has been raising these issues on behalf of our members. HAT commissioned a survey of Thirteen Group tenants earlier this year and over 70% of those who responded to the survey identified problems of delays and inefficiencies in dealing with complaints. A significant proportion of these related to persistent problems of damp and mould. This picture was provided by a tenant and shows the damp and mould issues that they were forced to live with.

Our conversations with tenants of other social housing providers indicate that these awful conditions are widespread across the social housing sector and are not confined to one provider. HAT met with Thirteen Group representatives after the publication of our report and we were provided with descriptions of their complaints and remediation protocols. However, as these protocols had been in place for some time prior to the commissioning of our survey, it can be surmised that those protocols were and are not fit for purpose. Failure to address damp and mould results in disease and as we have tragically witnessed, premature death. Damp and mould issues are exacerbated by a lack of heating and HAT are acutely aware that many tenants in social housing are facing some terrible decisions as regards their finances.

Deciding between “heating or eating” is for many people a part of their daily lives as their spending power is eroded. As rental costs are a large proportion of most peoples monthly outgoings, any rent increase will make it increasingly difficult for tenants to adequately heat their homes thereby worsening existing damp and mould issues. The government’s recent announcement that social rents can be raised by a legal maximum of 7% risks making terrible situations even worse if Housing Associations choose to increase rents to this level.
HAT would like answers to the following questions:

  1. How many of your houses have damp and mould issues?

  2. What are your current protocols for dealing with damp and mould issues?

  3. Do you believe that these protocols are fit for purpose?

  4. Do you agree with Michael Gove (Housing Minister) that those in charge of Housing Associations should be accountable for disease or death caused by damp and mould ?

  5. Will you support a rent freeze for a minimum of 12 months?

Due to the urgency of the issues raised, we would be grateful for a quick response to these questions.

CIAC Energy Bill Rebate Injustice

Residents of the CIAC (Community in a Cube) building in Middlesbrough have released a petition protesting against the injustice that they are being denied the energy bill support available to other households across the UK. 

The residents have been supported in coordinating the petition by the local tenants’ union and housing campaign group, Housing Action Teesside.

Like others across Middlesbrough and the country, CIAC building residents are struggling with the cost of living and especially with sky-high energy bills. However while the Government has announced measures including the “Energy Support Scheme” £400 rebate off energy bills, CIAC building tenants have been told they are not receiving this support.

This is supposedly because they are on a collective commercial energy contract held by the building management company CRM Limited, which is then sub-metered to the actual residents of the building. As their contract is commercial they are treated as a “business” and not eligible for any household support.

The residents in the CIAC building include both individual leaseholders, and a number of social housing tenants renting from Thirteen Group. They are all especially vulnerable to rising energy bills.

The petition calls on the Government to ensure the residents of buildings with collective commercial energy contracts receive the £400 rebate and are treated as households under the terms of any future support.

The petition further calls on the company holding the CIAC building’s freehold E&J Estates, the building management company CRM Limited, and Thirteen Group, to begin advance payment of the energy bill rebate to all residents and wait for this to be reimbursed by the Government, as without this residents will be driven into poverty and debt, and may not be able to afford rents, ground rents and service charges. 

The petition has been sent to E&J Estates, CRM Limited, Thirteen Group, and the office of local Member of Parliament Andy McDonald so it can be raised with the Government.


We the residents of the CIAC building are struggling with the cost of living, just as others are across Middlesbrough and throughout the UK. Skyrocketing energy bills and food prices continue to rise far above wages, pensions and benefits, and many of us are wondering how we will make it through the winter.

The Government has announced some measures to lighten the impact of energy bills on households. The “Energy Support Scheme” includes a £400 rebate off energy bills, and the “Energy Price Guarantee” is meant to freeze bills for six months from October 2022.

However we as residents of the CIAC building have not received this support. 

We have been told this is only because of the fine-print of how our building is leased. The CIAC building’s freehold is owned by E&J Estates, and administered by CRM Limited. CRM Limited has a commercial energy contract, which is then sub-metered to the actual residents of the building. We as residents have no choice in the energy supplier we use, and as part of this we are paying up to £679 per year in standing charges alone before we have used a single watt of energy.

Many of us are leaseholders directly from E&J Estates, while others of us are social housing tenants with the social landlord Thirteen (who have the leasehold on a portion of the building). However all of us are on the same energy contract.

This is where the big issue comes in – because our energy  contract is in the name of CRM Limited and not in our names as individual tenants, our energy use is treated as “commercial” and not “residential”. That means:

–  None of us are eligible for the £400 rebate. The Government has recognised this is a problem for many people in tower blocks across the country and promised support in future, however it has not said when this will happen. But as the cost of living crisis worsens this winter, we are desperate and cannot afford to wait to receive the rebate we have been promised.

– The freeze in energy prices will affect us, but according to the Government we will be treated as if we were a “business” (under the business “Energy Bill Relief Scheme”) rather than as individual households. This means that if future support is announced for households but not businesses, it will not apply to us.

This is not fair, and it is driving many of us to desperation.

2022 Report on Thirteen Housing Group

Executive Summary

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
    electrical fault
  • 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

Complaints Process

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.

Renters Union

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.

Case Studies

Tenant 1

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.

Tenant 2

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.

Tenant 3

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.”

Tenant 4

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.

Tenant 5

A tenant in Middlesbrough sent Housing Action Teesside photos of the black mould and damage in his home.

Tenant 6

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:

  1. Commit to one-month timescales for repairs without rises in rents
    or service charges.
  2. 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
    health risks.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


Tom Zagoria

  • Chair, HAT
  • Qualified as social worker, University of Lancaster
  • Has worked in homelessness, addiction and social care sectors

Katie Weston

  • 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.


Thirteen Tenant 3 Minute Survey

We have spoken to many Thirteen Housing Group tenants over the past few months and have been listening to their experiences.

If you are a Thirteen tenant, then we would be grateful if you could share your experiences with us. Here is the link to our online questionnaire:…/1FAIpQLSeL2mGd3tEwXv…/viewform

Housing Associations: The New Rogue Landlords?

A heavily pregnant tenant having to sleep on the sofa and having health issues because of damp which, along with other basic repairs, was going unresolved by her landlord. An elderly tenant with a leak, ending in her ceiling falling in on Christmas day, also because of her landlord failing to do a basic repair. Tower block tenants, many of whom are elderly or vulnerable, who used to have a permanent concierge service, have had that removed and replaced with a ‘mobile concierge’ service, shared with many other tower blocks, so they no longer feel as safe as non-tenants can ‘tailgate’ into their building.

When Housing Action Teesside was founded, we expected to hear stories like this from tenants, but we expected to hear them from private tenants. However, we have heard story after story from tenants being let down by their social landlord. Housing Action Teesside has run numerous stalls across Teesside where we have spoken to renters about the problems they face, and also had renters contact us via social media. Over and over again, the renters we are contacted by are social renters, the vast majority of whom are housing association tenants, mostly with Thirteen and Beyond Housing, although many assumed they were actually council tenants.

Housing associations are not-for-profit organisations that own, let and manage affordable-rental housing, which is generally cheaper than privately rented housing and usually provides a long-term tenancy. Housing associations work with councils to meet the social need for homes, but housing association properties are not council properties, despite even many tenants assuming they are.

Nationally, 16.6% of households are social renters (2021), most of whom have a housing association landlord. In the North East, the housing association Thirteen is the largest landlord, owning or managing over 34,000 homes, with over 70,000 ‘customers’. Another housing association in Teesside, Beyond Housing, provides the area with another 15,000 homes. Both of these large landlords pay their CEOs and senior staff large salaries. Thirteen’s CEO had the second largest pay rise of a housing association in the country, in 2019/20, with an increase of £44,848, taking him to £208,064 per year. In the same year, eight other Thirteen staff were paid over £110,000. Beyond Housing’s CEO is not quite as well-paid as Thirteen’s, but still receives a salary of £147,900, plus a car allowance of £13,500.

Despite high pay for executives, as well as failing to do basic repairs, they only offered a 3% pay rise to its 1,500 workers, leaving them with a real terms pay cut, as inflation is around 7%. The blame for this was put on the Covid-19 pandemic causing additional financial pressures.

Although housing associations are ‘not-for-profit’, this does not stop them from building up ‘surpluses’. In 2019/20, Thirteen managed to build up a £20 million surplus, down slightly from the £23.1 million surplus they had built up in 2018/19. Despite claiming the pandemic meant they could not afford to give their workers more than a real-terms pay cut, they still had a surplus of £19.3 million in 2020/21. Thirteen is not alone on building up surpluses; Beyond Housing had a surplus of £12.9m in 2020/21, up from £7.2 million in 2019/20

Housing associations are clearly not fulfilling their purpose. They are failing to build the homes that are needed, failing to carry out necessary repairs on the homes they do own and failing to pay their staff properly. It is time to bring back council housing, give power back to local authorities who best know how to meet local needs and can be held to account at the ballot box if they fail to do so.

In the meantime, if you are a tenant living in the Tees Valley, get in touch with Housing Action Teesside and help us form a renters’ union. If we act collectively, we can fight back against rogue landlords, whether they are private profit-making landlords or so-called not-for-profit social landlords. As a union we can support each other to resist rent increases and unfair evictions, and pressure landlords to get repairs done.

Katie Weston is a University of Hull British Politics and Legislative Studies graduate, a qualified teacher (PGCE PCET via University of Sunderland) and recently graduated from the University of Sunderland with a Master’s Degree in Inequality and Society. She previously worked as a Parliamentary assistant for Andy McDonald MP, as a research assistant in Newcastle and as a supply teacher in secondary schools across the Tyne and Wear. Katie currently works as an Assessment Design Officer for a qualification awarding body, as well as volunteering as Secretary of Housing Action Teesside in her spare time.

The Case for Council Housing

On 22nd July Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick stated in an interview with ITV that Housing association “executive pay was out of control” and they need to return to the “strong and social moral mission”. Jenrick said this as a deflection tactic when discussing the lack of social housing being built (only 6,000 last year with over 1.1 million on waiting lists nationally). However, it is nonetheless true that housing associations no longer serve local needs, whilst simultaneously becoming poor employers and paying themselves very well.

For example, CEO of L&Q, one of London’s biggest housing associations, David Montague, has seen his pay rise by a massive 74% since 2010, to nearly £350,000. Similarly, Peabody boss Brendon Sarsfield had an increase of 17%, bringing his pay to £278,750 in 2019. David Cowans, of the national housing association Places for People, received a salary of £528,870 in 2018 — a rise of 9.8% from the previous year.

Teesside based Thirteen Group CEO was No 2 on the highest pay rise category, as published by Inside Housing magazine, with a pay rise off £44,848, taking him to £208,064 per annum, if you include pension contributions this takes his total pay package to over £240,000. Eight other members of staff are paid over £110,000. Compare that to the derisory pay award made to staff this year of £250 (plus a one-off bonus of £250) amounting to less than 1% for many, a real terms pay cut.

Beyond Housing, who look after properties mainly from Recar to Scarborough, are little better, despite being half the size of Thirteen Group. Their CEO gets a salary of £147,900, plus a car allowance of £13,500 giving her a total salary of £161,400.

Given that Thirteen Group were formed mainly from Middlesbrough, Stockton and Hartlepool Councils, transferring their stock and Beyond Housing being formed from Redcar and Scarborough doing the same, it is worthwhile comparing executive pay in some of those councils. Stockton Council has only four members of staff earning over £100K while Hartlepool have five, neither earning anything like the amount that CEOs in Housing Associations make.

It would be fair to point out that both nationally and locally these ‘not for profit’ housing associations can afford these huge wages as they build up ‘surpluses’ annually in the many millions. For example, our biggest local housing association, Thirteen, in 2019/20 recorded a surplus of £20.0m and in 2019 recorded a surplus of £23.1m.

Who gets to make these decisions you might well ask, where is the oversight? Again, to use our biggest local supplier of housing, Thirteen, as an example. They have a board; however, it is selected from within and has no elected council members on it, nor representation from the mayor’s office. This is despite a large proportion of its income coming via the benefits system and is therefore public money. The board members, not unreasonably receive an allowance and expenses, however, they added up to £176,000 for the year ending 2020.

If you are starting to think as some of these figures are starting to add up and it might be cheaper and better value for money to do this in the public sector under Local authority control, or even mayoral control, you might be right.

So, with all this money floating about, tenants must be getting a good service? I would argue no. When tenants got a vote on stock transfer, part of the sell was that the new landlord would not be part of some bigger organisation (the council) that provided education, social services, bin collections, etc. and that they could wholly focus on the housing needs of the community. This both nationally and locally became history very quickly as over the next few years, the ex-Stockton council arm’s length organisation amalgamated with Housing Hartlepool HA (ex-Hartlepool council) to form Vela and Erimus HA (ex-Middlesbrough Council) amalgamated with Tees Valley HA to form Fabrick. Vela then amalgamated with Fabrick, even though, when an organising committee of mainly residents, but also including councillors and Trade Union representatives had looked at the options for Tristar, they had voted unanimously to reject the approach of Fabrick. Since then, Thirteen, have greatly centralised their services and no longer have the numerous estate offices which were easily accessible to tenants and reduced them to one office in Stockton, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, with no estate offices at all in places like Thornaby and Billingham.

Finally, what about the housing stock? The country has a housing supply problem; 1.1 million according to the government. Teesside is part of the problem; we may not have huge numbers sleeping on the streets. However, we will have many living in overcrowded accommodation under private landlords who frankly aren’t that bothered as long as they get the rent, as well as the sofa surfers who rely on the good will of family and friends. Britain has the oldest housing stock in Europe, much of it terraced housing dating back to the industrial revolution or built post war-built council estates which Margaret Thatcher put an end to in 1979. This has been made worse by the right to buy which resulted in much of the best housing being sold off, a great deal of which has ended up in the hands of private landlords who rent it out, not at a ‘social rent’ but at a ‘market rent’, making it unaffordable to many.

At the time of writing, I am unaware of any social housing being built in Teesside, this has been the case for several years now as housing associations await government grants through Homes England that are not forthcoming as the grants are focused on specific high affordability pressure areas of Newcastle, Leeds, Harrogate and York. Therefore, because of this failure of government policy, housing associations tend to build ‘affordable’ housing, which is frankly a long way from that for a large proportion of people. Thirteen, for example, the proportion of its stock that is social housing has fallen to 81.62% but having built 1200 ‘affordable houses’ the proportion of that type of home has risen from 10.43% to 12.57% in the last 3 years. This is an issue because “Affordable rented properties are defined as up to 80% of market rent but Social rented properties can only be rented out at up to 50% of market rent. This in areas where rent is comparatively low may not seem to be a huge amount in cash terms, but in those same areas there is also a great deal of deprivation which means that cash difference may well mean that social rented homes are – for low-income families- much more affordable than Affordable Rent.

It is as the Housing Secretary said, time for Housing associations to re-engage with the communities by embedding themselves within them, turn over some of that large amount of the cash they have held in reserve to build large amounts of social housing instead of the profit making unaffordable, ‘affordable housing’ for a not-for-profit organisations. Either that, or the housing should be given back to local authorities which would allow local people to decide what their priorities are in their town rather than the directors, many of whom don’t even live in the same region as their housing association’s tenants. It is also time for him to put the Government’s money where its mouth is and start to level up some of the housing provision in this country.

Paul Weston is a Labour Councillor and an ex-Trade Union Convenor at Stockton Council, Tristar Homes, Vela Group and Thirteen Group. He was also a member of the Steering groups which set up Tri Star homes & Vela group.

South Bank Community Land Trust

Following concerns of residents about the increasing number of empty homes in the town a group came together and agreed to form a Community Land Trust (CLT). The intention was to obtain, refurbish and rent homes to local people at affordable rates.

That was 4 years ago. In conjunction with our partner registered housing provider 13 Group and with grants from Redcar & Cleveland council and Homes England, we have purchased 5 properties and are about to embark on refurbishing them. We hope to conclude this stage of the process by summer and in the meantime will be looking for tenants who will be selected by a resident driven allocations policy.

Residents are a key part of our board, recently established and now meeting regularly to oversee our project. We are registered with the Company’s House. We have had welcome professional support and where we can, we will use local contractors for our work. We will also be working with the local college to provide training and practical work experience for young people.

In addition to the housing project, for several months now we have been operating an Eco-Shop which enables local people to purchase 10 items for £2. This is proving very popular and is run by volunteers. We als have an allotment, yet to achieve its full potential, although tools and materials have been generously donated to us.

Our ambition is to increase our rent income by developing more properties, expanding our community activities and in the process become self-sustaining.

CLT housing initiatives are being developed across the country and are supported and advised by the national CLT network. Whilst the process can be a little daunting, developing our own skills and utilising those of others has been crucial.

Further information is available on our website

Ian Jeffery

The Teesside Eviction Crisis

On 1 June 2021 hundreds of thousands of people across the country woke up to the shocking news that they could face homelessness, due to the government’s ending of the eviction ban. Across Teesside, local residents are finding that the last safety net separating themselves from being forced out onto the streets has been removed, with the incomprehensible decision by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to end the ban on evictions and reduce eviction notice periods without any additional measures in place to help renters or cancel arrears.
This has prompted a national crisis. Research has shown more than 840,000 people across England and Wales, including 5% of all renters in the North East, have built up arrears because of covid-19, and are now vulnerable to being forced into homelessness. The hardest hit are young people, self-employed people, and those working in the construction and computer services sectors. Hundreds of thousands of families with children are worried about being evicted within three months.
We know this looming homelessness crisis will hit Teesside hard. A huge number of people in our communities are trapped in poor quality, precarious rented accommodation. Middlesbrough has the highest proportion of its wards in severe deprivation of any local authority in the country, with other towns across Teesside not far behind. Local attempts to regulate the private rented sector have been resisted by threatened legal action by landlords. Local councils have services in place to support those in housing need (if you are facing eviction please contact your local council’s housing service to find out what they can provide), but they have been overstretched by drastic cuts to council budgets since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. In addition higher deprivation creates more demands on council budgets – in Middlesbrough for example 35% of the town’s budget is now spent on children’s social services, three times more than a decade ago, which leaves less funding available to face this coming homelessness crisis.
While the end of the eviction ban will doubtless bring on more misery and homelessness, Teesside residents have long become used to poor and precarious housing. Many find accommodation through informal routes, with no checks to ensure prospective housing is in a fit condition. There is evidence of private landlords sometimes pocketing their tenants’ housing benefits while failing to provide them basic utilities. Adding to the unregulated housing market is the impact of the government’s cruel ‘hostile environment’ against those born outside the UK, including 1,500 current asylum seekers in Teesside who have less access to state benefits or legitimate routes for housing and so are sometimes forced to rely on less secure housing options.
We also know that in our area, while we have not had the levels of rough sleeping seen recently in larger cities, there are still many experiencing street homelessness. They have reported through the pandemic that many services which they relied upon have dried up due to covid-19, leaving them even more vulnerable. We know there are still excellent volunteers and workers on the ground supporting the most vulnerable, but the fear is that with the end of the eviction ban, the homelessness crisis locally will grow exponentially and services will be stretched even thinner.
Housing Action Teesside, are a group of local residents campaigning for fairer and more secure housing in our community which puts people before profit – with anyone who shares our aims welcome to join us. The government may be content to leave the most vulnerable renters in a dire and precarious situation, but we believe collectively we can fight to leave nobody in our communities behind.

Tom Zagoria