By Tara O’Connor, local democracy reporter
Croydon Council’s failure to act for four years allowed a minor leak to grow into a major problem that put the health and safety of council tenants at risk, an independent investigation has concluded.
And systematic problems in the council’s housing service means it has been unable to deliver ‘core housing services’ effectively and could point to poor performance across the department.
Footage of thick black mould and dripping wet floors at Croydon Council-owned flats in South Norwood shocked the nation when it was broadcast on the national ITV news in March.
Two months on, the investigation by Ark Consultancy has revealed that the major issues stem from a water leak that was first reported to Croydon Council in 2017.
The 11-storey block in Regina Road, which was built in 1965, suffers from leaks from eroded copper water mains pipes and from the roof.
The report states: “ARK’s investigation identified no single reason as to why the problems at Regina Road occurred.
Rather there are a range of issues primarily across the council’s operational teams (repairs, asset management and tenancy management) and to some extent with its contractor.
“In ARK’s view these issues led to a failure to deliver even basic ‘core’ housing services effectively.
“They are potentially symptomatic of poor performance across the council’s housing service and impact on its ability to drive self-improvement.”
The report says that there is a “lack of capacity and competence” in the department with each tenancy officer being responsible for 1,000 properties, well above what would be expected.
One damning finding of the investigation is of council staff showing worrying attitudes towards council tenants – an issue which needs ‘immediate response’ say ARK.
The report states: “Tenants were often seen as demanding, difficult to deal with and less worthy of respect.
“Some council staff lack empathy with tenants, failing to put themselves ‘in their shoes’ when dealing with problems.
“These attitudes appear to be going unchallenged.”
While ARK states it did not find clear evidence of discrimination on race grounds, there is a wider issue of all tenants being stigmatised and being seen as less worthy of respect.
Similar attitudes were found in the council’s contractor Axis.
In response to the damning report, Croydon Council said it will set up an independently chaired housing improvement board and is looking to fill ‘vacancies and skills gaps’ in housing services.
Council leader Hamida Ali said: “We are totally resolved to addressing the issues found by the investigators and changing the experiences of our council residents as quickly as we can.
“As a result, we are now in the process of beginning a much wider-reaching improvement programme that will transform housing services across the board so that they are fit for purpose.
“This will be much more than repairing bricks and mortar; we must, most importantly, also repair our relationship with our council residents, build back their trust and make sure they are listened to and heard as we make these changes.
“We will also give our council residents a much greater say and involvement in how their housing services are run so that, together, we can be sure they are receiving the well-run quality services that they deserve and that meet their needs.”
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