Lewisham council refers itself to housing watchdog over poor condition of homes

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

A council has referred itself to the social housing watchdog for potentially breaching consumer standards after admitting some of its homes are in a bad condition.

Lewisham council has asked the Regulator of Social Housing to examine whether the more than 13,500 homes it manages meet the minimum standard for social housing and to assess whether its repair service is adequate. The Government body will also look at whether the council is completing fire safety measures in time.

Labour-run Lewisham brought thousands of homes in the borough back under its control from Lewisham Homes in October. The decision to take over the management of the homes followed councillors’ concerns about how the company was dealing with repairs.

In a statement published yesterday announcing the decision to self-refer to the regulator, the council admitted that some of its homes weren’t in good condition and said its repairs service was often too difficult to access. It also acknowledged that many residents weren’t satisfied with the level of service they receive.

The council added: “There have been persistent issues with some of our buildings. Many of our homes were built more than 50 years ago and need substantial investment at a time when local councils – and other housing providers – are facing serious financial challenges.”

Around 17 per cent of the council’s homes currently do not

meet the minimum standard for social housing, but that number is expected to balloon to 31 per cent by 2027 as the council diverts cash from refurbishment works to fire safety improvements.

Between April and October 2023, less than a third of emergency repairs were completed in time, against a target of 90 per cent. Meanwhile just over half of non-emergency repairs were finished in time, compared to a target of 85 per cent.

The council said it had brought in three new contractors this year to bring down the backlog of repairs and expected to see improvements from January 2024.

Concerns about delays in the council’s response to non-urgent requests from fire risk assessors and data management were being dealt with through extra staff and changes in the way it manages contractors, the council said.

Lewisham has committed to spending £321million on improving its homes over five years, as well as making major investments to modernise its systems for managing and storing information.

The regulator is expected to respond to the council’s concerns about its service in the coming months.

Councillor Will Cooper, cabinet member for housing management, said: “Providing good quality homes is our top priority and we know we have a lot of work to do, especially in the current climate when social housing providers face serious financial challenges due to the Government’s underfunding of public services.

“With the transfer of services from Lewisham Homes to the council we want to be fully transparent with residents, which is why we chose to self-refer to the regulator. We welcome the external perspective on our current performance and our plans to transform services.

“Over the coming months we will be sharing more information about our action plans and how tenants and leaseholders can get involved in helping to shape these.”

Pictured top: Lewisham Homes was based in Laurence House, Catford (Picture: Google Street View)

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