Living in Social Housing: 10 disturbing facts

Living in social housing can be a struggle. It is far from easy to obtain a council home due to the current UK housing crisis, with not enough affordable homes for everyone that needs them.  

There aren’t currently the required number of new homes being built, so the spotlight shines on the condition of existing properties under council or housing association control. 

It can be a battle to keep your home in a safe and liveable condition in the face of landlords that will neglect and ignore their tenants, putting their safety and welfare at risk. 

You shouldn’t have to endure conditions that render your home inhabitable. If you have been then you may be entitled to claim compensation for the effect it has had on the lives of you and your loved ones. 

The quality of any home, and its suitability for its inhabitants, has a significant effect on their well-being.

LEAK CONDITION: If you have a leak in your home it needs remedying ASAP

 The issues are more relevant when the tenants are elderly people, who are more likely to be living with health conditions that can be either caused or escalated by a poor housing environment. 

You have most likely come across countless news reports and social media posts about – and even seen first-hand – the problems tenants are having with their living conditions. There is no shortage of articles detailing these struggles and the statistics and figures around them. 

But what are the facts about the state of social housing in the UK today? 

1. Almost one in seven council or housing association properties in England – in excess of half a million social housing homes – do not currently do not meet the national Decent Homes Standard.

The Decent Homes Standard is the statutory council and housing association standard that, according to the government, all homes must meet. 

The Decent Homes Standard requires all properties to: 

  • be free from any hazard that poses a serious threat to your health or safety 
  • be in a reasonable state of repair 
  • have reasonably modern facilities 
  • have efficient heating and insulation. 

If your home doesn’t meet each of these criteria, then it can be considered as failing the Decent Homes Standard. 

Common examples of failures include persistent, untreated mould or damp, poorly-maintained electrical systems, kitchens or bathrooms that are cramped or have not been improved or updated in 30 years, and excessive cold from inefficient heating systems or poor insulation. 

These are the government’s own minimum standards for safe living and one in seven homes fail to reach that standard. 

2. Of the 525,000 houses that fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard, nearly half (244,000) have a category-one safety hazard – the highest category of risk to its inhabitants.

The biggest threats to a tenant’s health and wellbeing include potentially deadly hazards such as: 

  • exposed electrical wiring 
  • overloaded electricity sockets 
  • dangerous boilers 
  • a leaking roof 
  • rats and vermin infestations 
  • security risks such as a broken lock on a door or window. 

Local authorities are legally obliged to act if a category-one hazard is discovered but many of the complaints made by tenants are going ignored. 

3. There are almost four times as many households on waiting lists as there are homes available.

In other words, there aren’t enough houses to go round. A survey by housing and homelessness charity Shelter showed that 100,000 households have been on council home waiting lists for more than 10 years. This demand for rental properties means landlords – private and social – will most likely believe they hold all the aces, since tenants have fewer other options to look at with fewer houses available.  

Through fear of eviction tenants are unwilling to take further action when their complaints aren’t heeded. And by simply living with the problem instead of ensuring it is fixed they may be causing more harm to their own well-being. 

4. The number of substandard homes under local authority control is rising.

Last year’s English Housing Survey showed a total of 76,814 council-owned properties were found to be ‘non-decent’, or in substandard condition, in March last year. That count represents an increase of more than 5,500 non-decent homes since 2019 and 6,500 more than in the previous year. 

Ensuring that their homes are warm, weather-tight, safe and secure should be a priority for council and housing association officials. Failing to do so may put you or your family at risk. 

MEDICAL RISK: If your home has damp and mould issues they can affect your immune system and you're more likely to have respiratory problems and infections
5. It’s believed that, in England, 364,000 social homes are classified as being in a state of ‘substantial disrepair’. Damp in one or more rooms is thought to affect more than 205,000 social housing properties.

Damp is one of the most common problems in council and housing association properties and is generally caused by leaks or poor ventilation.  

While, initially, the problems appear to be purely cosmetic and causes peeling wallpaper and ugly damp spots on the wall, unrectified leaks or damp problems can develop into more serious problems. The growing of mould is the most common result but even relatively small leaks can escalate into major problems. 

6. More than 338,000 homes that are rented by tenants under the age of 35 are deemed so hazardous they are likely to cause harm.

An affordable housing shortage means renting options available to young adults are scarce. 

Often, renters have no option but to rent squalid, dangerous homes, from housing associations and private landlords. They don’t have the means to move elsewhere, even if there were better-maintained, less dangerous homes available to move into. And often there aren’t. Feeling trapped in their current living arrangement, many of these tenants endure the poor conditions they are in. 

7. Almost half of families who are living in social housing and reported issues about poor or unsafe conditions felt ignored or were refused help.

Councils and housing associations are supposedly more responsible than private landlords, but a survey by Shelter revealed that 48% of tenants reporting issues did not get the assistance they are entitled to expect. 

Landlords – private and housing association – often claim that problems a tenant is having are specific to them and not the surrounding properties, so it must therefore be their fault. It rarely turns out to be the case and is a way of making their tenant feel like they are responsible for the problem when they aren’t. 

If you have reported issues to your council or housing association landlord and necessary repairs have not been made promptly and properly you may be eligible to make a claim for compensation. 

Speak to one of our experts by calling 0161 200 9960 or click the webchat icon on the bottom right-hand side of this page. 

8. Almost four in five of people with mental health problems believe that their housing had had a negative impact on their mental health.

A survey undertaken by mental health charity Mind showed that 79% of tenants who have issues with their mental health feel their housing situation has made matters worse. And the two issues can create a downward spiral, with poor mental health making it harder to cope with housing problems and housing problems contributing towards making tenants’ mental health worse.   

9. There are 1.5 million people currently living in overcrowded social homes in England.

A home is deemed to be overcrowded if two people of a different gender within the household have to sleep in the same room. The number of people living in such conditions has risen by 44% in five years. And although more than a million households are on the waiting list for rehousing, fewer than 7,000 new social homes were built last year. 

The shortage of social housing often means tenants currently in a property feel afraid to make a compensation claim against their landlord, for fear of being evicted and left without options to move into. 

10. The Housing Ombudsman received a significant increase in the number of housing disrepair complaints at the start of 2021.

The regulator received 73% more complaints for the first quarter of this year, with 6,010 instances logged, compared to 3,482 for the same three-month period in 2020. The comparison for March alone shows an increase from 960 complaints in 2020 to 2,447 this year. 

In March 2020 the number of complaints received by the ombudsman declined on the previous year’s figures (it is presumed that the impact of the COVID lockdown was a contributing factor in this) but gradually increased to exceed the 2019 total. 

Your home is your sanctuary. If you have been putting up with long-term disrepair issues in your council or housing association property it’s time to take steps. 

The landlord of the social housing property you live in has a duty to ensure it is safe, secure and sanitary. 

If they are failing in their duty to you, you may have a case to claim compensation. 

Contact Barings Law for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can take on your case on a no-win no-fee basis.