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Newcastle council homes repair concerns amid pressure to deal with damp and mould

Sep 26, 2023Sep 26, 2023

Lockdown restrictions, storm damage, and labour shortages have contributed to a maintenance headache for bosses in charge of Newcastle's social housing

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Council housing bosses in Newcastle have warned of major pressures on the city’s repairs service, as demand from tenants escalates.

Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) has reported a surge in the volume of repairs it is having to make across the city’s social housing stock, with the number jumping by almost 40,000 in just three years. Officials warned that a backlog of work that built up during Covid lockdown restrictions has not eased because of multiple problems since – including storm damage, labour shortages, ageing homes, and the nationwide worries over damp and mould.

Councillors were presented with a report last week detailing how the number of repairs delivered by YHN has increased from 85,000 in 2019/20 to 123,795 in 2022/23, but aired concerns about residents facing delays of “months on end” waiting to get work completed. The issues surrounding the state of Newcastle’s council homes come amid talk that YHN could soon be scrapped, with Newcastle City Council considering taking back responsibility for its 25,000-plus houses for the first time since 2004.

Read More: Council defends plan to axe Your Homes Newcastle as major housing shake-up moves closer

David Langhorne, YHN’s group director of assets and development, reported the repairs problems to the local authority’s overview and scrutiny committee last week, saying that they were particularly suffering with a shortage of available joiners to keep up with demand. He said: “People are spending more time at home since Covid and we are managing an ageing stock as well, which brings its own challenges. Nationally there is a trend around damp and mould and we are being really proactive in trying to find where we have it around our estate. A lot of the repairs we have coming through are related to that.”

Mr Langhorne told the committee on Thursday that YHN was now making efforts to get “on the front foot” in improving the condition of homes and had introduced a bespoke repairs service for older tenants living in Housing Plus accommodation. However, councillors aired concerns about residents enduring long waits for repairs to be completed.

Liberal Democrat Wendy Taylor said: “My main concern is that the stats on repairs do not fit with what I hear on the doorstep, which is that someone comes out to assess the situation and then they don’t hear back for sometimes months on end after that. That is obviously very distressing.”

According to a YHN survey carried out from October to December 2022, just 64.3% of tenants were satisfied with the repairs service – and only 59.1% with the time taken to complete their most recent works. Ian Gallagher, YHN's assistant director operational property services, told the committee that “customer satisfaction is something we take very seriously and we aspire to have higher”.

He added: “Where we are seeing a pinchpoint at the moment is when someone reports damp and mould and then we send an inspector in a day or two later, but then there is a delay in getting work done. We do acknowledge that there is a gap at that point. That is something we are working hard to resolve. We have increased resources on that team, with a focus on updating customers more regularly and increasing awareness.”

A report from the arms-length management organisation (ALMO) said that the service had “ significant pressures since 2020 and since then we have not seen a normal year in terms of delivery” – with problems caused by Covid, serious storms, extreme cold weather in December 2022 and struggles in filling vacancies. It adds that YHN was “unable to meet demand” after it initially tried to address damp and mould issues in all of its properties and is now bringing in external contractors instead.