Social housing is crucially important for underprivileged people in the UK. With rents pegged to local incomes, it gives those in difficult financial positions an affordable, secure housing option that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
This kind of accommodation is generally provided by not-for-profit housing associations or local councils, who effectively act as the landlord. If a person has any complaints with the conditions in which they are living, they must contact their respective organisation, but many of these complaints go unheard. As a result, there has been a significant increase in legal cases related to social housing in recent times.
Here we’ll take a look at the problem in more detail, as well as the ways that litigation funding can have a positive impact.
What is the problem with social housing?
‘Affordable’ should not also mean ‘neglected’, but the two are often one and the same where the majority of social housing is concerned. As UK homelessness charity Shelter writes: “Over the years, investment in maintaining and improving homes has been patchy, and social housing today is far from perfect.”
This is where the problems begin, as the shocking lack of maintenance and resulting disrepair leaves struggling families in almost slum-like conditions. The latest edition of the government’s English Housing Survey revealed that more than half a million social homes in England fail to meet basic health and safety standards. These homes are often found to be infested with toxic mould, riddled with pests, and without running water.
But how do these homes get into such a state? While the entire social housing system is undoubtedly under significant financial pressure, it ultimately comes down to the complaints processes in place. There are lines of communication open for tenants to alert their landlords to any issues that might arise, but it isn’t uncommon for these issues to be ongoing for weeks, months, or years. Often they’re never resolved.
Clive Betts, chair of the government’s Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, said: “Too many social housing tenants are living in uninhabitable homes and experiencing appalling conditions and levels of disrepair, including serious damp and mould, with potential serious impacts on their mental and physical health.”
“The poor complaint handling of some providers not only adds insult to injury but the resulting delays in resolving tenant complaints actively contributes to the levels of disrepair.”
In October of 2021, the Housing Ombudsman’s report on damp and mould in social housing found “evidence of maladministration” in 64% of complaints raised to landlords. The report said that: “This failure rate was often the result of inaction, excessive delays or poor communication.”
Understanding the scope of the problem
It can’t be understated just how dilapidated some social housing has become. Housing that many old, ill, and otherwise vulnerable people have no choice but to call home.
Justice campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa lived in uninhabitable social housing for many years while caring for his father with stage 4 oesophageal cancer. He writes: “We had been complaining to our landlord about the state of our home and they were aware he was terminally sick with cancer. Like many social housing tenants across the country, we were ignored.” His father tragically died in 2020, and Tweneboa attributes his rapid decline to their living conditions: “(Nurses) were finding it difficult to bathe him in the bathroom, for example, as it had no lights and the tiles were falling apart.”
But this is not an isolated incident. Again in 2020, two-year-old Awaab Ishak was found dead by his parents due to mould in the social housing where he lived in Greater Manchester – just days after he celebrated his second birthday. Despite this, it took almost two years for the social housing company in question (Rochdale Boroughwide Housing) to inspect other properties on the estate, 80% of which showed signs of damp and mould, while others had inadequate ventilation.
Awaab’s death and his parents’ tireless campaigning have driven the government to table an amendment to the Social Housing Regulation Bill that forces landlords to investigate and fix damp and mould in their properties within strict new time limits. But it goes without saying that it shouldn’t take such a horrific loss to instigate this kind of change.
How litigation funding can have a positive impact
While, traditionally, litigation funding has been reserved for wealthy individuals and corporations, at VWM Capital we use lawtech to predict outcomes across a higher number of smaller cases. We fund a range of claim types, but many of them are social housing disputes. Of course, people in social housing generally aren’t in a financial position to pursue any sort of legal action, but with the help of litigation funding they can hold their landlords to account.
The hope is that this will have a snowball effect, as the more landlords face legal consequences for their negligence, the more likely they are to become proactive in their approach to maintenance and resolving complaints. This would ultimately stop problems in their tracks, giving residents a much better quality of living standards, and avoiding unnecessary harm.
A better approach to litigation funding
At VWM Capital, we combine the power of cutting-edge technology and human expertise to offer investments that are less exposed to market unpredictability and that can offer a degree of protection.
Algorithmic logic enables us to accurately select the cases with the highest chances of success, while our decades of experience in finance, banking, and alternative investments gives you the confidence that your money is in good hands.
Find out more about how it all works, and get in touch to find out more about an investment than can have a significant social impact.