Improving life for housing association tenants – with decent floors
Everyone should start life in their new home with decent floors. National and local campaigns for sensible improvements to social housing.
Research & Campaigns Team (3 minutes)
Every year in Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley and Reigate & Banstead some 600 households move into social rented accommodation.
They have completed the forms, shown the accommodation is suitable and they can pay the rent. They have a moving date and a new start beckons.
But for many there’s a snag. Typically people move into empty housing association property without carpeting or curtains. It sounds surprising but the association has arranged to take up perfectly good carpets or laminate flooring just before new tenants arrive.
The result is predictable.
Many either live for months or even years without proper flooring or they furnish their home at the cost of immediately falling into debt.
That’s a poor choice, but the problems of not doing anything are obvious. Concrete floors make it hard to keep the home warm and comfortable. They can be a noise nuisance for neighbours and a safety hazard for older people and young children.
Citizens Advice, Epsom & Ewell Foodbank and others have been campaigning for sensible changes. At national level the campaign group End Furniture Poverty has proposed a blueprint for furniture provision in social housing.
At the moment removing flooring is common practice. Housing associations argue that:
- Carpets may have fleas or bed bugs, especially if there have been animals in the house.
- They may be in poor or dangerous condition.
- Associations don’t want to be responsible for replacing the flooring if or when it wears out in future.
The first two can be good reasons for taking up carpets in some cases, but don’t justify a general policy. And associations could deal with replacing flooring as part of tenancy agreements.
Current practice causes problems
In one case we heard tenants must fit a new carpet within 6 weeks of moving into their new home – a big expense on top of the other moving costs. The same association requires the departing tenant to remove the old flooring regardless of its condition. If they can’t do this, they get a substantial bill and often a new debt. At Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell we have helped quite a few clients in this situation.
Another association once gave new tenants the option of keeping the old carpets of “excellent quality” if they signed to say they had “accepted the gifted items”. In the pandemic however they went back to removing all carpets by default.
To their credit, our housing associations know there’s a problem and are looking for ways to help.
Some offer support and guidance to those who are struggling – hardship grants for those on the lowest incomes and/or advice on lower-cost flooring. They also know that local charities can rarely give grant support for this purpose.
What should be done?
Our aim is for every social housing tenant to start life in their new home with decent flooring. That should include carpets in bedrooms and living area as well as bathrooms and kitchen. The best way is for housing associations to include this in their letting standard for all new tenancies.
Even better would be for UK Government’s Decent Homes Standard to require that decent flooring is a higher priority for housing associations.
Meanwhile some smaller changes would make a big difference:
- Always give new tenants the option to keep old carpets in reasonable condition if they sign a disclaimer
- Explore low-cost flooring package and financing options with local suppliers and fitters
- Encourage local trusts and funders to offer grants for flooring in the most urgent cases.
Signs of change
The problem is common practice at national level, but there are signs of change. One local association has agreed to give new tenants the option to keep old carpets as long as they are in good condition. Awareness and support for better practice are growing as tenants’ stories receive powerful media attention: Anger over carpet being ripped out of social housing (BBC News 16/05/23).
* Part of Good Company Surrey incorporating:
Epsom & Ewell Foodbank
Banstead & Tadworth Foodbank
East Surrey Poverty Truth Commission
Epsom & Ewell Refugee Network