By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Reports of damp and mould in council housing across Leeds more than doubled at the end of last year, it has emerged.
The cost-of-living crisis and the fallout from the tragic death of Rochdale toddler Awaab Ishak have been cited as factors behind the huge increase.
Two year-old Awaab died from a respiratory condition caused by excessive mould in the social housing flat in which he lived, a coroner ruled in November.
A Leeds City Council report said coverage of the case had led to a huge rise in reports from tenants living in its own properties before Christmas.
It also suggested spiralling energy bills had led to residents keeping the heating off, thus risking more damp in their homes.
The report, which will go before the council’s executive board next week, said that following the inquest into Awaab’s death, Housing Secretary Michael Gove had written to councils and housing associations urging them to improve standards quickly.
It said: “As a result of these events, there has been significant media attention around damp and mould nationally.
“This media attention has been helpful in that it has raised awareness of damp and mould with tenants and encouraged increased reporting.
“This activity, however, has led to a significant increase in damp and mould reports which has caused unprecedented pressure on frontline teams, particularly as the colder, winter months has drawn in.
“This position has been heavily compounded by the current cost of living crisis and the fact that more people are falling into fuel poverty and cannot afford to heat their homes effectively (or run mechanical extractor fans) which is leading to higher than normal levels of condensation damp and mould within
The report revealed that in November 2022, the council saw an increase of around 120 per cent “on normal levels of damp and mould reports” during the winter.
Last week, the local authority apologised it was revealed one of its tenants had suffered so badly from untreated damp and mould in his kitchen, he was unable to cook or eat in it for months.
The Housing Ombudsman said the council was guilty of severe failings in how it handled the case.
The authority responded by setting up a dedicated damp and mould unit, to allow tenants to report issues more easily.
But while today’s report predicted that future complaints about damp and mould will remain high, it said shortages of staff and materials among its contractors was hampering efforts to deal with problems quickly.
Inflation and meagre council resources are also biting.
The report said: “The current financial climate is a double-edged sword in that not only is this a significant challenge to the council’s resources; the cost of delivery of some elements of the repairs and maintenance service has increase by up to 40 per cent, but equally the impact of the cost-of-living-crisis on tenant’s own finances is exasperating the problem of condensation damp and mould within homes.”
Councillor Mohammed Rafique, executive member for housing, said the local authority had invested £85m on improvement schemes for heating, ventilation, insulation and drainage.
Speaking as the report was published, he said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that residents living in council housing are safe and healthy and ensuring that homes are free from damp and mould is key to this.
“We are urging residents to be vigilant when it comes to mould and damp issues by reporting them as early as possible, wiping down condensation on windows and other surfaces and keeping homes ventilated where possible.