Reports South Kesteven District Council housing are 'scandalous' and 'damaging', say councillors
South Kesteven councillors have debated two “scandalous” reports which highlight basic protection failures for more than 6,000 council tenants.
Members of South Kesteven District Council's rural and communities overview and scrutiny committee were told of inadequate controls for housing compliance around its gas, electrical, legionella, asbestos and fire safety across the district.
There was no electrical testing implemented in 2020, no fire alarms checks, the logs were not maintained and there were no regular reports.
Councillors also heard a report which outlined how elderly tenants in Riverside flats in Grantham were left without heating and hot water for three years.
The independent inquiry by Julie Picken reported how problems began in 2016 at Riverside but were not fixed until February 2020.
She found a lack of a central point to make complaints and management to resolve the issues as well as the individual project officer not having the correct qualifications.
“There was a lack of action by the council to fully investigate and resolve the root cause of the concerns until a decision to replace the pipework was made in January 2019.”
It said residents had endured “considerable hardship”. “Most residents are elderly and retired, some with long-term health issues, so the impact was significant,” the report said.
“Residents felt let down, not cared about and lied to.”
Coun Phil Dilks (Ind) said: “I have been a councillor for more than 20 years but I have never experienced not just one but two absolutely damaging and hugely scandalous reports on one council agenda.
“It begs the question what else aren’t we doing properly? It’s just a failure of effective scrutiny in this council and we need to be addressing that seriously as councillors.
“Yes we have been fast to own up to the fact, but we failed to put the basic protections in place for 6,000 council tenants.”
Coun Mark Whittington (Con) said it was the “most disturbing report I have ever read”.
“It highlights a systemic failure over a very long period of time. We are one of the largest social landlords and we have a very, very strong duty of care to our tenants.
“There’s a human decency to this. It’s very difficult to stay calm when you read this because it’s so concerning.”
On the Riverside flats, ward councillor Ray Wootten (Con) said he was “horrified” to read the headlines and that he and his fellow ward councillor had raised issues when they were told about them.
“The whole sorry saga has been a catalogue of errors and, like the residents, we too feel like we have been let down,” he said.
Councillor Robert Reid (Con), portfolio holder for housing, told councillors plans were in place and further repairs and maintenance were due to be made to the properties.
He confirmed there had been a change in personnel and management. He said budgets would be made available to fix the issues, while ensuring new housing was also created.
In response to the Riverside report he said all the recommendations made by the inquiry had been or were being carried out. A tenants liaison panel would also be created.
Councillors were told that in relation to the housing compliance, new director Chris Stratford had been hired and an improvement plan had been put into place. However, it may take two to three years to be fully compliant.
Council chiefs apologised for both reports. In response to the housing compliance report, council leader Kelham Cooke (Con) said: “I think we can all admit that the findings of the reports today making incredibly difficult reading, they highlight clear failings in the processes relating to our housing service.
“I would like to say on behalf of the district council that I am sorry, and I would like to apologise unreservedly to all of our tenants who have been impacted by this, that the priority of the council is and will always be our residents and tenants, and we take direct action.”
He added: “We are extremely sorry to residents of Riverside to hear what you have had to go through.
“It’s another failure in the system and I would like to apologise unreservedly for the inconvenience and trauma you have experienced.”
Chief executive Karen Bradford said: “It is extremely disappointing to present this report to you today and I’d like to give my sincere apologies on behalf of the council.”