Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. Matt meets the father of one of Britain's largest families.
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The law says everyone has the right to a safe place to live.
It's cold, it's damp and nothing's been done about it.
But for thousands of people across Britain the reality can be
more hovel than home.
A dog's got a better life than what's going on here.
In the battle between tenants
and landlords, it's local housing officers who are on the front line.
You're the good cop, I'm the bad cop.
The notice will be served and action will be taken.
I'm Matt Alright and I've been training hard,
ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.
It's coming through from two floors above.
-So there's worse than this.
Tackling problem properties.
I'm going to come a cropper.
It's not sorting the problem out, it's just covering it up.
Dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours...
-This was supposed to be my last move.
..and everything in between.
It's not getting easier, it's getting worse.
How are you enjoying being a landlord?
It has its ups and downs.
Today my housing officer diplomacy skills are put to the test
solving a landlord tenant dispute.
If something's wrong I don't expect my landlord to come round
and try to shift the blame to me.
I don't want to make light of it in any way,
-but it seems to be largely resolved, so that's a good thing.
Tenant Carl's struggling to move a lifetime's collection
from his condemned childhood home.
They'll have to build a bigger coffin to put it in with me
cos I can't give it away, I'm too attached to it.
And local resident Michelle gets the shock of her life.
I turned up here and there just was no house, it was completely gone.
It sounded like a bomb going off.
They say that an Englishman's home is his castle,
but if it's a rented castle, then it's the job of housing officers
across the country to make sure it's up to scratch.
They work with a growing army of private landlords to make sure
they play by the rules and provide people with a decent home.
I'm heading to Lowestoft in Suffolk
and joining housing officer Phil Gough to learn what can be done
when a landlord decides to evict their tenant.
In accordance with the law, Christine and David Lucas have been
served with eight weeks' notice to leave their home.
So Phil, this is a really nice street.
I mean, this is as nice a street as we've come across in Lowestoft
so far, and yet we are talking about homelessness.
I don't really get it.
It happens everywhere, really.
This particular one is a rental property,
they've been served notice, they need to get out.
Presumably the clock is ticking. I mean, the landlord,
if this is an assured short hold tenancy,
is within their rights to serve a notice, no grounds required,
and we have got only a limited period where we can do something.
The landlord in this particular place is selling up,
so we can't stop him from selling his house,
so let's try and limit the damage that it causes,
and we can look at other options like temporary accommodation
for the family, homeless application,
which is what we're going to do today.
Presumably, part of what we're trying to establish here is
are these people genuinely homeless.
Yeah. Is it something they've done or something out of their control?
Christine and Dave Lucas have been given eight weeks' statutory notice
to leave their home.
Have you not got a plate there? You're just sitting eating the sausages.
Well, we've been here coming up to a year.
We've got about six weeks to move out.
Yeah, fingers crossed.
The Lucas' have 16 children, 6 of whom live at home,
and to compound the pressure on Christine, husband Dave
has a degenerative brain disease and has been forced to give up work.
I can't speak properly.
I sorted it all out the last time we moved,
and now I have to do it all again.
And if we only go into somewhere temporary...
and then we've got to move again, it's like, "Oh..."
You'll start me off.
We'll get it sorted, won't we?
-I love you.
-I know. You'll start me off.
This family have always paid their way,
but Dave's illness has left them in financial dire straits.
In a situation like this it feels difficult even to start
asking questions, but as a housing officer it's part of our job.
OK, everyone you want to be part of your household.
So everyone under the roof at the moment.
-I understand there are one or two.
We had 16. That's only 6. The others are in London
-and got their own families.
-You've got 16!
-Right, OK. But you've still got six with you.
-There's six here, yeah.
What's the age range between the kids?
The oldest is 20 and the youngest is 11.
It's pretty clear that this family's in desperate and genuine need
of a new home, but finding a house for eight people
isn't going to be easy.
What's the outcome that you want? What would you like?
I don't know. I know there's not a lot of large bedroom properties
out there. Yeah, it's hard.
In order to work out how best to help Christine, Phil and I
need to inspect the house and assess the family's needs.
This is Dennis' room.
This room isn't too bad, actually.
He's got a bit of space, but it's, yeah, not a lot.
Do you have to contend with people who, whether they either say it,
or you sense it, give you that feeling of, you know,
-you've got a lot of kids.
-I used to, yeah.
Yeah, I used to get some funny looks when I used to have them all.
Dave's worked when he sort of can, you know.
-Then when Dave's dementia kicked in...
-Yeah, that's not long started.
-That just means you can't provide in the way you once did.
This is the girls' room.
Right, so when you say the girls, you've got Abigail in there
-and then we've got...
-Amanda and Charlotte.
Amanda and Charlotte are both in that bed?
Yeah, they're in that one.
So Amanda is 18 and Charlotte is...
-16, she'll be 17 at the end of this month.
-So 18 and 17 sharing a bed together?
How does that stand? Is that statutory overcrowding?
When it comes to the allocations policy
girls of 18 and 17 can share, that's not a problem,
but with the third daughter in the room as well,
then, yeah, there's the overcrowding element, yeah.
Council housing is allocated on a points system
based on a tenant's specific circumstances.
This figure is then used to bid online for available property.
I mean, the last property I bid for we were 12th.
They don't do it first come first served,
and when I saw 12th I knew we had no chance.
-OK. Thank you for showing us round, Christine.
-That's all right.
Thankfully for Dave and Christine there's hope.
Our visit means that the council will now officially recognise
the family as homeless, and significantly increase
their chances of a successful bid on a new council house.
You see, I know what's happening on the sofas of the country
watching this, and it is that people are going
"Well, why did you have so many kids?"
Yeah, it was her choice to have that many children,
and at the end of the day, why not?
You know? They've been working, they've been supporting themselves,
self-sufficient, and now because of ill health they're struggling.
Just want to be able to relax
and know that we're going to be somewhere
and it's going to be permanent.
So I was hoping to go into council property
cos you're more secure than, you know, going into lettings.
Cos that's what was on my mind, B&B, I don't know.
Probably have to put your stuff into storage
and whatever, I suppose.
Day by day, I think.
I don't envy Christine's situation at all.
You come across some people and you think,
"I'm genuinely not sure how I'd cope with that."
She is one of those people.
We'll be back later on to find out if this family
finally manage to find a new home.
Next up, we're heading to Broadstairs in Kent,
where housing officer Andy Emmerson is on his way to a property at
the heart of a long-running dispute, and it's in danger of boiling over.
The tenant has complained of a leaking shower.
She also says she's got blocked guttering, some damp,
and also insufficient lighting within one of the rooms,
so obviously I'll wait and see what the property's like when I get there.
Tenant Rebecca Thomas has lived in the property, with her four sons,
for the past five years,
and she's been complaining to the landlord about the problems
since the day she moved in.
This photo shows the state of the kitchen wall.
Now behind this wall is the bathroom, the shower.
That was due to the fact, obviously, that there was damp in the wall.
This shows the state of the base of the shower outside
caused by water dripping,
and every time I touched it more and more tiles would detach,
so in the end I just had to leave it as it was.
When Rebecca first moved here
it seemed to be the ideal place to live.
I've chose to stay, actually, in this house
because it was really ideally situated.
My children were able to get to school on their bicycles,
and also we love the area.
But it hasn't turned out to be the perfect home that she'd imagined.
I do think my landlord is being very unreasonable,
I do not think it's right that he should be causing me
so much aggravation and stress, because I believe I have
been a very good tenant.
Rebecca clearly feels she has a strong list of grievances.
Nevertheless, Andy must keep an open mind.
You can never say whether the problems are serious or not
until you actually can see them yourself.
That's our job, to identify whether they're serious
and whether they're hazardous to the health of the tenant in the property.
There are issues between the landlord and the tenant,
so I think when you go in there you've really got to kind of assess
the personalities of those two people, because they've both got
different views. And again you can't make any judgment,
you can't really get involved, you can't side with either
the landlord or the tenant.
In the interests of fairness, the housing department has a duty
to inform Rebecca's landlord of the visit.
And landlord Philip Ashley has already arrived, keen to put forward
his side in this long-running disagreement.
Andy could be in for a bumpy ride.
Especially, this is a private conversation, if you...
-Oh, I see, because I'm the owner.
-You're the landlord?
-Yes, this is the landlord.
Oh, right OK. You got a letter from us?
-Yes, we did, yeah.
It appears that the landlord has recently begun work on some
of the repairs, and strongly denies many of Rebecca's claims.
If we go into the detail,
whether it was caused by you or your sons yourself.
-That's not true at all.
When we arrived here the shower was already leaking,
I have photos to prove it.
We've never had that problem before. I don't know how they managed it.
There was problems before because that's what it was like
when we moved in. There's the old cupboard that we had.
The reason I didn't do it up till now was cos you said
you were looking for somewhere else.
Well, that wasn't quite true, you said I would have to go, and...
-I didn't put it that way.
-Yes, you were very angry, and I said,
you said, "Will you start looking?"
I said, "All right," and I have looked a bit.
There are some major issues between them.
Obviously the landlord has his own criteria of what
he wants to do with the property in the long term,
which, unfortunately, doesn't seem to involve the current tenant.
It's much easier to renovate the whole place than try to do the...
You're absolutely right, it's much easier to renovate
when the property is empty.
That's why we didn't put a lot of pressure on doing things
until the house was empty.
All right. OK. Again, obviously, if there are issues,
and your tenant's still in here and she's still paying her rent.
It's an extremely delicate situation.
All Andy can do is carry out his inspection
and attempt to keep the peace.
First on Rebecca's list - the infamous leaky shower.
Water's been running out of it...
It's difficult. There's a little bit of a dispute between them,
but I'm there to make sure that the issues with the building are
sorted out regardless of the issues between the tenant and the landlord.
What has been unreasonable is the stress that's been put on me.
I have repeatedly asked the landlord to sort these problems out,
and if something's wrong I don't expect my landlord to come round
and try to shift the blame to me.
And as they move into the kitchen it seems they can't even agree over
a single bulb.
Have you checked these bulbs?
Yes, you had them out yourself, you took them out.
-Yeah, but it worked when I did it.
-Mr Ashley, I am very sorry...
You managed to get that one working for me
and you got that one working, and then I phoned you up and said,
"Mr Ashley, I'm afraid they only lasted for an hour
"and they went off."
But I did come down here once and I replaced them all
and they all worked.
And then they all went off again.
You hadn't bothered replacing them. They don't spring in themselves.
No, I changed them but they just...
It's not a big job, it's probably the contacts.
Yeah, buy the contacts,
-and if that doesn't work just change the fitting.
Because to have, you know, one light at either end
-when you've got quite a big space...
Well, I know that when I came and looked at them
all those four were working.
Yeah, but it didn't last more than an hour.
-Then what have you done with it?
Well, from down here, not very much. I can't even reach.
Despite the bickering, the landlord seems happy to get the ball rolling.
I've got a big ladder, I can get that.
You can get that sorted out? OK.
And with a few outside jobs added to the list,
both parties are now at least parting on better terms.
Hopefully in the next couple of weeks it should be sorted out for you.
Having spoken to the landlord, we'll be monitoring the situation.
So we'll be phoning him and the tenant
just to make sure that he gets those issues sorted out,
and obviously, gets the property back to how it should be.
Find out what happens later when I try to put my mediation skills
to the test.
Here you have a tenant letting you know about things as they come up.
It's been estimated that around one third of the private rented homes
in the UK in Britain fail to meet the Decent Home Standard,
that's the basic standard applied to all council houses.
But I've also discovered though, that one man's hovel
can be another man's haven,
and that can make for a very difficult case indeed.
At Sandwell Council, west of Birmingham,
the housing team are working to keep up the standards
of the 15,000 private rentals in their borough.
The job is predominantly regulatory work.
Everything from people who don't have a bathroom or kitchen
within the vicinity, to hoarders, all sorts of things.
You've got to be open minded in this sort of work.
Housing Officer Richard Hampton is working on a difficult case.
A Prohibition Order has been served on a house,
meaning it's uninhabitable.
-How are you mate?
I'm all right thanks, you want to come in?
But, despite being rehoused, the former tenant,
Carl Willis is finding it hard to pack up and leave
his childhood home.
It's a part of me what's gone. It's a part of me that's leaving.
I still remember the day we moved in there,
I can see it in me mind's eye.
As I said, I was a child then, a small child.
Silly as it sounds, I still remember it.
Despite not being able to live there, Carl's still paying rent.
Not only does this house hold a lifetime of memories,
but also Carl's extraordinary collection
of sci-fi nostalgia, spanning decades.
Oh, sci-fi. Anything sci-fi, really. Sci-fi.
Especially the programmes, the old programmes and that.
Yeah, I started collecting them when I was in my teens.
I like my Babylon 5, Stargate, Farscape.
Most of all, Carl's a Trekkie.
You name it, I've got it, really.
Every episode on video or DVD, figurines, calendars, novels,
technical manuals, blueprints, uniforms, model kits.
That's what I've got to make up, the USS Voyager,
from the TV series. I've got to do it when I get settled in.
Start doing it. It lights up - fibre optics.
Anything, really, like that, I'm interested in.
Some of it must be 40 years old now.
First editions, you can't get them no more.
They'll have to build a bigger coffin to put it in with me
cos I can't give it away, I'm too attached to it.
I'm too attached. I can't get rid of it.
Carl's whole life is connected to this house,
but while he and his belongings remain, the crucial repairs
to the property can't begin.
Richard will have to handle this case very sensitively.
Well, you have to look after the tenants cos,
especially when they're in...
in the kind of situation that they're in here...
Erm, Carl doesn't seem too have a lot of help from anyone else
or didn't have any help from anyone else until I became involved
and made referrals to other agencies who are now looking after him.
Ultimately it's about, you know,
it's not just about the property being brought back into use,
it's about the health and wellbeing of the people in the borough.
Firstly, Richard needs to find out if Carl's made any progress.
What I really need to do is have a look around the property. I wouldn't
have thought it was worse than any more than it has, er...
-seven or eight months ago.
But if we can take a walk through.
Yes. Excuse the mess, I'm trying to get...
-It's all right, mate. Don't worry.
-I'm chucking it all out now.
I'm getting it all ready, packed up now, sorting it all out.
-We OK to go and take a look upstairs?
-Yes, come on, then.
Since his parents died 15 years ago, Carl's been living here alone
and the house has fallen into a terrible state.
When I first came in here I was quite shocked.
I was surprised that Carl had been able to actually function
within the property. Not being able to have any washing
or toiletry facilities or cooking facilities.
He seems to be a very resilient man
who's been able to look after himself in what is a poor-quality house.
It's a bit of a mess and falling apart.
Yeah, just became too much.
Years of neglect mean that the house now has eight category one hazards.
Hazards that are deemed a threat to life.
The landlord, he...
I've been able to engage with him.
He's come to the property, he's met me here, he's willing to do
the work to put it right, but his builder's not prepared to do the work
while the occupant is in situ, due to health and safety reasons.
It's been over a month since the Prohibition Order was served,
and Carl was re-homed in a council house.
Richard needs to get him packing.
OK, mate. We've still got a lot of stuff to move, haven't we?
Yes, that's why I've got some boxes. Well, going to get some boxes.
All right, OK.
We could really do with getting moving on it, Carl,
-cos you've got tonnes of stuff.
With this room barely touched, things aren't looking promising
for the move.
How are you getting on at the new place?
Have you actually moved anything in there yet?
Yes, I've moved bits in there, yes. I've been moving bits in, yes.
I have, yes. Cos I can walk 'em down, see, it ain't far.
That's what I'm doing, I'm just walking
down bits at a time, walking it down.
Save carrying it all down, just put it in a big box
and take it down with me, not heavy stuff.
OK. OK, good enough.
-If you can keep in touch with me...
-..cos I keep ringing you.
Me phone's playing up, I have to get a new one.
I don't want to set any time scales, cos I don't want to put you
under any undue pressure, but we really need to start
-looking in the next couple of weeks to get all this stuff moved.
The lack of progress is ringing alarm bells for Richard.
-You keeping all right yourself?
-Yeah, yes, I'm all right, yes.
-OK. You're not sleeping here, are you?
Please don't, cos if you do then you're breaking
-the prohibition order.
-That's it, I know, yes.
-All right. OK.
Carl knows he needs to leave this house eventually.
I've got a little flat up the road. It's only down the road,
so I can carry most of my stuff down to it.
It's only down the road, 10-15 minutes' walk.
It'll be better for me, I think.
It'll be a lot better, now I'm getting on now, so.
But letting go of his old family home is a giant leap for Carl,
and his possessions are going nowhere fast.
Just take one step at a time, that's all.
Live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself,
that's what I say.
Because you could drop down dead today.
I'm glad to see you're doing all right,
and we know that you've got your new place, but we really do,
I can't emphasise it enough, just need to get a move on.
As you can see, I'm starting to.
-OK, all right, Carl.
-Thank you for coming.
-I'll be in touch again soon.
-OK, great, thank you.
For Richard, the visit's been frustrating.
I was hoping that he'd have cleared more of his belongings
in the property, to be honest.
Obviously, ideal scenario is that he moves out,
gets settled in his new place and we get this one brought back into use.
If Carl doesn't get out soon,
Richard may be forced into a legal process which would oblige Carl
to leave, something Richard really, really wants to avoid.
Coming up, Richard discovers that Carl is indeed still
sleeping in the building he calls home.
I'm sleeping at home at the moment.
I'm not allowed, really.
I just lie on the settee at the moment, that's all.
And he goes beyond the call of duty to help him get packing.
We can take these down.
If you can for me, yes.
Earlier, I met Christine and Dave Lucas, who, along with six of their
16 children, were facing eviction.
Despite being one of the Britain's largest families,
they've always managed to support themselves,
until Dave's ill health has changed all of that.
That's the best one, though, innit?
Yeah. You fell asleep on that bench, didn't you?
Fell asleep on that, yeah.
Dave has a degenerative brain disorder.
His condition has deteriorated to the point where he can't work
and keep up the rental payments on his home.
We've got about six weeks to move out.
I sorted it all out the last time we moved.
But now we've got to do it all again.
-They are good tenants.
And yet they're here on the end, through no fault of their own,
of an eviction that looks like it's going to go through.
Well, yeah, that will go through eventually.
Thankfully, our assessment
saw the family officially recognised as homeless by the council,
helping make the Lucases a priority for re-housing.
Let's try and limit the damage that it causes
and we can look at other options,
like temporary accommodation for the family.
It's now just two weeks later and I'm happy to report
housing officer Phil Gough has some promising news
for Christine and Dave.
What we are going to do, there's a colleague of mine called Sylvia,
she looks after temporary accommodation for us.
She is going to have a look at a new place which will be suitable,
big enough for you guys.
And we're looking hopefully to get you all signed up
and moved in on Friday.
-So in two days' time.
So, yeah, it's all looking good.
-Yeah, it's all happened all at once.
And it's literally around the corner from where you live at the moment,
which is even better. Don't even need a removal van, you can walk round(!)
It's close by, so it's in the same area for the schools
-and everything else.
-Thanks a lot.
-Lovely. Nice to see you again.
-OK, see you.
See you later on.
I'm really impressed that the housing team were able to move
so quickly in this case.
It's not yet the council house they're hoping for,
but finding this temporary home is still a huge relief.
They've got a nice secure place to live for the time being.
to make it their home, the rent's going to be at a decent level.
We're helping with the housing benefit claims
and everything else, and they can settle there while
they're waiting for something a bit better.
I was quite surprised, it's happened really quickly.
I don't know what to do, do I?
-You don't know what to do. We'll be all right.
I'm glad we got somewhere, cos it was a worry and that, you know,
that we might not have somewhere, anywhere left to go.
Normally in our job, we get a lot of confrontation
and we have to deliver bad news to people sometimes.
But it does make a nice pleasant change when you can help someone out
who is in desperate need of housing assistance, and, yeah, it is good.
It's the job of housing officers up and down the UK
to defend your right to a decent place to live.
-You're not sleeping here, are you?
-Oh, no, no, no.
In this series,
I'm working alongside the men and women who do just that.
It's just room after room of devastation.
Every room that you go in.
To earn my stripes, I'm hitting the streets.
I'm learning on the job.
That's just soaking up all the water and bringing it into the house.
To find out what it takes to make sure your house
is fit to be called a home.
People here are at risk.
I am not happy about this property.
The tenant's still in here and she's still paying her rent.
We just wanted this stuff to be fixed
so we could carry on living here.
Next, we're heading back to Broadstairs, in Kent,
where, earlier, housing officer Andy Emmerson attempted to resolve
a bitter feud between tenant and landlord.
When we arrived here, the shower was already leaking.
If we go into the details that it was
-caused by you or your sons yourself...
-That's not true at all.
Well, how do we know?
Rebecca Thomas and landlord Philip Ashley
have been fighting over repairs to this property
for more than five years.
Have you checked these bulbs?
Yes, you had them out yourself.
Yeah, but it worked when I did it.
Despite responsibility for the work being hotly disputed,
Andy left with the landlord pledging to fix the worst of the problems.
Finish the tiling, look at the lights.
It's three weeks later,
and this time I'm joining Andy for a masterclass in mediation.
We're back to find out if Mr Ashley has kept his promise,
and whether tenant Rebecca is happy with the work.
-Hi, Mrs Thomas. We're back.
First on the checklist - the bothersome bathroom.
Mrs Thomas, you'll have to take me through it, I'm afraid,
cos I am a bit new to this.
I'm afraid it's still leaking a little bit.
-It was coming from the door.
The seal was no good whatsoever.
So Mr Ashley has carried out works here?
OK, can we say we are happy with this situation now?
Of course, you see, if you look at the wall here,
this is all covered up now so it should be safe,
but this was absolutely... Well, you can see,
was absolutely peeling off and soaking wet.
There doesn't appear to be any signs of damp there...
-At the moment.
-..from what I can tell.
I don't want to make light of it in any way
but it seems to be largely resolved, so that is a good thing.
-I am looking at the positives here.
OK, I think that means she's happy with the shower.
Although the repairs to the floor could be a sticking point.
I can't open the cupboard. It's raised here.
No-one's going to hurt themselves or anything like that, so that's...
-So this bit's good.
-This bit's good?
-And you're happy with the way they are now?
-It is OK as long as we don't get any more damp
Right, that's the bathroom signed off - just about.
Outside, the leaking guttering also seems to be in hand.
That's fantastic. We're ticking these things off really quickly.
Let's see how we get on with the last problem on the checklist.
Deficient lighting in the kitchen.
He's got that working now.
The four lights at the front are working, the back ones don't.
On the outside holder of the lamp, it says 20 watts maximum
and there'd been 50 watt bulbs put in there.
The result, the fittings were melted,
so what I've done now, I've replaced them with 230 volt AC lamps.
We have actually got to a place now where the lighting in your kitchen,
you're happy with?
I've got the ones this side working, the back ones don't.
But I can manage.
OK, so we've been through this list.
Are you now happy, Mrs Thomas?
Yes. One thing he needs to look at for himself
is there's been a bit of leakage occasionally in the garage.
I have mentioned this, but it's nothing serious, it's a few spots
but it is something that he might like to look at
in the interests of protecting the value of his property.
This is a really good point here.
I'm sure Mr Ashley would like to know about these things...
-I've told him.
-..as they come up.
Mr Ashley, here you have a tenant who is regularly paying her rent,
letting you know about things as they come up
so you can act on them to protect your investments.
Yes, laughter to one side, it is still our task to make sure
the issues have been sorted.
Well...it feels like one of those cases where, you just have to
-do your job and then let everything else take its course?
You end up swaying with the last person that you've spoken to.
That's the danger, you know, you can't get emotionally involved,
you have to do what you can, which is make sure the repairs
have been done, and then let everything else take its course.
In Clacton, in Essex, in early months of 2014,
a quiet residential area became a disaster zone.
The early indications are that this was some form of gas leak.
Among the neat rows of houses, an ugly gash torn in seconds
as residents headed for work and the school run.
An explosion so violent
that it reduced two homes to rubble and damaged dozens more.
It sounded like a bomb going off, an earthquake underneath you.
Windows shook, doors came open, debris came in.
Only minutes before the explosion, Michelle Nevitt, who lives nearby,
had taken her two daughters to school.
I had a phone call from a friend asking me if I was OK,
and I'm like, "Yeah, of course I'm OK,"
and then she said about smoke and that coming,
and I said, "I'm on the school run,"
and then she goes, "There's been a gas explosion."
Returning home, Michelle didn't know what she'd find.
At first, I thought it was my house,
and it weren't till I got a bit closer that I could see it wasn't.
Obviously I didn't know the extent of the damage.
I turned up here and there was just no house, it was completely gone.
It was lucky, really, the time of day.
If it had been another ten minutes later,
there would have been a load of kids out the front.
Incredibly, although only three doors down, Michelle's house was
spared the full blast and amazingly, no-one was killed.
However, the explosion did cause some significant structural damage.
The landlord's insurers have been slow to respond,
and Michelle needs to get the house fixed.
She's called in Tendring housing officers
Grant and Rob to check whether the property is safe to live in.
Here she comes.
From Tendring District Council.
And top of Michelle's list of concerns is the state of her doors.
The gas explosion caused the doors... They blew apart.
It blew off the hinges, so I have to put a pole up to the ceiling
so no-one can actually open my door, because it doesn't lock.
-So it caused this cracking?
-Yeah, and at the bottom there.
Obviously, it won't open and you can't open it because...
I can open it but it doesn't lock.
To get it to go down slightly I have to push it in for it to go down.
So it is not the most orthodox method?
No, it's not but it is the best I've got.
Yeah, you've done a good job there.
Despite Michelle's best efforts, there's a serious safety issue here.
Right here, it's cracked as well.
Yeah, would you say it was quite a bit wobbly as well?
Well, it was off the bottom there, that was actually off its runner.
OK, you don't want that falling out with your little ones
running around, do you?
It's hardly surprising that with two young children,
Michelle's feeling vulnerable.
That's my main concern are the locks on the doors.
Cos we're scared of intruders.
You've got the estate behind here as well, haven't you, so,
you got to take that into consideration.
There's potential there, isn't there?
Yeah. A nice set of doors. Shows you how...
Yeah, they are nearly new.
Shows you how powerful it must have been.
Couple of times you hear a noise, and I wake up,
just quickly check, "Oh, no, I'm all right."
Because they could get through the gaps.
Like, pull it open, break in, take all our stuff.
And that's the thing, I am not covered on contents insurance
because my house is not secure.
But the guys soon spot something even more worrying.
Here you are, Rob.
There is a bit of movement on that brickwork there.
-On that corner, look at that.
Did you have structural engineers come and look at all the...
See, that is another thing. I had a surveyor come round
four weeks ago and he said about a structural engineer coming round
and I'm still waiting.
This is really concerning. Michelle and the girls could be at risk.
And if movement in the brickwork weren't bad enough,
the blast has had another unexpected and worrying effect.
Top of the garage door, it was filled in with asbestos panels,
and obviously the explosion has just pulled those panels out.
It has taken out the fluorescent light fitting as you can see here.
It has made quite a mess, really.
Asbestos was used widely for things like insulation or
fireproofing in buildings from the '50s to the mid '80s.
If asbestos is disturbed or damaged, its fibres become airborne
and if inhaled they can cause serious lung diseases
which are responsible for around 4,500 deaths a year.
It's no wonder Michelle is anxious.
When they cleared the other houses, they told me
not to go in my garage cos if they fall down, then
I lose everything in the garage because of it being asbestos.
So that does obviously worry me as well.
With so much to deal with, it's a good job
Michelle has been able to turn to the council for help.
I didn't know, obviously being privately rented,
if the council could intervene or help me in any way,
but when I went down there, they explained that they could help me.
Which did make a lot of difference
and hopefully might get a bit more of a move on.
I get bad luck when I do two.
What we're going to do is my colleague will write up a report,
which obviously you'll get a copy, your landlord will get a copy.
Obviously then she can do what she wants with it.
We are going to try and work with her as much as we can,
because we know she is doing the right thing.
We know you've got to live here, though,
so we'll try and strike a good balance between the two.
-We'll get there, hopefully.
-Now we are involved, it should be done pretty quick.
Well, the really good news is that since Grant and Rob's visit,
the insurance company have sent an expert to look at the damage.
Thankfully, the asbestos was classed as low risk,
although Michelle's been advised to avoid that area.
Work on the rest of her home will start very soon.
What I'm learning from all of the housing officers I'm working with
is that they're very good at keeping their emotions in check
and trying to think rationally.
But they're still human beings and they can see that, sometimes,
what someone needs more than anything else is a friend.
Back in the Borough of Sandwell, near Birmingham, tenant
Carl Willis is still struggling to move out of his childhood home.
I must have been living here now for about 46 years now.
I think I'm one of the oldest ones on the road.
It feels strange I've got to move out after all of these years,
it's a part of me now, feels a part of me.
The house is in such a bad condition,
a prohibition order has been served.
This means it's uninhabitable. And work to begin the repairs
can't begin until Carl's packed up and left.
It's now been eight weeks since Carl was re-homed by the council
but moving has been a slow process.
Well, I am getting there, I do it day by day.
I'll get there. Day after day, I'll do a bit.
I'm getting there, believe you me. That's all I can do.
Just walk down, back up, up and down, up and down.
That's all I can do.
Housing Officer Richard has had his suspicions that Carl is still
sleeping in his old home.
And it seems he was right.
I didn't think Carl was living at his new property
because there was no sign of him actually using it to sleep there.
There wasn't a bed at the property
and it was quite obvious that he was breaking the prohibition order.
I am sleeping at home at the moment.
I am not allowed, really.
I just lie on the settee at the moment, that's all.
Carl's also still paying the rent on the old property.
Richard really needs to get Carl out fast
but he also has to tread carefully.
It's a balance because of the emotional attachment that
Carl has to this property and his obvious reluctance to leave.
But it's trying not to stress Carl out too much
because of what he is going through.
Carl clearly needs some help,
so Richard has decided to roll his sleeves up and move Carl himself.
Which is well over and above the call of duty, I reckon.
-Shall we just have a look and see how you are getting on?
-You can do, yes.
I tried packing me clothes up.
Oh, good, so all of your models are gone.
Yes, as you can see, look.
We are going to have to get your TV and everything,
Yeah, that's what I'll take down today.
Are you going to get some curtains sorted out?
We are going to get some nets and that, yes. Some nets.
Since Richard's last visit,
Carl's decent furniture has been moved to his new home
but, upstairs, much of his enormous sci-fi collection remains.
Right, OK. We are on a timeline now, aren't we?
Yeah, well, you can see I'm getting there slowly, bit by bit.
I was hoping to get a few more boxes boxed up and done
by this morning.
Carl may not have cleared the room but it is looking a lot better.
Richard knows he has to keep pushing him forward.
I'm learning that, as a housing officer, you need lots
of different skills,
but sometimes a bit of kindness and patience will get the job done.
-We can take these down?
-If you can for me, yes.
-We'll nip down to Asbury now.
-Yes, that's it, yeah.
-And just see how you are getting on.
-Oh, yeah. Me bed's come.
-You put it together?
-Yeah, it was a bit of a struggle
but I managed to do it. Yeah, it is all together now.
-Got to get some linen for it now.
-Well, we are getting there, aren't we?
This is a real breakthrough.
Now all he needs to do is take the plunge and spend the night.
If his new flat isn't occupied soon, the council will see this as
abandonment and Carl could be on the streets.
Now that he's started, we want to keep the momentum going, really.
I'm trying to buy him as much time as possible
so that he keeps as much of his collection as he can.
All of his collection, ideally.
If Carl can move his collection into his new place,
Richard knows he'll stand more of a chance of making it feel like home.
Day by day, I'm getting bits... The bulk of it is done now.
The bulk of it is done now. It's only rubbish up there now.
I have sent stuff to charity shops, and that's it.
I can understand Carl's attachment to the home he grew up in,
but now his new home looks like a much better place for him to live.
Even he seems to be coming round to the idea.
Well, I got a sitting room, some storage rooms, me kitchen,
bathroom and bedroom.
I'm getting there, I'm just waiting for me carpet
before I put anything out.
Just waiting for me carpet to come.
There's me bed there, I put it together.
-You can take the cover off.
-Yeah, I'll definitely take the cover off,
but I'm keeping it on for the moment, keep it clean.
The new home is definitely taking shape and it looks like
Carl's at last realising that he can take his memories with him.
That was me late mother's doll, so I can't part with that.
I just got to wipe, clean it up.
I bought it, I remember buying it for her.
I think I was in me 20s, something like that.
I can't part with her, she needs a good brushing,
but as soon as I have settled in, I'm going to give her a good brush.
Carl's made really good progress.
It is tough going,
but at least now he knows Richard is on his side.
It's heart-breaking but I've got to press forward,
I got to carry on and that, so...
I'm grateful for him. I do appreciate it yes, yes.
I couldn't do it on me own.
Richard can only support him for so long,
but it now seems like Carl's almost ready.
I think I am starting new now.
Get it all settled and done and dusted, so that I can sit back
and relax, start me life again.
Well, the good news is, nearly a month on, Carl has handed back the
keys to his former home and work has begun to make good the property.
-Right, Carl, I'm going to have to get going now.
I've got to get down there, get my paperwork.
And with Richard's help, finally settled in his new life.
That's it for today's show, join me next time on the front line
with Britain's housing officers.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Matt Allwright meets the father of one of Britain's largest families, whose quest for a new home is complicated by his degenerative brain disorder. Plus, a man who needs the help of the Housing Enforcers to leave his childhood home and move his vast collection of TV memorabilia.