Episode 8 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 8

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. Matt makes an old lady very happy with a doorbell.


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Transcript


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The law says everyone has the right to a decent place to live.

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This isn't about you, this is to do with the building.

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For thousands of people across Britain,

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the reality can be more hovel than home.

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The landlord's got concerns.

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He would be worried about fire risks.

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In the battle between tenants and landlords,

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it's local housing officers who are on the front line.

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You can't blame the ills of society on landlords. Know what I mean?

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I'm Matt Alright and I've been training hard,

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ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.

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Show me your rat holes.

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Oh, my God, look!

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Tackling problem properties...

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They had to go through a whole winter with it like that.

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There's fresh rat droppings down here.

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Dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours.

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-What happened?

-Catapult job.

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And everything in between.

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I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.

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-You like the big house?

-Yes.

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Can you stop filming and leave my house?

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OK, we're being asked to leave.

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Coming up, I come across a shocking case

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of a tenant's antisocial behaviour.

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There was a lot of fighting, a lot of girls screaming.

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There was blood everywhere.

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We had to keep calling the caretaker to come and clear everything up.

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Housing officers Pam, Chrissy and I

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are forced to ask some difficult questions.

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-A two-bedroomed property?

-Yes.

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You've got three boys?

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Where does everybody sleep?

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And, a tenant gets a home she could only dream of.

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-This is your bathroom.

-No?!

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-You know I'm not going to say no.

-I know you're not going to say no!

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-Go away, I'm going to cry.

-Oh!

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An Englishman's home may well be his castle.

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But, if that home is owned by somebody else, well,

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you may need to know where to find your local housing officer.

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They are responsible for making sure

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that landlords live up to their duties and obligations.

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Namely, providing somewhere that is safe and decent to live.

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We're travelling to Thanet in Kent,

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where today housing officer Sarah Kelly

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will be putting me through my paces.

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We're visiting Cliftonville, a deprived area of Margate,

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and one of the council's housing hotspots.

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So, why is Cliftonville in the shape that it's in right now?

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There's big, old buildings that were bed and breakfasts and hotels,

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and then tourism declined with cheap flights abroad and stuff,

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and then they all got converted into one bedroomed flats,

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two bedroomed flats,

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which attracted a certain type of tenant or person.

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It's just sort of declined from there.

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British seaside towns certainly aren't what they were

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in their heyday of the 1950s.

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Since the rise in cheap holidays abroad, our coastal communities

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now account for some of the most deprived areas in Britain.

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In fact, figures show the top five bankruptcy hotspots

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in the UK are all seaside towns.

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With little or no industry other than tourism,

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these towns have high unemployment.

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In a recent survey,

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Margate was seventh in the top 10 of our most deprived seaside resorts.

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According to Sarah, the house we're visiting

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is a prime example of the problems the council face in the area,

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and has witnessed some extreme examples of tenant bad behaviour.

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Recently, one moved out and completely ripped out

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all the bathrooms and stuff,

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the toilet, and flooded the whole building.

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So now we're working on drying that building out,

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and it takes months, with the amount of water that's gone through it.

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To complicate matters,

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the 18 bedsits in the house we're visiting are looked after

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by several different landlords. We need to try and inspect them all.

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I believe there's four freeholders who struggle to communicate.

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It's a difficult thing

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-because you need all four approvals before work can be done.

-Yeah.

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With its history of antisocial behaviour,

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a visit to Cliftonville is treated with caution by the council.

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Sarah and I have been joined at the house

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by fellow housing officer Andy Emerson.

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We've got a policy where two officers always come out

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to properties within this area, just for the security issues.

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-Yes. In this case, two and a half.

-Yes.

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First on our check list, the basement flat of Olly Charman,

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which has suffered serious problems that he blames on a neighbour.

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Upstairs they broke the toilet, and continued to BLEEP.

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Excuse my French.

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Continued to use it.

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So along that back wall, I had urine running down the wall for weeks.

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-Right.

-The bathroom ceiling was bowed.

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There were flies in there one day because of the damp.

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-Different landlords.

-Yes.

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The landlord up there didn't even know that anyone lived down here.

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Right.

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It's clear that Sarah's got her work cut out, dealing with this

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kind of property, but I'm quickly learning that, as a housing officer,

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one of the first weapons you want in your armoury is perseverance.

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-You've got a new boiler. They've sorted out the fire detection.

-Yes.

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So they've partly complied, but the rest they haven't,

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so what I'll do now is give them a firm 14 days,

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so as of tomorrow, a firm 14 days,

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and if it's not complied with by then,

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then it will go to prosecution from there.

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Right, OK.

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Not all the problems in this block are down to the landlords.

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Dave Hayden, the owner of several different apartment upstairs,

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is keen to set us straight on that point.

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You've had a few difficult tenants before, haven't you?

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You had the toilet ripped out and it flooded.

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Yes, they even kicked the bath in - I mean, how do you do that?

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We've had places trashed. Three times in one year.

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You're talking 5K.

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You're only getting 4K per year per unit.

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So you could spend £15,000 putting it back in order...

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For £4,000 income. And that's if you get it.

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That's if you get the rent.

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Your guys won't even go to some of the places without police backup.

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But we're expected to collect our rent, you know.

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It's nice to hear your side. Thanks very much.

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I don't like the sound of it, I will be honest.

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I will say, most of the people in Margate we've got are fantastic.

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It's obvious that Dave has dealt with a fair share of rowdy

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residents, but he is also keen for us to meet Sue Phillips,

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who has her own unique philosophy about how the area should be run.

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Look after your tenants that look after you.

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The ones who pay their rent.

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You know, and tell you when things are going wrong.

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Look after them, get rid of the BLEEP.

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Have nice people.

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-Older people.

-If you can find enough nice people.

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I am 63, and I just want to be settled.

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All I want is a nice place to live,

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roof over my head,

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nice, warm and cosy.

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What else do I want now?

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This is a typical property for this area.

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Pretty much all of them have been subdivided to this kind of level,

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so the only way to stop it is to stop planning permission

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being granted, which we have done, for big conversions,

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subdividing it into small levels of accommodation,

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trying to get landlords to, if they want to do something different,

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say all right, get rid of your six flats, make two nice maisonettes.

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You will attract a different type of person to come in there,

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if you're in the right location, which we are.

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You'll get someone who will come in and pay more money,

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and look after the property better.

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It's sad to see so many of our British seaside towns

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in such a state.

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They've been a big part of our history and many of our childhoods.

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Housing officers are trying to ensure that they provide

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a really good home for somebody right now, and for the future.

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Next, we're heading to the town of St Helens in the north west

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to hook up with housing officers Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt.

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They're responding to a report from a St Helen's police woman

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that a local resident may be living in hazardous circumstances

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and her investigation has rung alarm bells for the team.

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She'd been in the area and noticed that the property

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looked very run down and very overgrown with plants at the front.

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She discovered that he was spending a lot of time

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in the house by himself and perhaps not in too good conditions.

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With little to go on, apart from the building's untidy exterior,

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Pam and Chrissy have to be prepared for anything.

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This should be very interesting.

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It's one of those that come up every now and then,

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which we find has quite a lot of ongoing issues with it.

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Hopefully we'll get in.

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-Hello, Mr Shaw?

-Yup.

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-Hi, Pam Coppock. I sent you a letter about the visit.

-I got it yesterday.

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-Is it all right to come in and have a chat with you?

-Yes.

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Thank you very much. We'll do a quick inspection of the house.

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Anything we identify as causing you a problem,

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that might give you a hazard,

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your safety, your welfare, we will get in touch with your landlord

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-and ask for that to be repaired or remediated.

-Yup.

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It's a bit different with you because I know it's your ex-wife.

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-Yes, so she doesn't...

-She just lets you carry on.

-Yes.

-OK.

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It's an unusual situation to say the least.

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Tenant Graham Shaw is living in a house

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with his ex-wife for a landlord,

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making circumstances more delicate for Chrissy and Pam to deal with.

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-Oh.

-Knock it with your knee.

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OK!

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It does stick.

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I think it's just catching on the thingy there.

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Right, OK. We will get that eased.

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The other thing, because you've got an open staircase

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in the kitchen, if anything is going to catch fire,

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that will catch fire and it will jeopardise your route of escape.

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-That's got to be as clear as you can make it.

-That's not a problem.

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Building materials stored under the stairs

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are a serious hazard to Mr Shaw's safety.

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As for tyres in the garden, it's a whole other story.

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You've got a fair few!

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-Where did the tyres come from?

-I don't know.

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They were dumped in the front garden so we just moved them around here.

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You've got a shed down there as well?

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-Well, there is a shed...

-Right.

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-There is a shed behind that jungle.

-OK.

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There is quite a bit going on round here.

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Your hopper head needs sorting.

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Your gutters and soffits need sorting.

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As Pam first suspected, hidden behind the overgrown exterior,

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they have discovered a property plagued with problems,

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both outside and in.

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Again, you don't want any flammables in there.

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-I think they're all empty so they can go to the tip.

-Brilliant.

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What happened to the ceiling rose on this one, Graham?

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-Graham?

-Well, it works. I think it's just dropped down.

-Right, OK.

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I think it works.

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Domestic bliss it certainly isn't.

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And it can't be an easy situation for either Graham or his ex-wife.

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Sometimes, half of the things are her fault, half's mine.

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If I don't get on to her about if there's things wrong...

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..it just carries on.

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If I don't tell her, she won't know, will she?

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It seems Graham's ex-wife, and landlord, may not be aware of the

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house's structural problems which are her responsibility.

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While the clutter and piles of tires are for Graham to remove, the broken gutters

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and ill-fitting doors and windows need to be attended to by the house's owner.

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Hello.

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There is a connection there that makes it

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a little more difficult for the tenant and the landlord.

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Being so close previously probably inhibits it a little bit more than it would do

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and, again, that's where we come in.

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Despite a seemingly endless list of problems, Pam has the power to decide who

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should be responsible for what

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and it looks like Graham's going to be a busy boy.

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ALARM BEEPS

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I think that works!

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Inside, OK, it's a bit of good

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housekeeping. So if you get it all cleaned up and de-cluttered.

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Clear all the tyres, cut back vegetation.

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Otherwise, if it doesn't

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get done we go to statutory stuff and notices and you get charges.

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I'll sort it.

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Pam will also be in contact with Graham's ex-wife,

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who will be required to carry out the structural repairs.

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We give a bit of advice and we ask them to

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work together and it brings them together a bit better.

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So hopefully, fingers crossed, it will all work out.

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-It'll be better for you...

-Of course it will.

-..Because you've got a good little house,

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and again it stops people looking at you.

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All right, cheers, Graham. You take care. Don't forget, phone me if you want anything.

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Right Bye, love. Bye-bye

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He seems more than willing, and as he keeps saying,

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he just needed a push in the right direction, and hopefully we've done that for him

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and he'll be able to turn it round.

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Pam's visit has created some work for Graham and his ex-wife and landlord. But with a little effort

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the tenant's well-being will have been improved

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and the value of the landlord's property will have been preserved.

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In Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, antisocial behaviour by private and

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social housing tenants is a constant issue for the council.

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I'm working with Housing Officer

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Tony Silverio on the case of a tenant known for

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his love of loud music, and the noise, disruption and damage caused

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by a constant stream of visitors to his flat.

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Unsurprisingly, the neighbours have had enough.

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This young man has already been subject to an antisocial behaviour injunction that was

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applied for a couple of years back.

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That's expired now. The last thing I'm sure he wants is another one

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because it will restrict his

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lifestyle. The problem is that a lot of the problems that are created at

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his property are not by him but by visitors.

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-But he's responsible for them at the end of the day?

-Exactly.

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Presumably, we're the sort of visitors this tenant doesn't want to see.

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But how could anyone pay him a visit anyway?

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It turns out the upstairs flat where he lives doesn't even have a doorbell.

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So how could we get in contact with him, then? Just give him a call?

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If he hasn't changed his number.

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If we get down to the stage of throwing little stones at the window? That doesn't really...

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We could do what his friends do, climb up the side and through that window.

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-Yeah, I'm not as young as I used to be, Tony.

-Neither am I.

-And definitely not in these shoes.

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It's not straightforward by any means when people don't have a doorbell.

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It might be a recommendation I make. I might write it in my notepad.

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We're not having any luck contacting the troublesome tenant, but luckily

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Tony knows a neighbour, Pat Chambers, who could give us access to the block.

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How long have you been living in this block?

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I've been here 17 years.

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How is it? What's it like in Stevenage?

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-Oh, it's nice, I love it here.

-Do you?

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-Yeah, I do!

-Oh, good!

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Everyone else in the block nice?

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Barring one, only one, yeah.

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A bit of trouble?

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A lot of trouble. Last six years now, that's a long time, isn't it?

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No-one should have to put up with antisocial behaviour for so long,

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never mind a pensioner like Pat. But it turns out things haven't always

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been this way.

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When he first moved in he was such a nice lad, he really was a lovely lad, and we all took to him

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and then all of a sudden we had all

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his rabble coming in and there was a lot of fighting a lot of girls screaming,

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there was blood everywhere, we had to keep calling

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the caretaker to come and clear everything up.

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Have you tried to speak to him before?

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Oh, yes, I had a word with him, I said to him,

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"If you ever feel stressed, you come down here and have a chat with me."

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-You've made an effort to try and make him fit in...

-I have!

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-I've stuck up for him and he's not even talking to me now.

-Right.

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It does sounds like Pat's tried her best. But sensibly,

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she's also been keeping a record of the noise and disruption,

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which should prove helpful for Tony if and when the council decide

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to pursue another ASBO.

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We've got the 14th.

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We had loud music at 1.15.

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That was about an hour. On the 17th we had loud music again,

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then again on the 22nd. 26th and again on the 28th.

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-And what sort of music?

-Not my kind of music!

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THEY LAUGH

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This is this guy's second chance, really, isn't it?

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He's already been through this process once. Does that mean you're going to escalate it now

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and say, "Listen, we've tried that and it hasn't worked"?

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We will have the conversation, he will then decide how he's going to behave from now on.

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If he decides not to change

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his behaviour, we'll be forced to change it for him.

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Now, it may come that ultimately we'll just have to take the property back from him.

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It sounds like Tony isn't pulling his punches this time. Find out later how he gets on.

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We've had enough, over the

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past six years I think we've had our belly-fulls.

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It's the job of housing officers across the UK to make sure that people have a decent place to live.

0:18:500:18:56

I'm really concerned about what you're living in here and I want to get it fixed for you.

0:18:560:19:00

'I'm going to be working alongside the men and women who do just that.'

0:19:000:19:05

There's this thing down in the corner growing out of the skirting that looks like a sea sponge.

0:19:050:19:09

'I'm hitting the streets.

0:19:090:19:11

'I'm learning on the job...'

0:19:110:19:13

We call that flash banding.

0:19:130:19:15

It's like a temporary fix, isn't it?

0:19:150:19:16

'..To find out what it takes to make sure that every house

0:19:160:19:19

'is fit to be called a home.'

0:19:190:19:22

I know I've only been in the job for a bit, but this is a shocker.

0:19:220:19:25

You've got three boys? Where does everybody sleep?

0:19:250:19:28

-You seem to get very angry.

-I've had too many people mug me off.

0:19:280:19:32

In Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, Housing officer

0:19:370:19:39

Richard Mitchell is viewing a council property with a young woman

0:19:390:19:43

who's desperately in need of a home.

0:19:430:19:46

Yes, we are off to so a viewing. She contacted us about a year ago.

0:19:460:19:49

This lady is a 20 year-old-mother of a two-year-old son, so she is a top bidder.

0:19:490:19:55

So hopefully today she'll be keen to move in.

0:19:550:19:58

-Hi, Nicola, isn't it? Hi, I'm Richard.

-Hi, nice to meet you.

0:19:580:20:01

-And you're...?

-Mum.

0:20:010:20:02

You're mum, OK. Shall we go and have a look at the property?

0:20:020:20:05

Being top bidder means Nicola Baker is high on the council's housing

0:20:050:20:09

list and has first refusal on this property.

0:20:090:20:12

The reason that Nicola is such a high priority, is that she is currently homeless.

0:20:120:20:17

Have a good look around, everything will be finished in the property.

0:20:170:20:21

We're still doing work in here. This is the living room.

0:20:210:20:23

This flat is a far cry from Nicola's current lodgings.

0:20:230:20:28

I think we've done OK.

0:20:280:20:29

She, her partner and their 18-month-old son, Taden, are living in a homeless

0:20:290:20:34

hostel. This was supposed to be a temporary move,

0:20:340:20:37

but 12 months on, the one-room accommodation is far from ideal.

0:20:370:20:42

This is our living room, bedroom, dining room.

0:20:420:20:46

And then just out here we have the bathroom, it just has a shower

0:20:460:20:53

and toilet and bits in it.

0:20:530:20:55

Outside is the

0:20:550:20:56

communal bathroom were everyone is allowed to use, it's not just us.

0:20:560:21:01

There is quite a few girls with toddlers and little babies.

0:21:010:21:07

Everyone seems to bath their babies at the same time

0:21:070:21:09

so you kind of have to judge who is going to be in there next.

0:21:090:21:13

This is the only bathroom for this block.

0:21:130:21:15

In total, there is 30 flats including studios and one-bedroom flats

0:21:150:21:19

in this whole building.

0:21:190:21:20

I suppose this would be your bedroom, would it?

0:21:200:21:24

Yeah, it is nice.

0:21:240:21:26

Nicola and her young family became homeless after the

0:21:260:21:28

relationship with her mum, Jackie, broke down.

0:21:280:21:31

It was a bit of a surprise when she come and said she was pregnant, but

0:21:310:21:35

we just got on with it as you do.

0:21:350:21:37

When she first was pregnant, we didn't really look into the future

0:21:370:21:43

but when he was several weeks old,

0:21:430:21:45

we was too on top of each other, there was too much tension.

0:21:450:21:49

Nicola's partner was living with us as well, and my husband and me just started

0:21:490:21:53

having discussions about her moving out.

0:21:530:21:56

It was the hardest thing to do, but, you know, she had to go, I'm afraid.

0:21:560:22:00

This is the kitchen, it will be a kitchen.

0:22:010:22:04

We're not going to leave it like this.

0:22:040:22:06

The decision to ask her daughter to leave the family home

0:22:060:22:09

seems to have saved Jackie and Nicola's relationship.

0:22:090:22:12

It seems like in this case her son is two years of age

0:22:130:22:16

and she approached us about a year ago, so it

0:22:160:22:20

looks like the family tried to help her for a period of time after the

0:22:200:22:24

baby was born, but clearly after about 12 months when the child was a

0:22:240:22:29

year old they were struggling to accommodate her.

0:22:290:22:32

Unfortunately it also meant Nicola was homeless.

0:22:350:22:38

When they come through the homeless route, they tend to get a

0:22:380:22:41

house quicker because... to be fair, the whole system is really...the

0:22:410:22:44

people we should be helping are the people who are being made homeless.

0:22:440:22:49

The hostel has been a great refuge, but Nicola's son Taden

0:22:490:22:52

is getting bigger every day and living in the tiny room

0:22:520:22:55

is pushing them to breaking point.

0:22:550:22:57

It was nice that they come in here

0:22:570:22:58

because it was someone for him to go, but there's nowhere to do

0:22:580:23:02

her washing, if it is a wet day out there is nowhere to do your drying.

0:23:020:23:06

So it is hard for them.

0:23:060:23:08

I mean we appreciate it, we appreciate that the council

0:23:080:23:10

has put us in here, but there is not much space to keep a

0:23:100:23:16

1-and-a-half-year-old entertained all day,

0:23:160:23:19

so we try and stay out as much as possible.

0:23:190:23:22

But obviously it is hard because this is where we live,

0:23:220:23:27

so it is a bit of a struggle.

0:23:270:23:29

Stevenage Council normally aims to move families from hostels to homes

0:23:290:23:33

within six months, but there is a shortage of suitable properties,

0:23:330:23:37

so it has been a long wait - this flat is great news for everyone involved.

0:23:370:23:42

It just needs a little bit of TLC really.

0:23:420:23:44

Yeah, to make it into her home.

0:23:440:23:46

It is a nice flat, we can make it

0:23:460:23:48

-into a nice home.

-A bit of elbow grease.

0:23:480:23:49

-How long have you been where you are now?

-A year.

-Yes.

0:23:490:23:52

We've got short supply of two bed properties, which is why you have

0:23:520:23:55

been in there for 12 months now, and I know there is quite a few who have been there for a while.

0:23:550:23:59

-What do you think, then?

-I like it.

-Yes.

-OK to accept it, yeah?

0:24:000:24:04

-Yes, that is fine.

-If I can get you to sign there.

0:24:040:24:06

What a moment, hey? Signing your first tenancy. Must be a sight for her.

0:24:090:24:13

It's a sight for me being her mum, let alone her.

0:24:140:24:16

But Jackie and Nicola will have to wait just a few more weeks

0:24:170:24:21

until the council completes the refurb.

0:24:210:24:23

Well, that went really well, I was a

0:24:230:24:25

bit apprehensive about what support she had,

0:24:250:24:27

what her background was and if she would be a good tenant.

0:24:270:24:31

But she has ticked all of those boxes so the important thing is

0:24:310:24:35

we give people an opportunity to get a better life by having a home

0:24:350:24:40

and improving their circumstances.

0:24:400:24:42

The good thing is that she was really keen to move in there.

0:24:420:24:46

So, yes, it was a good news story.

0:24:460:24:48

We're not going to know where to put

0:24:490:24:51

things because we are going to have so much space.

0:24:510:24:53

It is going to be like a palace. We just want to get it,

0:24:530:24:55

start painting and making it my own.

0:24:550:24:57

I'm in St Helen's in Merseyside - where, shockingly, well over half of

0:25:060:25:10

private rented housing would fail the Decent Home Standard.

0:25:100:25:14

So it's not surprising that Housing Officers Pam Coppock

0:25:140:25:17

and Chrissy Nevitt know all about neglectful landlords.

0:25:170:25:21

So today, Pam, are we out together this morning, what are we looking for?

0:25:210:25:24

We've got to go have a look, it is a revisit, it's been reminded with two notices.

0:25:240:25:29

So we've given him the informal action chance and we are just going to go and find

0:25:290:25:34

out how it's gone.

0:25:340:25:35

This is the landlord who has had the notice, who has been told to sort things out?

0:25:350:25:40

-Yes.

-Specifically what was it that was the problem?

0:25:400:25:43

There was a lack of heating, lack of hot water and damp in the property.

0:25:430:25:48

The tenant called in last week to say the damp

0:25:480:25:51

and the mould hasn't been abated so the repairs haven't been sufficient

0:25:510:25:56

to remove all of the mould and the damp.

0:25:560:25:58

The landlords had months to do these repairs - so my first job is to

0:25:580:26:02

identify which ones still haven't been carried out.

0:26:020:26:05

What do you think, Matt?

0:26:070:26:09

Remove flaking and blown paint.

0:26:090:26:11

Well, I didn't see what it was like before, I'll be honest,

0:26:110:26:15

but it doesn't look like that has been done.

0:26:150:26:16

You've got exposed brick work there.

0:26:160:26:19

Looking at that I wouldn't be surprised to see a damp patch

0:26:190:26:22

underneath the window on the inside.

0:26:220:26:24

Let's see if my hunch is correct, as tenant Jason and the family dog look on.

0:26:240:26:30

Sure enough, a check with my trusty moisture meter

0:26:320:26:34

reveals the grim truth.

0:26:340:26:36

55, and that is right next to the electrics.

0:26:380:26:40

I would just be worried about the level of moisture that is getting

0:26:400:26:43

to those plugs points there.

0:26:430:26:45

-JASON:

-If you run your finger, you'll make a rut into the plaster itself.

0:26:450:26:50

That, which again is a knock-on hazard.

0:26:510:26:54

That sandstone is just acting as a sponge,

0:26:540:26:56

it is just soaking up all of the water and bringing it straight into the house.

0:26:560:27:00

So you've got damp under this sill here.

0:27:000:27:02

This place is looking more hazardous by the minute.

0:27:020:27:06

-What's

-this plug for?

0:27:060:27:08

-Have you put that in or...?

-No, that was there before we came.

0:27:080:27:11

Do you ever use it?

0:27:110:27:12

It does work, but I don't want to use it.

0:27:130:27:16

The family have had to put up with this for months -

0:27:180:27:20

they're only staying because it's close to the kid's schools.

0:27:200:27:24

It's no wonder Jason's had enough.

0:27:240:27:26

So you've got the water actually coming through.

0:27:260:27:29

Oh, yes, it just comes straight down the wall.

0:27:290:27:32

And is it just those two windows there or...?

0:27:320:27:35

We've got damp in the front bedroom and the back bedroom.

0:27:350:27:38

Because he has had a notice.

0:27:380:27:40

I'm not being funny, I have offered, you know the flat roof,

0:27:400:27:43

that is what happened with the flat roof.

0:27:430:27:46

So this is the end of the flat roof outside.

0:27:470:27:50

And this is what happens, water gets through where it is all level,

0:27:500:27:54

then it just falls. I've asked him, "You get the stuff and

0:27:540:27:58

I'll relay that." I'm saving him a thousand pound.

0:27:580:28:01

It's an offer which could be of real benefit to the landlord.

0:28:010:28:04

He's legally required to sort out the damp - which could be having

0:28:040:28:07

a serious effect on Jason's kids.

0:28:070:28:10

-You have two with...

-Respiratory problems.

-Yeah, bronchiolitis.

-Yes.

0:28:100:28:18

Bronchiolitis is an illness of the respiratory tract that affects the

0:28:180:28:22

tiny airways leading to the lungs - it can make breathing difficult and

0:28:220:28:26

could lead to long term health problems for the boys.

0:28:260:28:30

-How old are your boys?

-The oldest one's ten and me youngest one's five

0:28:300:28:34

and he really suffers big time, when it's wet I've had him off school.

0:28:340:28:40

If it's damp and I know it's going to be damp,

0:28:400:28:43

I know they are going to be off with their chest, and they are.

0:28:430:28:45

Things are looking pretty grim for Jason and his family.

0:28:450:28:48

But coming up - the bedrooms reveal a problem that can't be laid

0:28:480:28:52

at the landlord's door.

0:28:520:28:53

two bedroom property, you've got 3 boys?

0:28:530:28:56

Where does everybody sleep?

0:28:590:29:01

-Not acceptable.

-That is not acceptable, is it?

-No.

0:29:010:29:04

As well as dealing with disputes between private landlords and

0:29:110:29:15

tenants, many Housing Officers have a remit to look after Social Housing.

0:29:150:29:18

In Stevenage in Hertfordshire, Housing Officer Liz Blake and her

0:29:210:29:24

team are on the front line.

0:29:240:29:26

The service we offer is vital.

0:29:280:29:30

You can actually tell if you spent a whole week in this office, you'd

0:29:300:29:34

know how vital, because we are inundated with telephone calls, e-mails.

0:29:340:29:39

And our customer service centre if often bursting with people.

0:29:390:29:43

Yeah, there's a lot of people in this town who want housing through us.

0:29:430:29:48

On Liz's urgent housing list today is Ann Conacher.

0:29:490:29:53

At the end of her marriage 18 years ago, Ann moved back in with her

0:29:530:29:57

parents, but since the death of her mum last Christmas,

0:29:570:30:01

she's been living alone in her parents two bedroom house.

0:30:010:30:05

This was my mum's room, my mum and dads.

0:30:070:30:11

Unfortunately, the last 3 months she wasn't able to get up here at all.

0:30:120:30:16

She was fantastic, she really was.

0:30:160:30:19

I would have thought my mum was... she was about 50 there.

0:30:190:30:25

They're fake furs not real furs!

0:30:250:30:27

Lovely memories here, outside here we had beautiful plants,

0:30:280:30:33

Mum and I, over the years, after dad died, kept the garden going.

0:30:330:30:37

We used to love being out in the garden.

0:30:370:30:39

We've had family to stay, friends to stay.

0:30:390:30:42

It's just been a really, really happy place to live.

0:30:420:30:47

But now Anne has to hand the house back to the council

0:30:480:30:51

who need it for a larger family.

0:30:510:30:53

She is what we call a non-statutory successor, that means

0:30:530:30:59

that she is not the tenant of the property she is living in,

0:30:590:31:02

but her late mother was.

0:31:020:31:05

But because it was a two bedroom house, she can't

0:31:050:31:08

actually stay there because we can't give her the tenancy.

0:31:080:31:11

The succession of a tenancy can usually only happen once -

0:31:110:31:15

and because the house had already been passed onto her mum after her dad died,

0:31:150:31:19

and the fact it's a two bedroom house,

0:31:190:31:21

as the offspring, Liz isn't able to remain as the tenant.

0:31:210:31:24

To add to the stress of the last few months, Ann's been struggling with her mobility.

0:31:260:31:30

ANN: Very stiff in the mornings, the stairs are really awkward for me.

0:31:300:31:35

Haven't got a very good memory at the best of times and I'm always going

0:31:350:31:38

up and down the stairs cos I've forgotten things.

0:31:380:31:40

I can't get in and out of the bath.

0:31:400:31:43

The bath is really not suitable for me, it is a very deep bath if you

0:31:430:31:46

have a look and I can't get my leg over there.

0:31:460:31:50

On a good day I have, and I had a little drop of water in

0:31:500:31:53

and used a sponge. To sponge myself off. The rest of the time it

0:31:530:31:57

is sort of towels on the floor and a strip wash.

0:31:570:31:59

With her mobility affected, Ann desperately needs a

0:32:010:32:04

suitable home. Luckily Liz may have found a solution.

0:32:040:32:08

Because Ann lived with her parents for more than a year,

0:32:080:32:11

and as a gesture of goodwill, Stevenage council have offered her

0:32:110:32:15

the chance to continue her tenancy in a smaller property.

0:32:150:32:19

A bungalow has just been made available - but is it right for Ann?

0:32:190:32:23

These are quite nice, not a bad size for a 1 bedroom bungalow really.

0:32:240:32:28

And this one is in good condition. So it is not going to need a lot of decorating to it.

0:32:280:32:34

I don't think she is able to do much in the way of decorating so it's quite good.

0:32:340:32:39

If Ann doesn't like the bungalow, there could be a problem rehousing

0:32:390:32:43

her - so it's crucial that she's happy with what she sees.

0:32:430:32:46

We'll start in the kitchen, I think. Cooker will go in there.

0:32:460:32:51

-Is there a washing machine?

-Washing machine will go in there.

0:32:510:32:54

Lovely, beautiful condition.

0:32:540:32:55

Aren't I the lucky one? It is absolutely wonderful.

0:32:570:33:01

And you've got a little garden, you can put a table out there.

0:33:010:33:04

I've got an army of volunteers that are going to put baskets up

0:33:040:33:08

for me and I'm going to have a table and chairs out there.

0:33:080:33:12

It's brilliant. It's bigger than I thought.

0:33:120:33:15

It's everything I wanted and more, it's a dream, it's a absolute dream come true.

0:33:150:33:20

So the kitchen and lounge have impressed - but for Ann the best is yet to come.

0:33:200:33:26

-LIZ: This is your bathroom. ANN:

-No!

0:33:260:33:28

I'm going to cry.

0:33:330:33:34

-Was this already in here?

-Yes, I know you need that.

0:33:360:33:39

It's wonderful.

0:33:420:33:43

And that is all it takes, a bathroom with a walk-in shower.

0:33:430:33:47

It's so wonderful. It's absolutely fantastic, I can't thank you enough.

0:33:470:33:53

It's my pleasure when someone really likes what we have to offer them,

0:33:530:33:57

it doesn't always happen, believe you me.

0:33:570:34:00

When I match someone to the perfect property, it's absolutely fantastic

0:34:000:34:03

that they react in the way that Ann has.

0:34:030:34:06

You listened to what I needed, and all I have been through,

0:34:060:34:10

-you're fantastic.

-Thank you.

0:34:100:34:12

Big gold star.

0:34:120:34:13

She was totally overwhelmed and I just think it's great.

0:34:130:34:18

It makes my job worthwhile.

0:34:180:34:20

-You know I'm not going to say no.

-I know you're not going to say no!

0:34:200:34:24

With the bungalow ticking all the right boxes, within a few days

0:34:270:34:30

Ann's back to collect the keys and start moving in.

0:34:300:34:33

-Hello, in you come.

-Hello, how nice to see you!

-And you.

0:34:350:34:39

Oh, that's lovely.

0:34:390:34:40

Last bit we have is the keys.

0:34:400:34:44

All six keys. There you go.

0:34:440:34:46

This is my forever home, it has everything that I want.

0:34:490:34:53

It's a lovely area, and I know I'm going to be really happy here.

0:34:530:34:57

It was absolutely worth all the wait and the stress.

0:34:570:35:01

I'm so looking forward to starting the next part of my life.

0:35:010:35:04

My mum would have been really happy.

0:35:040:35:07

Well, I've seen some pretty tough cases so far, but that is certainly

0:35:080:35:11

one of the happiest endings.

0:35:110:35:13

Now back in St Helens, we've been investigating a rented house so damp

0:35:180:35:23

it's affecting the children's health.

0:35:230:35:25

JASON: If it's damp and I know its going to be damp.

0:35:250:35:28

I know they're going to be off with their chests, and they are.

0:35:280:35:31

Seven months on from the council's last visit, there's still no sign of

0:35:310:35:34

the landlord having carried out any repairs.

0:35:340:35:38

Jason, his wife and three kids all live in this two bedroom house.

0:35:380:35:43

But upstairs, the family's sleeping arrangements come as a bit of a shock.

0:35:430:35:47

-Jason...two bedroom property...

-Yeah.

0:35:470:35:51

..you've got three boys?

0:35:540:35:56

Where does everybody sleep?

0:35:580:35:59

-Is that what that double mattress is for?

-Yeah.

-So you're overcrowded?

0:36:050:36:08

Yes, we've got another problem to look at, which is the overcrowding issue.

0:36:130:36:19

And Jason and his wife, that is their mattress and that goes on the floor.

0:36:190:36:23

Yeah.

0:36:230:36:24

-And then the little girl has got her own room.

-She has.

-There is only two bedrooms.

0:36:240:36:29

There is.

0:36:290:36:30

Well over half a million families in the UK live in overcrowded conditions,

0:36:300:36:35

with research showing it has a huge

0:36:350:36:38

impact on kids in particular, from underachievement at school

0:36:380:36:42

to illness and depression.

0:36:420:36:44

So what are the limits on that then?

0:36:440:36:47

Anyone over 21 should have their own bedroom unless they are a cohabiting couple.

0:36:470:36:51

-OK.

-OK, cohabiting couple need their own bedroom.

0:36:510:36:55

Children can share mix gender to the age of ten.

0:36:550:36:59

Over the age of ten they have to be the same gender.

0:36:590:37:02

-There just aren't enough rooms in this house, then?

-No.

0:37:020:37:04

-Not acceptable.

-Not acceptable, is it?

-No.

0:37:040:37:07

If a landlord is aware of overcrowding at a property and does nothing,

0:37:070:37:11

they could be breaking the law.

0:37:110:37:13

On top of all this, the fire exit routes leave a lot

0:37:130:37:16

to be desired, so if there was a fire it could prove catastrophic.

0:37:160:37:20

If you are thinking about this as one of your routes of exit

0:37:200:37:22

to get out the house in the case of a fire, then this is the last thing you want there.

0:37:220:37:25

-Absolutely.

-You want something that is fire retardant

0:37:250:37:28

-and that's where you're supposed to be getting out.

-Yeah.

0:37:280:37:30

It's clear that something needs to be done, and soon.

0:37:300:37:34

When I get back, Jason, I'll pull an actual notice together, serve an improvement notice, try to get hold

0:37:340:37:40

of the landlord, have a chat with him. See if he responds to the

0:37:400:37:43

improvement notice first and then we'll expect him to put all of those issues right.

0:37:430:37:48

If he doesn't, then unfortunately we used to do work in default but we don't have the budget any more.

0:37:480:37:54

-So we tend to have to go to prosecution.

-Brilliant.

0:37:540:37:56

All right, but if you keep me informed I'll know where we're going with it.

0:37:560:38:00

-I will do. And everything he does, I'll let you know what he's doing.

-Yeah.

0:38:000:38:03

When I walk into these properties, I always think, "OK, could I live here?"

0:38:080:38:13

If I was a single guy, maybe in my 20s, I'd put up with it.

0:38:130:38:16

-Then you see kids shoes...

-Yeah.

-..on the stair case,

0:38:160:38:21

you think, "You can't bring up kids here."

0:38:210:38:24

-No.

-You can't do it.

-No.

-It is not just affecting Jason and Anne-Marie

0:38:240:38:28

because they are clearly now looking to move on and be somewhere else.

0:38:280:38:32

It is his property, he is shooting himself in the foot.

0:38:320:38:35

-Absolutely, it's his investment.

-It is his investment,

0:38:350:38:38

he can let it out to people.

0:38:380:38:40

If we don't serve the notice and they move, it might be let again in the same state.

0:38:400:38:45

Well, a few weeks later, I'm back at the property to see if the landlord

0:38:450:38:50

has made any effort to address the issues.

0:38:500:38:52

Well, from the outside it looks like things have changed, how about inside?

0:38:540:38:59

-He's been here virtually every day.

-Has he?

0:38:590:39:02

Yes, finishing of things. He's done all the major work at the

0:39:020:39:05

bottom where it has all come away.

0:39:050:39:07

He's fixed where the water damage is. We had a big hole under there,

0:39:070:39:11

didn't we? He has re-skimmed all of that.

0:39:110:39:13

What's made the difference?

0:39:130:39:15

Pam. Environmental health, she's got in touch with him

0:39:150:39:18

and obviously had a word with him.

0:39:180:39:20

He's just come round and started doing it all.

0:39:200:39:23

The only thing with us is major overcrowding, he

0:39:230:39:25

knows that but he can't do anything about that.

0:39:250:39:27

So we're still looking for a three bedroom house.

0:39:270:39:30

He's right, the house will always be overcrowded.

0:39:300:39:33

Landlord Paul has agreed to meet with me, let's see what he has to say.

0:39:330:39:37

Things have really moved on here.

0:39:370:39:39

I'm just wandering what made you start to make those improvements,

0:39:390:39:43

what convinced you that was the thing to do?

0:39:430:39:45

When a repair is required, we rely on the tenant to inform us

0:39:450:39:50

-of the need of repair.

-Did they not get in contact with you about that?

0:39:500:39:53

They did about the roof, and they had a leak from a water tank.

0:39:530:39:58

You know, they had to go through a whole winter.

0:39:580:40:00

Is there anything that you can change that can prevent that happening again?

0:40:000:40:04

We don't want to have a regime of inspecting premises,

0:40:040:40:10

which may sound bad on one side,

0:40:100:40:13

but it is their home.

0:40:130:40:15

We don't want to intrude on them.

0:40:150:40:17

If there is a problem, let us know about it and we'll deal with it.

0:40:170:40:21

Well, Jason did say he had been clear about the issues,

0:40:210:40:24

but you know, perhaps there was a misunderstanding.

0:40:240:40:27

You're going to carry on, finish all the works you've started and everything that is on the list.

0:40:270:40:31

There is a fly in the ointment, there may be an overcrowding issue.

0:40:310:40:34

If the family are happy to live here, do we let them stay?

0:40:340:40:37

Unless we get some guidance from the council.

0:40:370:40:41

I can only presume the rules on overcrowding

0:40:410:40:44

are there for a very good reason. And if it means the family end up moving somewhere where

0:40:440:40:47

they have got more space, and they are properly provided for,

0:40:470:40:50

painful though it may be, maybe that is what has to happen.

0:40:500:40:53

Paul, thank you very much for coming to talk to us

0:40:530:40:56

and good luck with the rest of the work.

0:40:560:40:58

It's great that landlord Paul has carried out lots of work in the house.

0:40:580:41:02

Let's hope it won't be too long before Jason finds a home

0:41:020:41:05

that is big enough for all his family.

0:41:050:41:07

Things seem to be looking up in Stevenage, too.

0:41:070:41:10

Earlier, I joined Housing Officer Tony Silverio who was working a case

0:41:100:41:15

about the antisocial behaviour of a tenant that had spiralled out of control.

0:41:150:41:19

A lot of the problems that have created at his property

0:41:190:41:24

are not by him but by visitors.

0:41:240:41:26

-But he's responsible for them at the end of the day.

-Exactly.

0:41:260:41:30

Neighbour Pat Chambers was at her wits end.

0:41:300:41:33

We had all his rabble coming in and there was a lot of fighting,

0:41:330:41:37

a lot of girls screaming, blood everywhere, we had to keep

0:41:370:41:41

calling the caretakers to come and clear everything up.

0:41:410:41:44

Well, we couldn't speak to the tenant when we visited, but he did

0:41:450:41:49

eventually get in touch, and a few days later Tony went back to the block with some good news.

0:41:490:41:54

TONY: Following our last discussions with the tenant,

0:41:560:41:59

he's happy to engage. We're also looking to get him on a

0:41:590:42:03

mutual exchange list and get him to move to a new area with a fresh start.

0:42:030:42:07

So hopefully that will resolve this particular problem.

0:42:070:42:10

And here's a turn out for the books. It looks like my advice about the

0:42:100:42:14

-doorbell has been heeded.

-DOORBELL RINGS

0:42:140:42:18

And that should do it.

0:42:180:42:20

So people coming round can now ring the doorbell instead of

0:42:230:42:26

throwing stones at your window like you used to. OK?

0:42:260:42:29

I will take you downstairs and you can see it and just have a play with it.

0:42:290:42:34

-TENANT:

-Yes, that is fine.

0:42:340:42:36

It's great to see that positive things are starting to happen

0:42:360:42:39

both for the tenant and his long suffering neighbours.

0:42:390:42:42

PAT: I understand that he's been told he can have a transfer.

0:42:440:42:48

That would be good for everybody as long as they don't get another youngster

0:42:480:42:52

in there who's going to cause trouble.

0:42:520:42:54

We've had enough, over the past six years. I think we've had our bellyfulls!

0:42:540:42:58

SHE LAUGHS

0:42:580:43:00

That's it for today's show. Join me next time on the front line with

0:43:030:43:07

Britain's housing officers.

0:43:070:43:09

Matt Allwright meets a tenant whose upstairs neighbour didn't stop using their lavatory even though it was running down his walls. And he makes an old lady very happy with a doorbell.