Suzanne Muna, Secretary of Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC)

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died in 2020 in a flat infested with mould that had a catastrophic effect on his breathing. His parents complained to their housing association landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), but the landlord repeatedly failed to address the causes. No one in authority seemed able or willing to force them to make the necessary fixes.

The tragedy has turned a lighthouse beam onto the housing association sector, but its attention won’t linger. Meanwhile, thousands of tenants face a cold winter in dangerous, substandard housing.

72 people died in Grenfell Tower when it went up in flames in 2017. The Grenfell casualties also included children and, disproportionately, disabled people. Despite the outcry of horror, nothing has fundamentally changed. The government has rejected the first recommendation of the public inquiry into the Grenfell fire – that landlords must hold Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for disabled people. The argument over who should pay to remove unsuitable cladding is still being waged, and around 10,000 buildings remain unsafely clad.

Dig down into Awaab’s case and you hit the dysfunctional complaints, regulatory, and tribunal system which is supposed to settle disputes and address problems. This again is endemic across the sector. Instead of enabling redress, the complaints process is a locked gate, barricading landlords from tenants and residents when things go wrong.

And they don’t just go wrong on repairs. There is the scandal of service charge abuse, which means that people have to battle to get invoices and receipts for works allegedly carried out. Tenants get charged multiple times for the same work, the bills are extortionate, and costs incorrectly apportioned. Service charge statements are at best a rough guestimate.

The majority of these bills are unscrutinised because around half are paid by the taxpayer in the form of housing benefit and Universal Credit, and government has no system of checks in place.

Would the wealthy accept such sloppiness from their banks? It is inconceivable. Yet tenants and residents paying thousands in service charges face an annual war of attrition attempting to correct errors.

There are the scandals of disability discrimination, ever reducing numbers of homes for social rent, social cleansing, the mis-selling of shared ownership, and the poor quality of new buildings. The list of housing problems is endless.

These problems however have a single common root: the imbalance in power between tenants, residents, and their landlords. Unless we address this, nothing will change.

We need a movement to create tenant and residents’ power, simply having a ‘voice’ is not enough. Well-organised tenant unions are vital to be able to hold landlords to account.

Ultimately, we need to remodel public housing so that it is truly in public hands, managed through democratic tenant and resident structures.

Noone in authority is going to come to the rescue. Tweaking the regulatory framework won’t do it. We have to create the movement that will make the change. That’s what we are trying to achieve through SHAC, the Social Housing Action Campaign (

Socialist Party fights for

  • Independent, democratic tenant and residents’ associations. Genuine accountability and control, including over repairs

Councils must protect tenants:

  • Employ environmental health officers to uphold safe housing conditions, under the democratic control of tenants and communities
  • Register private landlords to uphold standards
  • Landlords must make housing safe – councils to seize buildings where landlords refuse
  • Renovations to make all housing safe – employ in-sourced housing maintenance workers on trade union agreed pay, terms and conditions
  • Implement rent controls under the democratic control of working-class communities
  • Build council homes, with lifetime secure tenancies
  • End the commercialisation of housing associations. Take housing associations into democratic public ownership, to be run under the democratic control of tenants and housing workers
  • Nationalise the large building companies, land, and banks to ensure enough good standard council housing and cheap mortgages
  • A democratic socialist society could plan and provide good quality homes, jobs, and services for all