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More than 100 Freebridge Association homes in West Norfolk out of action due to being ‘unfit for human habitation’, councillor claims





More than 100 housing association homes in West Norfolk are out of use, with conditions described as “worse than Dickensian” by a borough councillor.

Before she resigned from West Norfolk Council’s cabinet, Alex Kemp, who was responsible for housing, wrote in her final report that some of the homes were “unfit for human habitation”.

“Housing conditions in the borough are, for many residents, worse than Dickensian,” she said.

More than 100 housing association homes in West Norfolk are out of use, with conditions described as “worse than Dickensian” by a borough councillor. (Stock image of Lynn)
More than 100 housing association homes in West Norfolk are out of use, with conditions described as “worse than Dickensian” by a borough councillor. (Stock image of Lynn)

“Poor housing is a determinant of poor health. Children in Lynn are living in social housing with leaking roofs, where there is an ingress of water every time it rains, and in flats where sewage has flooded up through the floors and out of the shower.

“The Housing Ombudsman no longer tolerates Covid backlog as an excuse, but there are residents still waiting months for housing repairs to make their lives liveable.

“Poor energy efficiency and the unaffordable cost of heating homes in winter led to further deterioration of pre-fabricated housing stock.

Cllr Alex Kemp. Picture: West Norfolk Council
Cllr Alex Kemp. Picture: West Norfolk Council

“There were over 100 social rented homes out of commission in February, because they were unfit for human habitation.”

Concerns have also been raised by Lynn Night Shelter about the knock-on effect of the crisis, with staff having to turn homeless people away because it is already running at full capacity.

It is only meant to be a temporary solution, but with no housing to move into, guests end up staying indefinitely.

Freebridge Community Housing, which owns the majority of social housing in West Norfolk and has around 7,000 homes on its books, admits that 100 of its properties are still out of commission – but denies the claim they are all unfit for human habitation.

The Freebridge Community Housing offices in Lynn
The Freebridge Community Housing offices in Lynn

The organisation was set up in 2006 to take over ownership of all of the borough council’s housing stock.

Anita Jones, its chief executive, said: “There are two known cases that we are working on, which are both in Cllr Kemp’s ward which have been impacted by flooding and associated issues, however, it is simply untrue to state that social housing conditions in the borough are ‘worse than Dickensian’.

“The safety and wellbeing of our tenants is always our priority, and we continue to heavily invest in our properties.

“Like many organisations, we had to catch up post Covid, on the responsive repairs front we have made great progress and completed an additional 4,100 repairs in the past year and remain committed to dealing with urgent repairs within 24 hours and emergency repairs within seven days as indicated in our tenant charter.

“We are making improvements to ensure that the service continues to improve for our tenants and to bring waiting times right down.

“Empty or void properties are commonplace across the housing industry, as tenants leave their homes.

“We currently have over 100, which is not where we would like to be, however it is as a direct result of prioritising work on tenanted homes that this delay has occurred.

“Cllr Kemp’s comments that 100 properties are ‘unfit for human habitation’ is another unfounded statement.

“Our voids have a variety of works required and we have an extensive programme in place to bring as many of these properties back to market now as swiftly as possible, we also proactively appraise properties for disposal as any responsible landlord would.”

Cllr Kemp, borough councillor for South and West Lynn, said she is working with housing providers to increase the volume and regularity of inspections of homes.

She is also pushing for greater use of apprenticeships to help increase capacity for carrying out repairs.

“I have met with Freebridge and suggested the introduction of inspections of homes every six months for repairs, and a new apprenticeship scheme,” said Ms Kemp.

“Freebridge has now agreed to increase the regularity of their inspections to 25% of homes every four years, they have recently restructured their Maintenance and Repair Department, and plan to set up an Apprenticeship Scheme in September.

“But when all social housing came under the borough council, there were six-monthly inspections.”

With the cost of living crisis forcing more and more people into difficulty, Lynn Night Shelter is bidding for government funding to increase its capacity.

Lynn Night Shelter
Lynn Night Shelter

Lucy McKitterick, night shelter co-ordinator, said the shelter had appreciated the help it received from Freebridge when working closely together to house and support “some very complex and chaotic” individuals in recent years.

However, she said the current situation is having a negative impact on the work the shelter does and the people who use its services.

“The shortage of social housing properties in the borough affects our guests at the night shelter as it raises an additional barrier for people coming out of homelessness into temporary accommodation and ready to move on,” said Ms McKitterick.

“Our guests face a long wait for a property to become available, or – just as importantly – face a long wait for a place in a move-on hostel because people in that move-on accommodation are also bidding on the housing register and waiting for a property to become available.

“It’s one of the reasons why in nine months the night shelter accommodated only 31 people – and why others could not come and stay with us at all.”



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