Complaints add up for Decent Homes scheme in Northampton

Appalling 'upgrades' Michelle Ashley says her and contractors have made her homes worse rather than bringing it up to the 'Decent Homes' standard.
Appalling 'upgrades' Michelle Ashley says her and contractors have made her homes worse rather than bringing it up to the 'Decent Homes' standard.

The borough’s housing chief claims the authority did not ‘bite off more than it could chew’ when it contracted out more than 5,000 homes for upgrades under the Decent Homes Scheme.

Cabinet member for housing, Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Obelisk) made the response this week after more complaints emerged from some tenants who allegedly fell foul of poor workmanship in their homes.

Four contractors were chosen to upgrade Northampton’s housing stock to the appropriate ‘Decent Homes’ level in 2013.

In March, out of the 399 houses surveyed so far, 14 per cent of residents were said to be unhappy with the work done. There have been 66 complaints so far.

In many cases the upgrades were left unfinished, leading some tenants to question whether the council was over-ambitious in promising improvements to so many homes.

But Councillor Markham said this was not the case as the authority was now beginning to reduce the number of complaints it was receiving.

“We have now set up a service improvement panel,” she said. “This has been set up with the tenants and we are looking at how Decent Homes is performing and what we can do to make it better.

“Any individual complaints that come through we will action them.”

The council has set up a hotline to deal with Decent Homes complaints and has allocated three liaison officers to every renovation under the scheme to feed back any problems from the work carried out.

But some said the measures had come too late.

Michelle Ashley, of Glebeland Gardens, was promised a new bathroom, kitchen and full rewiring of the house, though now she says she would give anything to have her home back the way it was.

Workers from one sub-contracting firm first visited her home towards the end of February.

They began by taking up parts of the lino in the spare bedroom, which Miss Ashley’s six-year-old daughter sleeps in.

Plaster was mixed in the kitchen and flecks of it can still be seen on a television, a fishtank and all over the sofa, she said.

And she claimed one worker’s attempts to clear spilled plaster with hot water left a patch of flooring so damp it has since become mouldy and still smells.

Miss Ashley said: “The house wasn’t show-home quality, but what needed to be done was just a bit of decorating, some touches, it wasn’t falling down.

“Now my six-year-old doesn’t want to live here. She’s embarrassed to bring friends round, it’s heartbreaking.”

A spokesman for the sub-contractor said it has been delayed returning to the property to finish the jobs due to a dispute with Miss Ashley’s partner. The spokesman added: “The council is still waiting to hear from them and we will return to do the work when the tenant confirms a time and a date.”

Mum-of-two Samantha Mutch, 27, of Park Drive, King’s Heath, is waiting for contractors to return to her two-bedroom flat to complete the work they started at the beginning of April.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “They took my fireplace out on April 2 and I’ve had a massive hole that goes straight through to the chimney ever since. There are sockets that haven’t been boxed off.”

Leader for the Liberal Democrats at the borough Councillor Sally Beardsworth (Lib Dem, Kingsthorpe) said with between £6,000 and £8,000 allocated to each home, she does not feel a lot of those receiving upgrades are getting value for money.

She said: “If you are putting in a new kitchen and bathroom there should not be that much disruption.”