Blaenau Gwent councillor quits after torrent of housing complaints
A LABOUR councillor has resigned as a board member on a Blaenau Gwent housing association after being overwhelmed by complaints at the state of its homes.
Blaina councillor Lisa Winnett resigned as a board member of Tai Calon Community Housing this week, saying she felt she had no choice.
Cllr Winnett said she has been overwhelmed with “serious complaints” from residents in her ward about work by Tai Calon since she became a councillor in May.
This included a complaint from Blaina resident Annemarie Woods, who said she has been living with mould in her home for the last five years.
The councillor said this latest complaint was the “final nail in the coffin” and that it left her with no option but to resign.
She said: “I cannot represent Tai Calon in a good light with what my residents have been currently going through at the hands of Tai Calon.”
She added: “It was a big decision but I feel it’s the right decision for the electorate who put me into this job. My priority is the people of the ward, not Tai Calon.”
Cllr Winnett said she had also received complaints about failed repairs, a flooded home because of “neglectful workmanship” and a complaint from an elderly resident who was left without electricity for two weeks.
Tai Calon Community Housing was launched in July 2010 following the transfer of Blaenau Gwent council’s housing stock.
The not-for-profit organisation describes itself as Blaenau Gwent’s largest provider of social housing with more than 6,200 homes.
Council leader Hedley McCarthy and deputy leader Steve Thomas told the Argus they respected councillor Winnett’s decision to stand down and thanked her for her time on the board.
Cllr McCarthy said: “If a councillor finds that there is a conflict of interest then we respect that she needs to take that decision.”
They said the council has a duty to supply members for the board and are now looking to replace her.
Cllr Thomas added: “We have a partnership with Tai Calon and other housing providers and that work is of vital importance particularly with the welfare changes that are going to take place in April.”
Tai Calon’s director of assets and property services, Bill Pearch, said work at Ms Woods’ will start in the next few weeks.
“We also accept that we do not get things right first time every time. However, we are trying very hard to be the best we can,” he said.
He said it recently introduced a dedicated repairs reporting service.
Tai Calon is spending £111 million by 2015 to bring its homes up to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and are trying to get the work done as quickly as possible.
Smell is sickening, claims mum
SINGLE mother Annemarie Woods, 33, has been living with severe mould in her kitchen, bathroom and the cupboard under her stairs for five years.
She moved into her Tai Calon home seven-and-ahalf years ago and now lives there with children Kian, 11, Kelsea, eight and Skye, six. Her daughters both have asthma, which she said has become worse as the mould has increased over the years.
She said: “If friends come to visit me I make sure the kitchen door is closed and I don’t let them use the toilet because I’m so ashamed.”
Ms Woods said she had to throw away shoes and coats and a box of photos was also ruined by the damp.
She said: “As soon as you walk into the kitchen you can smell it. I physically heave when I wake up if the door has been left open, it’s that bad.”
She has tried to decorate in the past, painting the walls every two months to hide the mould.
“Within a month the damp was back,” she said.
Ms Woods said she was originally told that work to fix the problem would be carried out in May last year, but this was moved to July this year and then to August.
'We are working to improve housing' - landlord
Bill Pearch, Director of Assets and Property Services, at Tai Calon Community Housing, said: “We are spending £111 million by 2015 bringing all our six thousand one hundred plus homes up to Welsh Housing Quality Standard. Installing new kitchens and bathrooms is the most intrusive piece of work we carry out in tenant’s homes.
"It is a five year project and we are trying to get the work done as quickly as possible. Work at Ms Wood’s home has always been scheduled for this financial year, which started in April, 2012, as evidenced by our published Improvement Programme, which was sent to all tenants last year. Following a request from Councillor Winnett, we agreed to bring it forward, due to family circumstances, and it will start in the next few weeks.”
Responding to Councillor Winnett’s other comments, Bill Pearch said, “We also accept that we do not get things right, first time, every time. However, we are trying very hard to be the best we can. We recently introduced a dedicated repairs reporting service. All repairs are now handled by a specialist team from the point they are reported to us, to when they are completed to the satisfaction of the tenant.
There was a leak in one property. Following contact from the tenant and Councillor Winnett, I visited them to find out what had happened and to make sure everything was put right. A firm of sub-contractors has since been removed from the project, because we were unhappy with other work carried out in the property. The tenant has since written to Tai Calon praising the “professionalism” and “standard of work” of a contractor we employed to complete the work for them.
She also advised us that a tenant had been without an electric cooker for two weeks while her kitchen was being replaced, under the WHQS programme. The tenant had told us that she didn’t want a replacement. However, given her age it was an error on our part not to have done more to make sure she had adequate cooking facilities. We have apologised to our tenant and reviewed how we do this.”