‘Who would want to house swap into my mouldy flat?’ says mum-of-three from Bermondsey

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A Bermondsey mum, who says she has been living with damp and mould for 20 years and wants to be rehoused for her son’s health, was told to ‘house swap’ by the council.

Faith Higher, who lives on the Millpond Estate, says the condition of her home has been a problem since she moved there in 2003 – and has led to her five-year-old son’s ‘ongoing health struggles.’

“After we moved in,” Faith explained, “we pulled back the wallpaper to redecorate and discovered mould all over the walls.”

The mum-of-three said she has reported it to Southwark Council ‘many times’ since 2005: “When I would complain all they’d do is put a mould wash on the walls. And months later, it would be back.”

“The contractor said the walls need plastering so it doesn’t come back – but they won’t do it.”

Faith said the housing conditions have gotten so bad that her youngest son, who is now five, has suffered continuous health problems since birth – “The doctors say it is all down to the damp and mould,” she told us.

“He is constantly getting sick and struggles with his breathing.”

She commented: “He has been breathing in the mould since he was a newborn.”

Last year, after she had “had enough,” Faith filed an Ombudsman report – in the hope it would help her to finally get rehoused.

The report ordered that the council award her £400 compensation for acting “unreasonably” – for failing to explain why the damp and mould formed and for being delayed in their response time.

It also said the council should make Faith aware of the options available with regard to rehousing.

“The only option they gave me is to house swap.”

A house swap, or mutual exchange, is an option provided by Southwark Council, for tenants to swap their Southwark council home with another tenant in Southwark.

“How ridiculous,” she commented. “Who would want to house swap into my mouldy flat?”

From left: The mould-ridden walls of the room Faith shares with her 5-year-old son and the staircase walls.

Given the condition of Faith’s home, we asked the council why they felt this was a viable suggestion. Also, considering the health problems her son has experienced as a direct result, we asked what would qualify someone to be rehoused.

They failed to respond to these questions and instead sent us this statement.

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for homes, communities and finance, said: “What Ms Higher and her son have experienced was clearly not acceptable, and I am sorry that we did not respond thoroughly or quickly enough to the concerns she raised.

“We agree with the Ombudsman that we could have dealt with this matter better and have put in place several actions in order to address this going forward.”

The council added that as a result of cases like these, immediate changes were made to prevent such failures from happening again – such as the teams reviewing ‘all works and repairs history’ when considering mutual exchange applications.

They also said they are implementing a “full and thorough training programme” to improve how complaints are dealt with, adding: “We take all complaints very seriously and thank the ombudsman for highlighting these cases in which we have failed our residents.

“We are working hard to improve our housing repairs, customer services and complaints processes, and we hope that our residents are already starting to see a difference.”

Faith has recently been moved into Band 3 but feels her complaints are not being taken seriously enough. She added: “It seems like it would take something really bad to happen to my child for me to be rehoused.”


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