Do you live in a tower block as a social tenant?
Have you ever had — or are you still having — problems with any of the following?
- Damp or mould
- Leaking pipes
- Cracks in the walls or ceilings
- Broken windows, doors, lifts, etc
- Poor repairs, or repairs that never get done
- Fire risks, such as dangerous cladding or cluttered fire escape routes
- Pests such as fleas, cockroaches, vermin or moth
- Unsafe gas or electricity
- Poor heating
- Landlords that don’t respond, or don’t fulfil their legal duties
If so, Tower Blocks UK would love to hear from you — and if the problem is ongoing, help to point you in the right direction so that you can take steps to get things resolved.
As you may recall, we recently co-launched the FixMyBlock website in partnership with Tower Blocks UK. It is designed to help tenants get problems resolved, whether that takes a letter quoting the relevant laws to your landlord, or escalating the issue to another level. It suggests a range of possible routes, from contacting your local councillor, for example, to getting together with other tenants to form a united action group.
Now, it would be great to hear tenants’ real-life experiences so they can be included on the site. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the end of the story — you got your problem fixed — or are still trying different methods to solve the issue. Either way, we’d really like to know more.
Sharing experiences can help others who are having a similar problem. It tells them they are not alone, and may give new ideas on how to rectify the issue.
So, if you have a tower block-related problem and you’re happy to tell us all about it, please let us know on this form.
Image: Professor Paul Wenham-Clarke
Today sees the launch of FixMyBlock, an online toolkit for people living in tower blocks.
Tower blocks come with their own distinct problems, from unsafe construction to risks of fire. The shocking events at Grenfell Tower have brought such issues back to the public eye, but we don’t have to go far in history to see other disasters such as the Ronan Point collapse and the Lakanal House fire.
The simple fact is that not all tower blocks are safe, and not all landlords are doing enough to address this.
Today, thousands of tenants are living in conditions that affect their health and their safety. While working on this project, we heard of people living with extreme mould and damp, with recurrent cockroach infestations, and, shockingly, with cracks in the structure of their flats that are wide enough to pass a hand through (watch this video for a visual depiction you won’t forget).
Additionally, since Grenfell, many tenants have been living in fear that their blocks, constructed with the same unsafe cladding, might suffer a similar fate.
And, though they’ve tried to ask their landlords to address their concerns, they haven’t got anywhere.
So what can we do about it?
Our project began as an investigation into how our popular street reporting software – FixMyStreet – could be repurposed to help tower block tenants report and monitor safety and maintenance problems in their buildings.
But during the discovery phase (which you can read about in our report here) we found that reporting issues wasn’t the problem most tenants were facing. And our alpha testing (documented in this report here) confirmed it – a FixMyStreet for tower blocks wouldn’t actually help. Our research showed that most tenants already knew who to report their issue to. And, unlike on FixMyStreet where public reporting can help highlight problem areas, many residents were uncomfortable with reporting their safety concerns on a public forum.
A better reporting process could wait. Instead, together with Tower Blocks UK, we wanted to solve the real underlying problem: equipping tower block tenants with the necessary understanding of their rights, their paths to escalation, and the tools they need to get their voices heard.
FixMyBlock – empowering not reporting
So, despite the name, FixMyBlock isn’t a “FixMyStreet for tower blocks” – it’s a living, evolving toolkit of legal primers, template letters, case studies, and action guides, that will help tower block tenants make progress on what are often incredibly sticky, complicated safety and maintenance issues.
FixMyBlock begins by laying out the conventional steps to getting things fixed — but when these have failed, tenants can also access information on their legal rights and the power of collective action, with case studies demonstrating what has been achieved by residents’ groups, ongoing campaigns, press coverage and other channels of engagement.
mySociety has worked with Tower Blocks UK and a number of experts in the field to create the site, which Tower Blocks UK will continue to run after handover. The work has been funded by the Legal Education Foundation.
The site launches with information for social tenants in England and Wales, and in time Tower Blocks UK will expand the content to cover all types of tenancy across all of the UK. Meanwhile, much of the content is applicable for all, so don’t hold off from using it if you have a private landlord, or live in Scotland/NI — just be aware that some of the laws mentioned might differ in your own case.
Image: Jimmy Chang
You may remember our post back in September, on the research we were carrying out into how a digital tool might help residents of tower blocks.
At that stage, with invaluable input from residents, lawyers, health and safety professionals and especially the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisation, we’d just finished the discovery phase and published a report on our research and prototyping.
We’ve now had the great news that the Legal Education Foundation are funding us to build a beta version of the tool we’d prototyped. It’ll be a simple way for residents of tower blocks to get the information they need to fix a range of problems in their accommodation, from structural and maintenance issues to legal ones.
As we start development, we’ll again be working with Tower Blocks UK, tireless champions of tower block residents and very much experts in this field.
We’ll make sure to keep updating as we progress. The hope is to formally launch the new tool in September next year — so watch this space for further news.
Image: Nirmal Rajendharkumar
An estimated 100,000 people in the UK live in tower blocks. If you’re one of them, mySociety’s current project will be of particular interest — and please read on to the end of the post, where you’ll find out how you might get involved.
mySociety has been working with the campaign group Tower Blocks UK to explore how residents across the country could have more input into the management of their buildings.
Back in June 2017, when the news of the Grenfell disaster broke, we expressed our desire to help. This partnership with Tower Blocks UK provides a tangible way for us to do just that, empowering tower block residents to understand their rights, and leverage those rights to increase the safety of their own homes.
Since Grenfell, fire has, understandably, been at the top of the nation’s consciousness. It’s not the only risk in tower blocks, however: by their nature, they’re subject to a range of distinct safety and maintenance issues which, if not identified and dealt with properly and at an early stage, can be at best a nuisance and at worst, life-threatening.
We were approached by Tower Blocks UK to provide a digital tool that would help address these issues. Beyond that, we didn’t want to make any assumptions about what was needed, so we began with a completely blank canvas.
Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. We had a few ideas about what sort of service we might build. A kind of ‘FixMyStreet for buildings’ was was talked about, but we know that it’s never a great idea to simply start creating the service you assume will be useful, without speaking to the people who would actually be using the finished thing.
So, we agreed our aim in fairly loose terms: to research and develop a pilot service that demonstrates the potential for tower block residents in a few select areas to have a greater say over the safety and maintenance of their blocks.
If judged successful, the service could be scaled up and made available for residents in tower blocks all across the UK.
Where we are now
At the time of writing, we’ve completed the discovery phase. We’ve asked residents how they currently report and track safety issues in their buildings; and with the additional help of sector experts, we’ve examined how legal pathways and housing provider case management processes affect the outcomes.
We wrote this stage up in a report which you can read here, identifying four key areas where we feel we have the opportunity to make a difference to how safe and happy residents feel in their homes.
Once we’d gathered and processed this knowledge, we were able to start building some simple digital prototypes and test our theories with residents in user design workshops. Here we’re thankful to Phil Murphy and Stuart Hodkinson, the London Tenants Federation, and especially the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisation, for helping us reach a selection of tenants with different background and experiences.
Resident feedback at these sessions has helped us uncover real needs in this space, including the desire to make maintenance reports that have real impact, the value of tried and tested “next steps” during the complaints process, and a need amongst tenant organisers to see the bigger picture across multiple blocks in their area.
Our prototypes so far have included: a tool that helps tenants report problems in their flat by giving prompts and generating a letter of complaint based on best legal practice; a personal case log to aid with follow-up complaints and potential escalations to the housing ombudsman or the courts; and a reporting dashboard for tenant organisers to spot patterns and help their fellow residents make effective reports.
Over the next few weeks, we’re hoping to test the prototypes further, including through a simple, online survey.
If you’re a resident of a tower block in the UK and can spare us ten minutes to use a website and answer some questions about your experience, we’d be more than grateful. Get in touch with Jen or Zarino on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top image: Jimmy Chang