THE issue of mould and damp in homes has been branded a 'social disgrace', as council chiefs backed a rent hike for thousands of Cheshire West social housing tenants to help fund improvements.

Cheshire West’s ruling cabinet voted to support a proposed 7.7 per cent increase for tenants living in the borough’s social housing stock from this coming April.

It would see the average weekly rent at most of the council’s 5,314 social housing properties increase from £91.88 per week to £98.95 per week.

The average weekly rent of the council’s affordable housing - which is aimed more at low earners who do not qualify for traditional social housing - would also increase from £118.35 per week to £127.47 per week.

The council’s housing stock is managed by ForHousing under a housing management contract.

A report to the cabinet said the increase was ‘critical’ to be able to maintain services and for the council to continue to invest in properties.

It added this was particularly important to ensure homes met the government's decent homes standard – which sets minimum standards for the condition of social homes, as well as landlord responsibilities and fire safety regulations.

Cllr Christine Warner, cabinet member for homes, planning and safer communities, struggled to talk during the meeting due to illness, but told members money would help it meet its responsibilities, including addressing issues of damp and mould.

She told members: "It's important to know that for every one per cent less than the 7.7 per cent that we are proposing to levy, we would lose income of £248,107 each and every year. That amount would pay for 52 new kitchens, or 66 new bathrooms, or rewire 107 homes."

Cllr Martin Loftus (shadow homes) said the Conservatives supported the increase.

Cllr Carol Gahan (finance and legal) said: “There’s far too many problems of mould and damp across our social housing across the whole borough.

"Now, it's not all owned by the council. It's owned by registered social landlords, who I think have been very slow off the mark to address the problems of mould and damp.”

She said there was a ‘body of evidence’ that there was a link between mould and damp and illness in children, she added: "It's bad enough if they go into private rented and they're living in those conditions.

"Social housing should be at the forefront of the properties that we want to promote and make sure they are fit for purpose for people who are actually living in them."

Last year the government said it would be issuing guidance to landlords over mould and damp following the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died from a respiratory condition which an inquest found was caused by exposure to mould at his social housing home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Cllr Warner said the ‘the hill to climb was very high’ for improving social housing but that the council house management board – which had five tenants on it – was ‘very committed’ to improving life for tenants.

She told the meeting: “My journey in social housing was that I was in a property which was riddled with damp and mould in the 1970s.

"Now the reason that it's a disgrace - it's a social disgrace - that we're in this situation, is that it's only now come up the agenda and become aware in people's minds.

"I am appalled that we're still dealing with it in 2024 when I lived through it in the 1970s, however, it's now at the top of the agenda and we are addressing it but obviously we've got a long way to go."

Following cabinet approval the increase will now have to be rubber-stamped by a meeting of full council next week.