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Housing

Social housing tenant hospitalised after ceiling collapses on her head

Tracy Cordery had to go to A&E after part of her ceiling fell while she was cooking dinner. Social housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa said the incident shows action is needed to tackle unsafe homes.

A mother was hospitalised after part of the ceiling of her social housing home collapsed on her head while she was cooking dinner for her family, after twice reporting the problem to her housing association.

Tracy Cordery, 41, said she spent five hours in A&E on Sunday night after plaster fell off her kitchen ceiling while she was making food at her social housing house in Morden, south London. The mum of one was was placed in a back brace as a precaution and said she was left with neck, back and shoulder injuries.

She had already reported the problem before the incident but was told that it was not an emergency by Clarion, the housing association that manages her property which has repeatedly been accused of negligence over the a lack of repairs to its social housing properties.

The firm told The Big Issue it takes “the reports of an injury and damage to a Clarion home extremely seriously” and is investigating the incident.

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Tracy Cordery hit on head at social home
Up to 3mm of plaster came down on the tenant’s head just days after she had complained but was told the issue was not an emergency. Image: Kwajo Tweneboa

Cordery said: “I was just dishing up the last bit of dinner then all of a sudden, the plaster just fell down straight on my head and I sort of just stood there and froze. My friend was there with me and she was screaming, and then it came down again.

“It was pretty shocking. I’ve got a lot of pain in my neck and shoulder and my arm seized up and I had headaches. It could have been a lot worse.”

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Cordery only moved to the property on December 29 after carbon monoxide alarms were triggered at her previous Clarion property where she lived for 13 years. The housing association said an investigation concluded this was due to “a combination of cleaning materials that contained higher than average levels of ammonia”.

Cordery told The Big Issue she first noticed a crack on the ceiling when she picked up the keys to the property and insisted the crack had continued to get worse in the days that followed. Clarion confirmed it had received reports of water marks on the ceiling on January 6 and further reports the following day alleging that cracks were starting to appear on January 7.

A surveyor was due to visit on January 19 to assess the problem after Clarion concluded it was “not an emergency”.

Cordery, who lives at the property with her 73-year-old mother and 16-year-old daughter, said: “I told Clarion every time I’m going into my daughter’s room it’s getting worse and worse and worse. But they just didn’t think it was an emergency to come out and have a look at it.

She added: “Even though what happened in the kitchen, I do feel comfortable there. It is a nice house and I want to make it into a home. But obviously they just didn’t do the work properly in the kitchen.” 

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Following the incident, a Clarion surveyor attended the property and confirmed that a 2mm to 3mm of finishing plaster had fallen from the ceiling but “it was structurally sound and has not collapsed”.

A Clarion spokesperson said: “We take the reports of an injury and damage to a Clarion home extremely seriously. One of our operatives visited the home at the first possible opportunity on Monday to assess the situation and check on the welfare of the resident.

“Our operative confirmed the ceiling did not collapse. A small amount of the lightweight 2/3 millimetre skim plaster has come away.

Woman hit on head by falling plaster in social home
Clarion were due to attend the property on January 19 after complaints about cracks in the kitchen roof. Image: Kwajo Tweneboa

“We are still establishing all the facts of the case.”

Social housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa drew attention to the incident after Cordery was injured on Sunday night and shared images and video of the aftermath.

The activist, who was named in The Big Issue’s Changemaker list for 2022 earlier this week, said the incident is proof that there is work to do to ensure people are living in safe social homes.

“What has happened to Tracy is all too common. No one should be left in hospital due to the negligence of the housing association they pay rent to,” he told The Big Issue.

“I believe — in regards to Clarion — the government, regulators or Michael Gove must intervene before someone is left dead in one of their dilapidated properties.

“It’s not the first time a Clarion tenant I’ve spoken to has been left in hospital due to the housing association’s sheer lack of care and negligence. Things need to change and now.”

Earlier this week, the House of Lords Built Environment Committee warned safety remains a big issue in building much-needed new social homes.

Peers said a shortage of social homes means tenants are forced into the expensive private sector, which is costing the Exchequer £23.4bn in housing benefit. They also called for the New Homes Ombudsman to be given more robust powers to boost the quality and design of homes.

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