I used to live on the streets but my mouldy home is even colder than outside - and has been for seven years

"Just talking about it makes me want to cry. It’s been a non-stop fight."
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Lauren Yeo starts her Tuesday the same way she has every other morning for almost seven years – scrubbing mould off the walls in her son’s bedroom. 

Despite a heavy-duty dehumidifier, spray-on treatments and endless calls to her housing association, nothing stops the bone-chilling damp seeping in – or the recurrent mould from ruining her son’s clothes, mattress and all of his stuffed toys. 

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“It makes me feel sick. And it makes me feel like a failure,” she said. “One of the basic things you should be able to do for your kids is keep them warm.“

Ever since she moved into her house in Fallowfield in 2016, Lauren has reported severe issues with her home. But she claims Jigsaw Homes Group, her housing association, have offered her nothing but superficial solutions and “cowboy contractors”. 

Lauren Yeo in her living room. Lauren Yeo in her living room.
Lauren Yeo in her living room.

That’s despite the cold and damp affecting her thirteen-year-old son Kyle, who has autism and is sensitive to environmental changes and her partner who suffers with asthma. 

The mum-of-two is far from alone in her struggle against poor quality housing. Ever since the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak from mould exposure in his home in Rochdale raised awareness of the issue, many people have come forward with stories of neglectful landlords. 

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Awaab’s Law now requires landlords to address urgent maintenance issues within two weeks of reporting. But Lauren is still waiting for many of the issues in her home to be resolved – and after more than seven years of heartache, she’s done waiting. 

“Since day one it’s been damp and cold in Kyle’s room,” she said. “I do everything I can. He’s got a fleece quilt, two extra quilts on top and it’s still freezing. There’s water running down his walls. His clothes smell of damp. His bed smells of damp.”

Lauren Yeo cleaning mould around her son Kyle's window. Lauren Yeo cleaning mould around her son Kyle's window.
Lauren Yeo cleaning mould around her son Kyle's window.

“It smells like mushrooms,” Kyle agreed. Asked how his room made him feel, he simply said: “sad.” 

“It affects him emotionally because of the temperatures,” Lauren explained. “And his plushies are his comfort, but I have to keep taking them away and replacing his beds because the damp just ruins them.

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“If something is destroyed that I can’t replace, he’ll be devastated. And even for things that I can replace – I just can’t afford to keep replacing everything.” 

When we visited Lauren’s home, lines of discoloration marked wherever the mattress had touched the walls in Kyle’s room because it attracted the mould. The external-facing wall was streaked with condensation and his wardrobes were covered in a layer of blooming mildew, which Lauren said happened frequently. 

On the dryer, internal wall Lauren has built Kyle his own sensory space, using colourful and textured craft materials. She just wishes she could make the rest of his room as comfortable for him. But it’s not just Kyle’s room that is affected. The kitchen also suffers from recurring damp, according to Lauren, and there are holes in her walls and roof. 

The bathroom before works were done in Lauren Yeo's homeThe bathroom before works were done in Lauren Yeo's home
The bathroom before works were done in Lauren Yeo's home

And Lauren said: “My house is freezing all the time. I’m just sick of being cold. I used to be homeless – when I was a teenager I was kicked out at just 15. I used to live on the streets. And this house is even colder than outside. I’ll put the heating up to 35 degrees and it will tick up to 16 – if we’re lucky.” 

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The cost of “heating the street” because of warmth escaping through poor insulation and the holes in her walls has hit her hard, especially in the last two years while gas prices spiralled. “It affects everything,” she said, with the family often having to tick over into emergency credit for the gas and electricity metre. 

Despite frequent complaints to Jigsaw, Lauren claims the housing association rarely reacts appropriately. 

“They love coming over with a lick of paint. Then they’ll go and the mould will start to come back through again.” 

Though Jigsaw claims it has “already completed a large amount of work” including damp proof coursing and replastering, Lauren claims the organisation has only applied layers of damp-proof paint – which don’t stop the mould for long.  Inspectors frequently visit with no follow-up or worse – send “cowboy contractors”, according to Lauren. 

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She pointed out cracks in the new plastering and where the contractors had plastered over wallpaper while replacing faulty wiring after the house failed an electrical inspection last year. On another occasion, Lauren claims contractors were called out to fix the holes in her roof and left without doing any work. 

“Just talking about it makes me want to cry. It’s been a non-stop fight,” Lauren said.  

The conditions are also less than ideal for partner and carer Daniel. He and Lauren claim his asthma has steadily worsened over the course of the last few years. 

“His dose has been upped and upped and now he’s been put on an extra inhaler – the yellow preventative one, which he takes every day. He goes through the blue ones like there’s no tomorrow.” 

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Lauren says she has tried everything in her power to hold the housing association to account. And Jigsaw has acknowledged the delays in supporting the family.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We are aware of the recent complaint made by Miss Yeo regarding repairs, damp and mould in her home and have worked with her to try and resolve this. The health and safety of our residents and their families is our absolute priority and we are committed to addressing any concerns promptly.” 

They noted that during the latest inspection, a hole was identified in the roof of the next door property, which they are trying to resolve with the neighbour, who is not one of their tenants.

They also said: “We acknowledge that there was a delay in dealing with some of these issues for which we have apologised and for which Miss Yeo has received compensation. A further inspection has already been scheduled to review any outstanding issues.”

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Lauren claims the only compensation she has received is a small sum towards ‘redecorating’. But in the meantime, Lauren is left with a freezing home, an unusable dining room, which she has had to fill with the family’s most damp-sensitive belongings – from the homework computer to bits of wooden furniture – and a seemingly endless fight against the mould. 

“I’m losing the will to live,” Lauren said. “If I didn’t have kids, I would just crawl into my bed and stay there.”