Council house tenants have moved into their new homes to discover that carpets and wooden boards have been removed in a practice that creates thousands of tonnes of waste each year
Young families are being left in freezing homes with concrete floors thanks to council rules which mean tens of thousands of tonnes of carpet and wooden boards are scrapped each year.
Each year departing tenants are forced to rip up the equivalent of 6,600 double decker buses worth of flooring from their homes before they leave, or else they face a big fine.
The practice means thousands of cash-strapped Brits live in cold, floorless homes for months – while tonnes of good carpet and boards are sold on by builders or thrown in the dump.
Honey Penny, who is campaigning for a law change so flooring is kept in where possible, first became aware of the rules when she offered her old wooden floorboards for free on a recycling Facebook group.
The St Albans mum was shocked at the response, and ended up splitting the material between three families who had been living without flooring.
Sarah Dillingham first learned of the rules when her mum died and the council told her there’d be a charge if the seven month old carpets in her Hatfield, Hertfordshire weren’t ripped up.
“When I said that they had been down for such a short while, we were told that it is protocol for absolutely everything to be removed, irrespective that they could’ve really helped somebody else, and saved them a small fortune,” Sarah told the Mirror.
“I think it is shameful that it has to be handed back with bare floors. It would’ve really helped my mum financially if she hadn’t had to pay to put it down.
“I’m sure that it would’ve been beneficial for the next person that moved in to not have to do it themselves before moving in.”
Unable to face throwing the new carpet away, Sarah used part of it to cover her mother-in-law’s hallway, and part to make her dog’s bed more comfortable.
Sarah’s experience with her local council when it came to removing flooring is by no means rare.
Research in Scotland estimates 7,700 tonnes of flooring is removed from social housing properties in Scotland every 12 months.
Although no research has been done for the whole of the UK, the above figure scaled up for the country’s 5.2 million social homes suggest 80,000 tonnes of flooring is ripped out each year.
Adam Nichols, a researcher at End Furniture Poverty, says that the policy is having a big financial impact on people, and is damaging the environment.
“End Furniture Poverty know flooring can be very hard to obtain if you are on a low income, it is very expensive and few crisis schemes provide flooring,” he said.
“Up to 15% of heating can be lost in homes without flooring and curtains, with household bills rising sharply more this puts further pressure on families.”
One mum, who asked not to be named, took out a £900 loan to put floors down after she moved in and discovered her flat to be much barer than the photos she’d been shown.
A year and a half on she has just paid off the debt.
One man from St Albans watched on as council contractors removed flooring in his soon-to-be neighbours’ flat and then sold it in the car park.
“They loaded it for the guy straight in his car and money was exchanged,” he said.
“Better that it’s donated to charity rather than ‘disposed of’. It’s my opinion it is disgusting it’s sold on, for the new tenant to then have the cost of replacing it.
“The poor girl who moved in had no flooring at all for months.”
When Chantelle Barclay was offered her new flat, one thing that caught her eye was the “beautiful wood flooring”.
She said: “Even the council said it was fitted well and good quality, but they had to rip it up (before we moved in).
“We had to move in with a newborn with concrete flooring that was covered in plaster and paint.
“It was filthy and no amount of cleaning made it better. It was winter and freezing and concrete floor didn’t help. We made do with rugs until we could afford flooring.
“What a waste. We had to go months with nothing down on the floor when there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.”
Another mum, who asked not to be named, was left trying to make sure her toddling two-year-old wasn’t injured on a concrete floor downstairs and wood boards upstairs.
She has only recently started using the downstairs, after Honey gave her some of her old flooring.
“Of course as a mum you worry about splinters from wood which we’ve had on numerous occasions, falling on a concrete floor is dangerous and and was so cold throughout the winter too,” the mum said.
“I been here seven months and only just downstairs.
“If it wasn’t for people like Honey giving away their floors. I can’t afford it otherwise. The upstairs is still bare.”
When asked about its flooring policy, a spokesperson for St Albans Council said it was “based on the best practice of other local authorities and housing associations.”
“As part of their tenancy agreement, tenants are asked to remove all flooring such as carpets before the property is handed back,” they said.
“This is because – the flooring may be in a poor condition and unpleasant for the incoming tenants; and pets may have been in the house posing a risk of flea infestations.
“In some instances, which are quite rare, flooring may be ‘gifted’ to the incoming tenant – if the carpet is newly laid, there is confirmation of no pets and it is treated for fleas as a precaution; where the flooring is suitable for new flooring to be laid on top, often where there may be issues with glue or tiling underneath.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.