Mysterious soot in council home reduces tenant to tears

Black walls inside a council-owned bungalow in Hatfield, Hertfordshire

"They haven't even taken a sample of it." - Credit: Cllr Pankit Shah

A severely disabled pensioner who lives in a council-run bungalow in Hatfield says "thick soot" has been spreading across her walls and ceiling for the past 18 months. 

Jackie Head, 62, lives on her own in a sheltered housing home on Birchwood Close road. When she saw soot invading her home, she became increasingly concerned for her health and alerted the issue to Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council in May.

It wasn't until two months ago that someone came to clean her home, but the situation has still not been rectified. 

Jackie believes the soot is airborne. "It's eaten the top of my living room curtains and across the top of the back of my couch it's all gone black and horrible," she said.

Two years ago, WHBC replaced the radiators and boilers in every property on Jackie's road, except for hers. As the soot gathers above her radiators, it has led Jackie to believe that the soot could be originating from there. 

While a spokesperson from the council said that an engineer recently inspected the radiators and heating system and they were found to be working, WHBC has still not agreed to investigate the source of the soot. 

Corner of a property with soot-lined yellow walls, in a bungalow in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

"What have I been breathing in the last 18 months?" - Credit: Cllr Pankit Shah

Several weeks ago, a sub-contractor came to wash Jackie's walls. "All they did was use a sponge that you use to wash a car with and streaked the soot across the walls and spread it about, "Jackie said. 

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When she returned to her home, she was distressed to see that her home was still dirty.

"I just stood in my living room door and cried. I cried my eyes out."

Hatfield woman's ceiling after the council sent a sub-contractor to clean her property.

Jackie's ceiling after the council sent a sub-contractor to clean her property. - Credit: Cllr Pankit Shah

"I keep looking around the walls waiting for more soot to appear. I'm convinced it's going to come back," Jackie said.

Councillor Pankit Shah (Hatfield Central Ward), who has been assisting Jackie, said: "[The cleaning] was absolutely not up to the standard. Would you accept this in your home?" 

A council spokesperson commented: “We always try to ensure our tenants receive a high-quality service so we’re sorry to hear Miss Head does not feel this is the case. We will be in contact with Miss Head to investigate her complaints further."

They added that work to redecorate her bedroom and maintain her garden is "due to take place".

"We will continue to liaise with Miss Head to make sure she is kept up to date on the schedule of the planned decorating work,” they said.