Issues of ‘unfit’ housing exacerbated by covid-19 pandemic

  • Half of Britons say the pandemic has made the issue of unfit housing more important
  • Nearly a fifth (18%) of UK residents feel they live with ‘significant housing issues’, and of those, 74% believe they have little or no control over the situation
  • Kingfisher and B&Q funding will help UK housing charities answer more emergency helpline calls over winter 

23 NOVEMBER 2020: The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated issues of unfit housing, according to a new study by Kingfisher plc, the international home improvement company that includes B&Q.

The report finds that some 9.5 million people in the UK (or 18%) live with significant housing issues. Problems range from inadequate heating or insulation, to pests and overcrowding, with the three most common problems being cold, damp, and noise.

Of the 18% who say they live with significant housing issues, 74% say they have little or no control over the situation. This has been compounded by living with lockdowns for long periods this year during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many respondents feeling “trapped” in unfit homes, and “powerless” to do anything about it.

These housing issues are having a detrimental effect on wellbeing, with 42% citing them as having an impact on their health, and a further 30% saying they have had an impact on their children.

Around 50% of UK residents say that the pandemic has made the issue of unfit housing more of a problem. With additional lockdowns and restrictions on our movements currently in place, it has never been more critical that all our homes are fit for purpose.

These findings are part of a new research report from Kingfisher titled ‘If Walls Could Talk’, which reveals insights on the most prevalent problems associated with unfit housing in the UK, France, Spain, Poland and Romania. The report, which surveyed 7,000 people across the five markets, aims to highlight the scale of these issues and broaden the conversation about them, while illustrating steps that can be taken to help to make home improvement accessible to everyone.

The report is part of Kingfisher’s commitment to tackling unfit housing, which is a priority as part of its Responsible Business plan.

Thierry Garnier, CEO of Kingfisher plc, said: “Our homes have never been more central to our lives than during the course of this year. As people live with lockdowns as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we are spending much more time at home than usual. For people in housing they believe is unfit, the pandemic has made the experience of living at home worse.

“Our study, which surveyed 7,000 people across five countries in Europe, sets out the scale of the problem. Millions of people are living in homes that are too damp, too cold or too small. We have also looked at the wider implications that these problems can have on their physical and mental health. It’s abundantly clear that these issues have been made worse throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our aim is to broaden the conversation about unfit housing and understand what we can all do to help tackle the issue and drive real change. At Kingfisher, we have set a goal to help more than one million people whose housing needs are greatest by 2025. It is a small part of what’s needed to address the problem of unfit housing and we hope people across business, government and society will join us in taking action.

“Kingfisher is committed to tackling unfit housing as part of our Responsible Business plan, and our purpose is to help make better homes accessible for everyone. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, helping address bad housing has never been so important.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “This pandemic has brutally exposed the depths of our housing emergency. The importance of having a safe home has never been so important. But as this research shows, millions of people are trapped living in unfit homes - and that’s if they have a place to call home at all.

“Right now, our frontline services are grappling with huge demand due to housing issues compounded by the devastating impact of Covid-19. Every day, our emergency helpline advisers pick up the phone to families struggling in run-down homes. Every day they do their best to help those families with expert advice and support on their legal rights and what can be done to improve their living situation. It’s difficult enough to cope living day-to-day with problems like damp, cold and even rats, let alone during a global health crisis when your home is your only refuge.

“We know all too well the damaging impact not having a safe home can have on people’s mental and physical health, especially children. So, we are incredibly grateful for Kingfisher's ongoing support, which will help us be there for the people who need us this winter - and in the months ahead.”

In the UK, Kingfisher has partnered with housing and homelessness charity Shelter to lead a fundraising drive with a donation of £100,000 which aims to help Shelter answer up to 10,000 calls to its emergency helplines across the UK**. Kingfisher’s campaign will support Shelter England, Shelter Cymru in Wales and Housing Rights Northern Ireland.

Retail banners within the Kingfisher group are also in the process of launching local charitable Foundations. B&Q has recently launched the B&Q Foundation and has awarded grants to a number of charities across the UK and Ireland, ranging from homelessness and abuse charities, to children’s hospices and rehabilitation centres to support communities with projects to improve homes or a community space.

To find out more about the campaign and how you can support Kingfisher and partners take action to tackle unfit housing: [Link]

Kingfisher, which operates in eight countries across Europe, under retail banners B&Q, Castorama, Brico Dépôt, Screwfix, TradePoint and Koçtaş, has a long term commitment to fight unfit housing and is using the ‘If Walls Could Talk’ research undertaken in Spain, France, Poland, and Romania as well as the UK to further raise awareness of the issue of unfit housing and suggest ways of tackling the problem. Please see appendix for key research findings conducted in Kingfisher’s main markets of the UK, France, Poland, Romania and Spain.


For all media enquiries please contact W Communications.

Email: and mobile: 07967055362

About Kingfisher plc
Kingfisher plc is an international home improvement company with approximately 1,370 stores, and operations in eight countries across Europe. We operate under retail banners including B&Q, Castorama, Brico Dépôt, Screwfix, TradePoint and Koçtaş, supported by a team of 78,000 colleagues. We offer home improvement products and services to consumers and trade professionals who shop in our stores and via our e-commerce channels. At Kingfisher, our purpose is to make home improvement accessible for

About B&Q
B&Q is the UK’s leading home improvement and garden living retailer, offering great prices across over 40,000 products in 297* stores across the UK and on

* Data correct:31 January 2020

One of the core components of our “If Walls Could Talk” campaign is a research report surveying over 7,000 participants in the UK, France, Spain, Poland and Romania, on the most prevalent problems associated with unfit housing. This research includes wider implications on work opportunities, children’s education, social lives, physical and mental health and how they have been escalated throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rather than measuring the extent of unfit housing as an objective measure, this research aimed to understand unfit housing as a subjective measure, based on what the public in each market considers to be the minimum level necessary for housing to be fit, and the extent to which people consider issues to be a problem for them at the moment. The research was carried out using a ‘bottom-up’ approach to understand the types of issues those living in unfit housing are dealing with and the impact it has on their lives.

The research questionnaire included:

  • Demographics - Ensuring that half of those interviewed suffered with unfit housing and that we understood each household’s differing living situation, in order to segment audiences into key groups of interest.
  • Housing evaluation - Measuring how each household would assess their living situation, in order to quantify the level of ‘bad housing’ within each market and the drivers that are influencing that assessment.
  • Bad housing deep-dive - Deep dive review on the impact unfit housing has on the life of the inhabitant, the causes of each factor and the potential requirements of overcoming each factor.
  • Political and social perceptions - Understanding respondents’ views towards the existence of unfit housing in their area and country, its causes, responsibility for fixing unfit housing and solutions.
  • Coronavirus - Measuring the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on respondents’ attitudes towards housing and their home.

1 Unfit housing has become a more important issue due to the pandemic. France (42%) Poland (32%), Romania (34%) and Spain (66%)

The most common issues in these countries are:


  • Excessive cold (50%)
  • Excess noise (46%)
  • Dampness and mould growth (43%)
  • Poor electrical or heating systems (41%)
  • Poor bathroom and toilet facilities (38%).


  • Excess noise (48%)
  • Excessive cold (47%)
  • Dampness and mould growth (43%)
  • Structural problems or disrepair (42%)
  • Poor electrical or heating systems (42%)


  • Excess noise (46%)
  • Dampness and mould growth (45%)
  • Excess cold (44%)
  • Pests or rubbish (44%)
  • Poor sanitation and drainage (42%)


  • Excess noise (57%)
  • Dampness and mould growth (52%)
  • Excessive cold (51%)
  • Poor sanitation and drainage (49%)
  • Excessive warmth (48%)

2 The most common issues in the UK are:

  • Excessive cold, 43%
  • Excess noise, 42%
  • Dampness and mould growth, 41%
  • Structural problems or disrepair, 38%
  • Home that is too small, 37%

**20,000 calls relates to telephone advice delivered by all partner charities