Social housing plays a crucial role in providing affordable, secure and safe homes for individuals and families across the UK.
The quality and sustainability of this sector of housing has been under close scrutiny in recent years. The right to buy, rising energy prices and evolving safety standards have led to a supply crunch, with the number of social housing properties falling by a quarter since 1979.
Alongside the shortage of housing stock, greater attention has been placed on making sure that social landlords maintain standards and ensure that properties are well-maintained and offer a safe and comfortable living environment for tenants. In 2021, 14% or 3.4 million occupied dwellings failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard in the UK.
New research from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) found that improvements to poor-quality homes in England would bring about £135.5bn in societal benefits over the next 30 years. The report argues that the £9bn needed to improve homes would “pay for itself” within nine years based only on NHS savings.
By focussing on proactive maintenance, housing providers can help to protect the safety, wellbeing, and comfort of their tenants, by addressing issues such as damp, mould, and even structural faults, before they become a more widespread problem.
The Importance of Maintenance in Social Housing
A lack of social housing reform was pinpointed, and rightly scrutinised, in the aftermath of the disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2017, with the Government publishing a social housing green paper the year after which aimed to “rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords” following extensive engagement and consultation with social housing residents across the country.
While tragedies at that scale are thankfully rare, given the large population that live in social housing – approximately four million households in England and just under a fifth (17%) of all households – the safeguarding and maintenance of such properties remains critical.
The subsequent white paper – published in 2020 – evaluated the roles of the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman, making several pledges, including ensuring social housing is safe; ensuring swift and effective complaint resolution; and ensuring good quality, decent homes and neighbourhoods.
These recommendations have since been inscribed in law, with the Social Housing Act achieving Royal Assent in July 2023. This represents an important step forward, however, whilst providing a useful framework for reform, the detail of many of the proposals requires further development and engagement with the sector.
The Threat of Damp and Mould
The BRE report (cited above) also made specific assertions in regards to the dangers of damp and mould, arguing that improving the 65,000 homes with a Category 1 damp and mould hazard would only cost £250m, but would “unlock £4.8bn in societal benefit” over the next 30 years if this work was to be undertaken immediately.
Complaints about mould in social housing have doubled over the past two years, and alongside damp this is often caused by poor ventilation.
Mould grows where liquid water and dampness is present for at least six hours, as this allows the germination of spores. These conditions are typically caused by condensation, which happens when warm moist air touches a colder surface.
With the climate crisis, increased rainfall means the risk of damp and mould to the buildings we live and work in is only going in one direction. By keeping on top of repairs and maintenance, social housing providers can hopefully nip issues such as damp, mould, and structural problems in the bud – before they become a major concern.
Regular inspections, prompt repairs, and maintenance work are crucial to identify and rectify potential hazards or risks within social housing buildings. This includes addressing issues such as water leaks, which can lead to damp and mould, as well as structural instability, and other safety concerns. By ensuring the timely resolution of these problems, housing providers are able to create a secure living environment for their tenants.
Regular upkeep prevents minor issues from escalating into more significant problems, which could be more expensive to repair in the long run. Repairs and maintenance, alongside tenant support and education, all play a vital role in the upkeep of the UK social housing stock.
Peter Cox offers a number of specialised solutions to help tackle these issues effectively. As well as professional damp and mould removal services, Peter Cox offers specialist expertise in structural repairs to help create healthier living conditions and prevent the recurrence of these issues.