Damp & Mould Investigation Finds Thousands Of Homes Affected

A Government investigation into damp and mould in the social housing sector has disclosed initial findings which show a significant number of homes in the social sector are affected by this problem.

On Thursday (2 February) the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) published a report highlighting these initial findings on damp and mould in England’s social housing sector.

Tragic death

The investigation follows the coroner’s November 2022 report into the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, the son of social housing tenants in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. In response the Housing Secretary Michael Gove’s directive to the RSH asked all larger social housing landlords to submit evidence about the extent of damp and mould in their tenants’ homes. In addition they were asked to provide information about how they planned to tackle the problem.

The investigation covered local authorities and housing associations who together own and manage over four million homes in England. The results of the study so far have found that tens of thousands of social housing properties have “notable” damp and mould related issues.

The investigation was focussed on the larger social housing providers and did not touch on any properties in the private rental sector (PRS), where it is though similar issues may reside.

The RSH asked providers of social housing to investigate their own properties and report back on the extent of damp and mould in their tenants homes and to provide detailed information about how they would tackle the problem.

Initial findings show that there are likely to be in the region of 0.2 per cent of all social homes in England that have the most serious damp and mould problems, a figure that would amount to around 8,000 affected homes.

The private rented sector

If this figure were to be replicated in the private rented sector (PRS), which is slightly bigger than the social sector, then another 8,000 homes with very serious problems may well exist in England, though there is some evidence to show so far that local authorities have more damp and mould issues that private (housing association) providers.

It may be the case that private (PRS) landlords have less cases as well, but without a major investigation being carried out in private rented sector, we won’t know the true figure.

More work to be done

The regulator has said that it has yet more work to do on this investigation, but that its initial findings show that most social landlords are aware of and understand the extent of damp and mould in their tenants’ homes and will take action to tackle it, but that many need to strengthen their approach.

The report says that the vast majority of people living in social housing have homes that are free from damp and mould. However, the landlords are aware that in a minority of cases tenants are living with damp and mould and that can have a “serious impact on tenants’ health and wellbeing.” It is essential, the report says, that landlords identify and address these issues promptly and effectively.

Poor quality returns

Some landlords are reported to have submitted poor quality responses that lacked the detail needed and demanded by the RSH and needed to provide sufficient confidence about their approach to tackling damp and mould.

With an as yet incomplete picture in the social housing sector, the RSH says its best estimate is that “less than 0.2 per cent of social homes have the most serious damp and mould problems, 1-2 per cent have serious damp and mould problems, and a further 3-4 per cent have notable damp and mould.”

RSH to follow up with action

Those social landlords submitting poor quality responses, along with those submitting high numbers of instances of damp and mould, will be followed up by the RSH and regulatory enforcement action taken where necessary.

Those landlords providing the strongest responses to the initiative demonstrated the condition of their properties using robust data. They also set out what the RSH described high quality processes for investigating and remedying the root causes of damp and mould, with what was described as “robust oversight from boards and councillors.”

However, the poorer responses relied more heavily on reactive rather than positive approaches, which would have proactively looked for evidence of damp and mould, and they therefore had weak data and evidence about the condition of tenants’ homes.

The report states that:

“The regulator’s initial findings provide lessons for all social landlords, and should prompt them to improve the way they identify and address damp and mould. Tenants who have damp and mould in their home should tell their landlord, and landlords should act promptly to address it and the underlying issue.

“The regulator will introduce more active consumer regulation from April 2024, including inspections, and the quality of homes, including the presence of damp and mould, will be a key focus.”

Fiona MacGregor, Chief Executive of RSH, said:

“Tenants deserve quality services and homes that are safe and of a decent standard. Where there are issues, landlords need to act now to put things right, before we start our active consumer regulation including inspections of providers.

“We expect all providers to continue to look at how they can improve the way they identify and address damp and mould”.

The RSH’s estimates are said to be based on the four million homes that are owned and managed by large registered social housing providers – those with more than 1,000 homes. It is estimated that there are between 1-2 per cent of social homes (40,000 to 80,000) which have serious damp and mould problems, and a further 3-4 per cent, that’s around 120,000 to 160,000 which have notable damp and mould.

The regulator commenting on the Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) debacle said that “incorrect assumptions” were made about the cause of damp and mould in Awaab Ishak’s flat and that the family were “not treated with fairness and respect.”

The RSH has said legislative changes are coming that will enable more “active regulation of the quality of homes and services” and the regulator promised to “look in more detail at how individual landlords are performing.”

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