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Damp and Mould Issues in Homes

Damp and mould problems in residential properties can arise from various factors that create unfavourable environmental conditions. Inadequate heating, poor insulation, and insufficient ventilation are the primary culprits. Cold homes lacking proper heating, low SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) or DEAP (Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure) ratings due to inadequate insulation, and insufficient ventilation, such as non-functioning extract fans, blocked background vents, or infrequently opened windows (often due to external noise), all contribute to the development of damp and mould. 

To ensure the well-being and comfort of residents, it is crucial to address all three factors comprehensively. It is incorrect, as affirmed by the UK Housing Ombudsman, for landlords to assume that damp and mould solely result from household activities, although such activities can contribute to the problem. Additionally, building defects like leaking pipes, roofs, blocked gutters or downpipes, bridged damp courses, and flooding can also be responsible for damp and mould issues.

The Impact of Rising Energy Costs on Fuel Poverty and Damp & Mould

With the increasing costs of energy, the risk of fuel poverty and its associated consequences, including damp and mould problems, is a pressing concern. Recent research conducted by Orbit revealed that more than a third of individuals living in affordable housing sacrificed heating during the previous 12 months to save money. This represents a 50% increase compared to the same period the year before. 

Government and Regulator Concerns Regarding Damp and Mould

The British government, along with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) and the Housing Ombudsman, is closely scrutinising social landlords to ensure they effectively address damp and mould problems in their properties. The RSH has called upon larger social landlords to provide evidence regarding the extent of damp and mould in their tenants’ homes and their strategies for tackling these issues. 

The regulator’s initial findings revealed that while most social landlords understand the prevalence of damp and mould and are taking measures to address them, there is room for improvement in their approach. Landlords with inadequate responses lacking the necessary details may face regulatory action. 

On the other hand, exemplary responses demonstrated robust data on home conditions, effective investigation and remediation of root causes, and strong oversight from boards and councillors. RSH’s findings provide valuable lessons for all social landlords, who will face more active consumer regulation, including inspections, starting in April 2024. Damp and mould will be a key focus during these inspections.

The Housing Ombudsman has also expressed concerns about damp and mould issues and offered recommendations to social landlords on how to improve their service. In October 2021, the Ombudsman released a Spotlight Report on Damp and Mould, emphasising the importance of senior management’s involvement in addressing these cases effectively. In subsequent Insight Reports, the Ombudsman shared examples of good practice to promote learning among social landlords. 

Notably, the Ombudsman upheld 55% of cases related to property condition complaints, indicating the magnitude of the issue. Both the RSH and the Ombudsman expect social landlords to adopt a proactive approach to manage and reduce damp and mould cases.

Recommendations to Address Damp and Mould Issues

First and foremost, it is crucial to install and maintain adequate ventilation systems in all homes. Landlords are advised to embed good indoor air quality as a health responsibility and prioritise ventilation system maintenance to ensure healthy air and reduced heat loss and carbon emissions. 

Collaboration between development and occupation phases is essential to overcome any hindrances to ventilation maintenance. Landlords should involve maintenance expertise at the design and specification stages, consider household practices when designing ventilation systems, provide information on ventilation during resident induction, and include ventilation system servicing in maintenance responsibilities.

Furthermore, landlords should strive to improve the energy efficiency of their existing housing stock, aligning with the UK government’s Band C and Net Zero Carbon targets. They can leverage customer service information and repair requests to identify properties susceptible to damp and mould, even if these issues have not been reported. 

Remote monitoring and stock condition surveys can also help identify properties at higher risk. Additionally, adopting a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould interventions, implementing a data-driven, risk-based strategy, and ensuring timely responses to reports are essential steps to mitigate damp and mould issues. Landlords should also treat residents reporting such problems with respect and empathy, considering the profound distress and inconvenience experienced by affected individuals.

Addressing all factors (inadequate heating, poor insulation, and insufficient ventilation) is crucial to maintain healthy and warm homes for residents. The rising energy costs contribute to fuel poverty and exacerbate damp and mould issues, affecting a significant portion of individuals living in affordable housing. The government, RSH, and the Housing Ombudsman are actively monitoring social landlords to ensure effective management of damp and mould problems. Landlords should adopt a proactive approach, install and maintain proper ventilation systems, improve energy efficiency, and utilise customer service information to identify and address damp and mould issues promptly. 

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