This week, Air Quality News covered a story about damp and mould in housing association properties, quoting SHAC and our members, and describing the terrible suffering this problem causes.
The article makes harrowing reading and brings home just how devastating this problem is. Damp and mould destroys health and priceless treasured possessions, as well as furniture that has to be replaced at the expense of the resident.
In 2020, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produced a comprehensive report on indoor air pollution and what planners should be doing to avoid creating or exarcerbating ill-health through poor air quality.
NICE highlight several housing factors “that put people at increased risk of exposure to poor indoor air quality” which include location of the home near sources of external air pollution, the structure of buildings such as small rooms and inadequate ventilation, physical disrepair including flood damage or with un-flued or poorly maintained fuel-burning appliances, and overcrowding (See the NICE Guidance here).
“The disgraceful reality is that the RSPCA would act immediately if we reported such conditions for an animal, but neither landlords nor government provide an equivalent, immediate system of redress when people are living with these terrible hazards.”
SHAC quoted by Air Quality News (Indoor air inequality: how mould and damp are affecting societies’ most vulnerable residents)
The list of those bound by the guidance include housing associations – but housing associations don’t seem to have listened. Complaints to SHAC about mould and damp are a constant, and relate to both older stock and new build. Profit (or ‘surplus’ in housing association terminology) wins out over safety when it comes to executive priorities.
Housing Ombudsman Intervention
The Housing Ombudsman followed up a year later with its own report and powerful recommendations on how housing associations should avoid and address damp and mould problems. One of the issues highlighted was a strong cultural tendency to blame tenants – indeed, the report was subtitled “Not a Lifestyle Choice” (See Spotlight on: Damp and Mould).
The Ombudsman’s recommendations included reviewing “alongside residents, their initial response to reports of damp and mould to ensure they avoid automatically apportioning blame or using language that leaves residents feeling blamed”. This advice was embedded in three pages of summarised recommendations aimed at improving the urgency and effectiveness of addressing disrepairs which cause mould and damp.
Despite ample sources of professional advice, new building technologies, scientific advances, and a very healthy bank balance with which to resource better design and retrofitting, nonetheless complaints to SHAC on damp and mould continue.
All too often, the first line of defence for landlords is to blame the tenant. The second is to ignore or protract the process hoping that the tenant will give up in exhaustion.
Landlords have shown themselves incapable and unwilling to put the needs of those they house above their desire to drive up surpluses and satisfy city investors.
The social housing model is an entirely broken system that needs radical reform, considerably strengthened by tough regulation. Most urgently, it requires meaningful power for tenants and residents. The job cannot be left to the sector, nor to government, but will need to be done though self-organisation by local tenant and resident associations, or by joining housing campaign groups like SHAC.
10 March 2022
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