18 Jan 2023
About five years ago, at Prima Housing Group, we started experiencing an increase in disrepair cases, mainly complaints about damp, mould, and condensation, especially in relation to our older solid wall, terraced street properties. We quickly identified that these cases couldn’t really be addressed through our usual day to day repairs route, and we needed to develop a more robust process. We were fortunate to recruit a surveyor with disrepair experience and developed a strategy and action plan, part of which included assessing how many potential disrepair cases we may have across our homes. When we commissioned our stock condition survey, we included identifying disrepair including identifying properties with, or at risk of developing, damp and condensation in the scope of the contract, so we could identify those properties most at risk. Roughly 10 per cent of our properties were identified as having a potential problem. As a result, all the properties were inspected, and action plans drawn up to address the issues highlighted.
We recognised that one round of property inspections would not resolve issues with damp and mould, and we needed to embed the approach as part of business as usual. Our in-house expert set about training colleagues, staff and contractors entering residents’ homes on how to spot and deal with the ‘tell-tale’ signs. In addition, training was also rolled out to staff in our customer contact centre to ensure an appropriate response to reported issues.
We began using technology to support our approach, inspecting properties remotely as well as testing the extent of the damp, mould and condensation issues tenants were reporting. We began using DMC data loggers, to capture humidity, temperature, and dew point readings over a period, rather than just what can be seen at the time of an inspection.
All properties where ‘damp’ is reported are inspected, with a full and detailed report created, that clearly sets out the outcome of the inspection including visuals of the DMC readings and more importantly the action plan required to resolve the issue, and what the resident can do too. In communications with customers, no mention of lifestyle is made, but we take the opportunity to discuss how customers can assist to ensure the problems do not recur.
Although we still receive disrepair claims and ‘damp’ reports, the numbers have dramatically reduced. However, we are not using this as an indication that all is well. Quite the opposite, as we will shortly be starting a door-knocking campaign in response to the cost of living crisis and in particular fuel poverty which may further exacerbate the issues with damp, mould, and condensation. In this campaign, particular focus will be given to residents who have not requested a repair or have not contacted us in the past 12 months.
All of this has required a culture shift, ensuring that staff do not blame damp and mould on ‘lifestyle issues’, but instead accept and recognise the landlord’s responsibility to keep homes in a good state of repair. We have introduced a servicing plan for ventilation systems across our stock and are installing new P.I.V systems as part of our wider stock investment programme. In addition, we recognise the importance of aligning our social housing decarbonisation funded (SHDF) programme works with other measures to prevent damp and mould developing in the least energy efficient homes and have been installing smart thermostats to monitor the temperature, air quality and humidity, as part of these energy efficiency works.
We have recently submitted for SHDF wave 2 funding, which will see investment in a further 226 of our properties.
From a governance perspective, damp, mould, and condensation features as a key strategic risk and is regularly reported to board. In addition, there is nothing more powerful than getting your board members out and about to tour the stock, seeing first hand the issues and challenges that our older stock present, as well as seeing the before and after of the decarbonisation works and the difference it makes to peoples’ homes.
We now have a separate strategy on damp, mould, and condensation, so it remains in focus and is not lost within our wider asset management strategy, and have also clearly linked it to other key documents such as building safety and health and safety.
Although we still have work to do, there are clear signs that we are treading the right path.
John is chief executive of Prima Housing Group.