Damp and mould – how can we do better?
Sheffield Council is taking responsibility for tackling the problem of damp and mould across all tenures in the city
Executive Director, Sheffield Council
Issue 66 | June 2023
Sadly damp and mould in homes is not a new issue. But can the death of young Awaab Ishak in Rochdale result in the housing sector making a step change in the way it manages and oversees housing?
Setting the scene
In Sheffield we have around 243,000 homes, of which roughly 25% are in the private rented sector (PRS), 52% owner-occupied and 23% in the social/affordable rented sector.
As a local authority and a social housing landlord we have a dual role in terms of making sure we comply with the Homes Standard for our own stock of 38,000 council homes and supporting our residents living in other tenures. We also have around 60,000 students and need to make sure they also live in safe accommodation.
So how can we tackle damp and mould specifically across this range of property types and tenures, while ensuring housing health and safety compliance more broadly?
Terraced housing in Sheffield (Image: Istock)
Residents are anxious about damp and mould, so providing reassurance and taking decisive action is essential. We have developed a comprehensive communication campaign for internal and external audiences to improve awareness and deliver key messages coherently.
We prioritise reports about damp and mould from our tenants and fast-track these to surveyors for investigation and repair. A dedicated team has been established in our repairs service and follow-up actions were introduced to monitor the impact of remedial repairs.
For PRS tenants our current process in dealing with complaints acknowledges damp and mould could be a significant hazard. As a result, we take strong and robust enforcement action, including serving significant financial penalties.
For our student community we have a registration scheme (The Snug scheme) which requires landlords to apply to be registered with the council in order to be able to advertise through either of the two universities. Around one-third of these properties are included in the scheme. This helps to ensure that all properties are well-maintained and managed by landlords.
Data and intelligence
We have limited citywide data on damp and mould. We are investigating whether we are able to revisit existing data to capture better intelligence and use this by property archetype to provide more reliable data for private housing.
This is in contrast to the data we have for our own stock from repairs information, surveys and EPC data which we are complementing with property and occupancy information to enable better targeting and prioritisation of remedial repairs.
Linking this to our asset management data will enable us to identify problematic property archetypes and develop solutions that are specific to the property and occupants, and shaping our investment strategy accordingly.
Make every contact count
We established a Damp and Mould Task Group to review how we deal with the issue, both in private and council housing. It is a cross-functional group with representatives from across the council, including colleagues from Adults and Social Care, Children’s Services and Public Health, the NHS, etc.
Council staff from various departments have visited residents across all tenures and are keen to make sure they recognise damp and mould and proactively report cases to the housing services team for action. We want to make sure that every contact with a household counts.
Learning from others
We are reviewing the regulatory notices served by the Regulator of Social Housing on councils for breaching the Homes Standard. We are also studying the Housing Ombudsman’s special reports and determination of maladministration to see what lessons can be learnt.
The Damp and Mould Task Group is focusing on:
- reviewing all damp and mould cases and stock condition data to develop an asset strategy to direct investment in both social housing and PRS properties;
- developing learning and good practice from across the sector;
- working with all housing associations and other Registered Providers (RPs) in the city and creating a city picture of social housing quality;
- conducting a comprehensive self-assessment in our approach to tackling damp and mould by the council and with partners;
- tenancy and allocations policy in relation to overcrowding on some property archetypes that could be contributing to increased condensation and/or damp and mould;
- guidance for residents;
- reviewing qualifications and skills of staff;
- new technology and IT requirements.
We're also bringing together our RP partners in the city and have set up a dedicated Strategic Housing Forum meeting, with the specific aim of working together to focus on damp and mould in social housing.
Some final thoughts
Our responsibilities for ensuring good-quality homes extends to all homes in our city, not just the ones we directly own and manage. It is critical that we contribute to the thinking around managing damp and mould and identify priority areas where changes could be made to increase standards.
While we have adequate enforcement powers to address concerns in the PRS, we would welcome the introduction of a mandatory landlord register and a Decent Homes standard for the sector.
As for our social housing stock, our Housing Revenue Account (HRA) business plan is stretched and it is a challenge to identify resources to meet all the demands placed on us. We will need to continue to make efficiencies and innovate to help release resources to address the challenges we face and make difficult choices.
“Our responsibilities for ensuring good-quality homes extends to all homes in our city, not just the ones we directly own and manage.”