The impact of the Housing Ombudsman Report

At the recent Residential Ventilation Group (RVG) meeting, much was discussed about the current situation facing social housing providers off the back of The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, recent media attention and the Housing Ombudsman Report from October 2021.

Chair of the RVG and PCA member Andrew Dallen of Cornerstone, shares his thoughts on this recent report from the Housing Ombudsman and the impact legislation is having on the social housing market when it comes to ventilation. Scroll down to read more….

The impact of this new legislation

New legislation is starting to impact clients in the social housing and private rental sector and, is changing the way we are assessing and determining effective ventilation in this market.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, with the aim being to ensure rented accommodation is fit for human habitation. While it did not create new obligations for landlords, it required landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning and throughout the tenancy, requiring landlords to be proactive rather than reactive.

Strengthening the tenant’s route to redress

The act came into force in March 2019 and in the first instance it applied to tenancies started after that time. In addition, it included rental periods of less than 7 years plus tenancies which could be terminated by the landlord within the first 7 years. In March 2020 the Act applied to all periods of tenancy, in effect giving the Landlords 12 months before the full Act came into force.

The Landlord and Tenant Act does not define “fit for human habitation” but, consideration should be given to repair, stability, freedom from damp, internal arrangement, natural lighting, ventilation, water supply and drainage etc.

The act also strengthens the tenant’s route to redress when landlords do not meet their obligations, by providing them with the right to take their landlord to court with the general opinion being if tenants are empowered to take action, standards will improve.

The spotlight is clearly on damp and mould

No win no fee solicitors are starting to make disrepair claims on behalf of tenants and, although Covid has had a significant impact on the uptake of cases against landlords, the flood gates are opening with adverts on TV, direct emails to tenants, and flyers through letterboxes for example. This is starting to drive an exponential increase in claims, with some social housing providers quoting levels rising from anywhere between 15 and 150 per year prior to the legislation, up to around 1,000 claims post legislation.

In many cases it has been quoted a 1/4 of the compensation of typically £3,000 is paid to the tenant with the remaining 3/4 paid to the solicitor.

The spotlight is clearly on damp and mould as being the prime issue generating such claims. As a company we have undertaken approx., 2,500 surveys for the social housing sector alone and, have determined circa 90% of the surveys highlight ventilation issues as being the primary causes – aligned to either the installed system, or how the tenant interacts with it.

The Housing Ombudsman makes it clear ‘it’s not lifestyle’

A landlord cannot simply blame the tenant as being at fault such that, the onus is clearly on them to ensure the property is compliant with all relevant standards and in general is in a good condition.

For example; the structure is dry and free from moisture ingress, plumbing leaks, is appropriately insulated, and the installed ventilation is compliant with all relevant regulations, meeting flow rate requirements for fan performance, whole dwelling ventilation and purge ventilation etc.,.

According to the 2019-20 English Housing Survey, serious condensation and mould problems were present in at least one room in 133,000 (3%) social sector homes – a massive potential market for ‘effective’ intervention.

Aiming to improve the condition of housing stock

Enlightened housing associations are signed up to Housing Ombudsman service that provides a clear route of complaint for tenants with case analysis etc. It also commits the association to embrace the Ombudsman’s recommendations to; develop effective in-house processes, encompass high levels of staff training, invest in equipment, and the use of decent, recorded data upholding trend analysis to drive the review of similar properties as issues are identified. The overriding aim is to improve the condition of housing stock.

When complaints are made the entire process is reviewed and not just the identification of the cause, because in many circumstances, there are combined elements that lead to a failure of process.

Only competent & qualified contractors should be appointed

There is also an implied onus on ensuring suppliers to the social housing sector meet the required standard aligned to understanding the tasks at hand and their impact. Plus have appropriately trained and equipped staff, alongside supplying required documentation, enabling the housing association to prove compliance.

It is my opinion, that inevitably in the end it will only be the contractors meeting all requirements who will be appointed.

As we said at the start, much has been said about the current situation facing social housing providers, when it comes to the issue of ventilation. The Housing Ombudsman Report echoes much of what the Residential Ventilation Group has been advocating for a number of years and presents several opportunities to promote and educate how ventilation systems work….

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