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29 Mar 2023 < Back

BRE Report: The cost of poor housing in England

Towards the end of 2021 I reported on a BRE (Building Research Establishment) briefing paper, looking at the cost of poor housing in England which stated that the cost to the NHS was £1.4 Billion per year. At the time, the paper received a lot of media attention, including ITV news, but ultimately suggested that that unless a targeted effort was made to improve the poorest housing stock, that the burden to NHS would continue.

This was a statistic that struck a cord with me and it has been one I have referenced a lot in presentations, particularly to housing associations in order to drive home that this is something that needs addressing.

What does the revised paper tell us? 

Earlier this month a revised version of the paper was released with an interesting twist where the data has been broken down into types of ownership - for example, owner occupied, private rented and social rented. As with previous reports, this one again identifies that the most prevalent Category 1 Hazards in the English housing stock, are 'excessive cold' and 'falls associated with stairs'.

"Falls" rarely make headlines as they are typically small and individual in nature. "Cold" tends to gather more interest/headlines, but the one major thing to note about this study is whilst it has just been produced, the data used is from 2019 and therefore predates the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis! The report also indicates that there has been a very slight (2%) increase in the number of cases of radon to 89,497. However, this is still significantly down from 107,168 in the previous version of the report in 2015.

Owner occupied, private and social rented properties - the comparisons

We know as an industry that temperature is directly related to dampness and we will not see the impact of the cost of living crisis in these reports for a couple of years. This should mean the next version of the paper, when it is released, should look at the start of the pandemic and incorporate the change in lifestyles this brought about, i.e. working from home.

Overall across the three tenure types, the paper suggests that dampness is down from the previous report - from 74,946 cases to 64,708. This shouldn’t be too much of a shock since 2019 was one of the mildest winters on record (albeit a wet one). However what I personally consider to be one of the most interesting points, was that dampness was most prevalent in private rented properties. The number of cases for owner occupied and social housing combined was roughly the same as private rented! So whilst of late there has been a lot of attention on social housing and living conditions in these properties, this shows that the issue of dampness is much more widespread in the privately rented sector.

Owner occupied properties are generally better maintained and looked after, after all it's a prized possession so this shouldn't come as much of a shock either. There is much more accountability for social housing landlords, which has increased massively since the events in Rochdale.

Private landlords must take dampness more seriously

Having had the opportunity to speak to numerous social housing providers over the past few months, I genuinely feel that they are taking steps to raise their game when it comes to the issue of dampness (although naturally there are some that are further ahead than others). But if we really want to address the impact of dampness in our homes, we need private housing landlords to take dampness more seriously and help them to appreciate the requirement for good and proper ventilation.

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