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Fuel Poverty

Does Fuel Poverty Damage Social Housing Properties?

Everyone knows that fuel poverty causes health problems for social housing residents - but is it also damaging the properties they live in as well?

Lauren Grimes
Lauren Grimes

Aug 23, 2021

It’s no secret that fuel poverty has damaging effects on a resident’s health and wellbeing. Living in a cold and damp home is a clear contributory factor in health issues such as respiratory diseases, heart diseases and circulatory diseases. Studies have also shown that under-heated homes are linked to the onset of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, with already vulnerable tenants bearing the brunt of the harm. But housing providers aren’t just concerned about the health implications of fuel poverty for residents, they’re also increasingly worried about the damage it causes to a property.

But how does fuel poverty contribute to property damage?

Cold temperatures cause a myriad of problems within social homes, from burst pipes to structural damage, under-heated homes pose a clear threat to the stability of a property.

Under-heated homes are at a higher risk of condensation, damp and mould issues which bring with them a range of negative side-effects. If left untreated, damp and mould issues can easily spiral out of control and the repairs are costly to fix. When air heats, its ability to hold moisture increases and as it cools, the maximum water content declines proportionally. With nowhere else to go, the excess moisture is left to settle as condensation on surfaces within the property. If condensation remains unchecked, it can easily encourage and facilitate the growth of mould. An outbreak of mould while capable of causing health issues for residents also damages the overall health of a property. Able to spread quickly on paper, cardboard, and wood, mould can also damage plaster and cavity insulation, all of which lead to additional costs for housing providers.

In order to counteract the damage caused by condensation, damp, and mould, housing providers may have to invest in costly property improvements. Upgrading the fabric of a property is an expensive and time-consuming endeavour, with upgrades to external wall insulation and ventilation costing an average of £1,500 per property. However, if these installations aren’t carried out effectively they can further exacerbate the issue and lead to more financial strain for social housing providers who are already underfunded.

So, what can housing providers do to tackle damages caused by underheating?

The best way to prevent damages is to increase the energy efficiency of a property, making sure that it is adequately heated without pushing the resident further into poverty – embracing technological solutions is a good way to do precisely that. Technologies such as the Smart Meter or the Smart Thermostat offered here at Switchee, allow for data based alerts that give providers an insight into the internal conditions of a home. In doing so, providers can see which homes pose a high risk for condensation, damp, and mould issues, along with many other common household problems, allowing resident liaison officers to intervene quicker in cases of fuel poverty. Early intervention is more likely to lead to a better outcome for both the resident and the property itself. By utilising virtual resources and digital data, housing providers are remotely able to minimize the risk of property damage and strengthen lines of communication between themselves and their residents, reducing the likelihood of costly disrepair claims.

By making use of technology and taking a data-based approach to fuel poverty, providers have the ability to identify which properties are at high risk of fuel poverty with greater accuracy allowing them to intervene before the situation can spiral out of control. This approach protects the health of vulnerable residents and reduces the risk of costly property damage.

Lauren Grimes

Lauren Thornton-Grimes is Switchee’s PR and Marketing Executive. She has a keen interest in Social housing and is focused on educating the housing industry on solutions to some of it's biggest problems. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Winchester.

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