The 2018 Fitness for Human Habitation act has put an increased strain on housing providers by expanding the definition of disrepair and making it easier for legal claims to be filed against providers, increasing the likelihood of disrepair lawsuits. This legislation has increased the pressure on providers by expanding their responsibilities and making them immediately liable for any damage found in the common areas of their properties, regardless of whether or not a report has been made by residents. Inside Housing estimates that the average cost of disrepair lawsuits ranges between £1000 - £30,000 without taking into consideration the cost of legal counsel, which for providers managing a range of properties has the potential to be disastrous. The big risk for social landlords comes from the additional legal costs they can be exposed to, which few are likely to be insured for.
But how can providers manage these added pressures?
An increased reliance on digitisation seems to be the answer. Modern technologies such as the Smart Thermostat offered here at Switchee, give providers greater insight into their properties, and allow them to target deficient areas. By gathering data such as average temperature and absolute humidity rates of a property, providers can better identify the most vulnerable homes and take steps to prevent them from falling into disrepair, allowing them to use their budget effectively and, in doing so, can minimise the risk of a lawsuit. The benefit of technology is that this can all be done remotely. Household data can be uploaded to a secure server, which providers and support teams have access to, and this is then used to analyse individual properties and identify any potential problems that may arise (i.e., damp or mould). Technology affords providers a greater sense of control. Data paints a picture; it is objective by nature and draws providers attention to the specific conditions of their stock. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed, housing providers have had difficulties accessing their properties due to the health risk it poses, leading to a surge in household complaints. This is where technology is an asset.
Technology also has the ability to open up new lines of communication between providers and their residents, which makes it simpler to gain first-hand feedback on a property from those living within it. Automated systems, social media accounts, and digitised screens are just some of the ways in which technology can ease communication. An increased shift towards digitization allows housing providers to work around their resident’s lives in order to monitor their properties and keep them from falling into disrepair. Some technologies allow for providers to send out surveys or request feedback via digitised screens, this can reach residents at a scale that would otherwise be impossible, giving providers a better understanding of common issues present across their stock.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the way we interact with technology has changed. The shift towards remote working has led to an increased reliance on digitisation, with many providers now realising the benefits that digitisation holds and are beginning to integrate it into their daily operation. Over the years we’ve seen a surge in technology adding impact to our everyday lives, allowing for online transactions and access to information. The move to a greater dependence on technology has the ability to lower the rate of disrepair claims and can help providers combat the added pressures brought about by the Fitness for Human Habitation act. Technology is a benefit to providers – allowing them to be proactive in their approach and gives them the ability to identify areas of concern before they can take root, giving providers a renewed sense of control over their stock.