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Is Digital Technology The Solution To The Problem Of Disrepair?

An exploration into the ways in which digitized data can help housing providers minimize disrepair claims in the current Covid-19 climate and beyond.

Lauren Grimes
Lauren Grimes

Mar 26, 2021

Disrepair is a huge cause for concern among Housing Providers. In 2017 it was found that an estimated 525,000 social homes failed to meet the national Decent Homes Standard, meaning that almost one in seven homes weren’t meeting the minimum requirements for safe living. With stricter lockdown measures in place as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response and the introduction of the Fitness for Human Habitation Bill, it is likely that these figures will be on the rise once more. This has left social landlords and housing providers scrambling to find viable solutions that can prevent properties from falling into disrepair.   

Adhering to recent government guidelines, many housing providers have been looking into increasing their use of technology in order to help manage the increasing demands of their portfolio of properties. In recent years our society has become increasingly more reliant on technology in order to function. People pay their bills online, appointments are booked via internet forms, and the use of social media has become a commonplace business practice. So it is no surprise that housing providers are looking more and more into technological advancements that could help solve common problems within their properties. However, when it comes to adopting digitized solutions, the housing sector has historically taken a cautious approach, instead choosing to favour the tried-and-true methods. 

But what happens when these practices prove themselves to be untenable? 

Changes To UK Housing Law And How This Affects Housing Providers

Landlords and Housing providers often rely on tenants to report issues within their properties. With the recent changes to Social Housing laws and the  Fitness for Human Habitation Bill coming into force, this has put an increased strain on landlords who are already struggling to manage their portfolios. 

Under new guidelines put forward as part of the FFHH act, housing providers are now immediately liable for any hazards found within the common areas of their properties regardless of whether or not a complaint has been made by residents. This is but one of many updated guidelines. With many landlords already juggling a large portfolio of properties, these new developments are a source of major concern. It is now easier than ever for tenants to level a disrepair lawsuit against their housing provider. The spread of Covid-19 has only served to aggravate this issue with residents more reluctant than ever to allow maintenance teams into their homes. As for tenants who are shielding due to a pre-existing condition or personal health concerns there are understandable fears surrounding visits from repair teams or landlords due to the risk they may pose to the resident’s health. In cases of severe disrepair, where renovations could require multiple visits, this hesitation only increases. Coupled with lockdown measures, landlords are therefore finding it harder and harder to gain access to their existing properties which leaves them increasingly liable for claims of disrepair and will lead to some costly settlements. 

According to Inside Housing, the standard cost of lawsuit settlement ranges between £1000 to £30,000 depending on whether or not the case has an associated claim for illness or injury. These figures don’t account for additional legal costs or insurance bills. While many claims put forward on behalf of residents are legitimate, there are growing concerns that the recent Covid-19 pandemic is being used by the Claims Management industry to pressure tenants into filing lawsuits against their landlords. 

But what can be done to minimize this risk?

Social Housing Providers are often forced to settle disrepair claims, even if they are unfounded, due to poor record-keeping. One answer to this is a move towards digitized data, which could help bridge the communication gap between social landlords and their tenants. We are living in an unprecedented age – one where in-person visits are more than just an inconvenience, now they pose a genuine health risk for both parties. By installing smart devices, such as the Smart Thermostat available here at Switchee, landlords have the ability to identify and monitor their most vulnerable properties remotely. 

These devices collect valuable data such as average temperature and absolute humidity rates of a property, allowing housing providers to identify their most at-risk homes and keep them from falling into disrepair without relying on the tenants to raise concerns. This greatly decreases the chances of legal action being levelled against housing providers. Smart Technology also gives landlords a greater sense of control. In the past housing providers have relied on written correspondence which is easily misplaced or ignored but technology can help strengthen the communication between landlords and tenants. 

How Technology Can Help Landlords Be More In Control Of Their Properties

Switchee’s Smart Thermostat is just one example of how technology can help reduce disrepair costs for landlords. Technology can be used to collect the data necessary to understand the conditions within the property and the danger that might pose. In Switchee’s case, this information can then be accessed by housing providers remotely giving them the opportunity to identify potential problems such as mould or damp and granting them a rare insight into their stock so that they can pinpoint patterns and problem behaviours. 

Throughout the pandemic, virtual landlords have become a popular phenomenon – one that is expected to continue, even after Covid-19 rates reduce. The Coronavirus pandemic has forced Housing Providers to make drastic changes to their business practices, ones that otherwise may not have been put in place, and while this does come with some difficulties it also holds a lot of benefits. Virtual viewings and digital check-ins are becoming commonplace. These advancements help ease things for residents, with digital surveys acting as a more flexible and relaxed arrangement, and for housing providers too. This 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. 

With this new reliance on virtual resources and digital data, housing providers are remotely able to minimize the risk of litigation and strengthen lines of communication between themselves and their residents. 

Read our guide on stopping disrepair in housingdisrepair-whitepaper-promo-min

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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