With Covid-19 in full swing in the UK, it has brought with it a number of unexpected effects on affordable housing both in terms of the day-to-day operations of housing providers as well as residents. Health and wellbeing issues that were barely manageable before the crisis have now taken a significant turn for the worse as housing providers struggle to provide the services that the most vulnerable need without being face-to-face.
What were the problems?
According to government statistics, even prior to the current Pandemic, approximately 4 million UK households were in fuel poverty and living in cold, damp and unsafe homes. The effects of such can be detrimental to people’s health, quality of life and wider communities. This includes negative impacts on physical and mental health, increased social isolation, poorer educational attainment and reduced economic productivity. Our health services already spend £3.6 million every day treating the effects of fuel poverty and 15,000 of the 50,100 excess winter deaths last year were attributed to cold homes.
Indoor air is also important because populations spend a substantial amount of time within buildings. In residences, day-care centres, retirement homes and other special environments, indoor air pollution affects population groups that are particularly vulnerable due to their age or health status. Microbial pollution involves hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi that grow indoors when sufficient moisture is available. Exposure to microbial contaminants is clinically associated with respiratory symptoms, allergies, asthma and immunological reactions.
How is Coronavirus going to affect this?
As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, UK households are being massively impacted; with most households adopting new working practices, the implementation of Stay at Home rules and reduced family incomes. As a result, we are all now more vulnerable to the effects of increased condensation, damp and mould within our homes. Families are under incredible pressure to heat their homes for longer, inevitably putting more strain on the family income at a time when most families can least afford to pay. With increased unemployment or a reduction in their incomes as a direct result of being paid via Furlough job retention scheme - this will only get worse.
As part of our national effort to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak it is vital that local authorities, landlords and tenants work together to keep rented properties safe. This means that during this time it may be harder for housing providers to carry out their usual work. Inspecting properties and taking remedial action may be affected by issues around resources and accessibility due to safe working practices, social distancing and the lack of resources due to staff and tradespeople self-isolating.
How is this going to affect housing providers?
Housing Providers in both the social and private rented sectors may also find it harder to comply with their legal obligations for the same reasons, as housing inspectors and surveyors are affected by these challenges like everyone else. Effective enforcement of standards in rented properties relies on housing officers visiting rented properties, conducting inspections and investigations, giving behavioural change advice and doing reactive and planned maintenance.
Even though housing providers currently have powers of entry which would be used in normal circumstances to gain access and carry out inspections - during this current period housing providers are going to have to update their working practices. This includes responding to emergency repairs rather than conducting proactive or planned maintenance. However, they must ensure their health and safety policies are up to date and cover officers carrying out inspections and visits during this period. These policies should inform the updated enforcement policies.
Despite the challenges society is facing, a housing provider’s legal duties under the Homes Fitness for Human Habitation legislation will remain the same. This is where the use of sensor technology, like Switchee, may be able to help. Many housing providers have been adopting and installing Switchee within their housing stock. IoT sensor technology is capable of remotely identifying homes suffering from condensation, damp and mould and other imminent risks to a tenant’s health. These insights and alerts are enabling front line staff to effectively and efficiently resolve issues remotely.