Disrepair has always been a topic of concern for housing providers, with the estimated cost of disrepair suits reaching between £1000-£30,000 (and that’s before you consider the additional legal costs). With budgets already tight, the rising risk of litigation due to disrepair has housing providers desperately searching for answers. Compensation claims are by no means a new thing. If an issue is raised by a tenant and the provider fails to deal with it in an effective and timely manner, then compensation is both expected and deserved. However, in recent years and more so in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of disrepair is rising, leaving providers increasingly vulnerable to costly disrepair claims.
But what is the reason for this sudden rise in disrepair rates?
The truth is, there is no one reason but rather a culmination of reasons. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictions, housing providers have had a tough time accessing their properties due to the potential health risk it poses to residents and landlords alike. This has led to a surge in household complaints. This, coupled with the recent introduction of Fitness for Human Habitation in England, has put providers in a difficult position.
The way Social Housing is governed in the UK differs in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In England, housing providers are governed by the 2018 Fitness for Human Habitation act. Scotland is regulated by a separate act, the Housing Act of 2006, which holds a lot of similarities to the FFHH act with only a few minor discrepancies. Finally, Northern Ireland is overseen by the Certificate of Fitness system, which dictates that all properties must be inspected by the local council to determine liveability within the first 28 days of a tenancy. The one thing all of these acts have in common is that they each lay out the areas that housing providers are responsible for maintaining.
This explicit outline has led to a rise in ‘claim farming’ according to Inside Housing. With ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors preying on vulnerable social housing tenants, pushing them to deny scheduled repairs and then pursue a claim against their landlords. This greatly impacts social housing providers, more so than private landlords, as tenants need not fear retaliation as they might do within the private rental sector. Barrister Peter Marcus claims that while FFHH is ‘a very good piece of legislation’ it is currently being exploited by a slew of ‘predatory solicitors’ looking to achieve an easy pay-out at the expense of vulnerable residents and social housing providers. Without clear avenues of communication, housing providers are unable to fight back against mounting disrepair claims leaving them in a tough spot financially. This is where technology can be of help.
In the past year, the way we interact with technology has changed. Housing Providers are now realising the benefits that digitisation holds and are integrating it into their day-to-day work approach. Over the years we’ve seen a surge in technology adding impact to our everyday lives, allowing for online transactions and access to information. With Covid-19 making traditional methods of communication untenable, housing providers have had to search out new ways to ensure that their properties are maintained to a high standard, and many have found an increased reliance on technology to be the answer.
Through the implementation of technology, like Switchee, housing providers can analyse the conditions of their properties remotely and at their own convenience. This allows them to identify at-risk properties and prioritise them for maintenance. One benefit of smart technology is that it allows providers to keep track of attempted repairs and maintenance work, reducing the risk of litigation and giving providers a greater chance of fighting back against ‘claim farming’ as a practice thus saving themselves money in the long run.