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The Link Between Damp and Mould and Respiratory Health: A Wake-Up Call for Housing Providers

Are you a housing provider worried about the health risks associated with damp and mould in rented housing? In this blog post, we will delve into the topic of damp and mould and explore the understanding of the associated health risks, what the UK Government is planning and how Vericon can help you.

Identify and tackle the underlying causes of damp and mould, including building deficiencies, inadequate ventilation and condensation. Simply removing surface mould will not prevent the damp and mould from reappearing.

The UK government has released guidance for rented housing providers on understanding and addressing the health risks associated with damp and mould. This guidance covers key issues such as identifying and assessing risks, taking necessary actions to prevent and manage damp and mould, and ensuring the health and well-being of tenants. It provides detailed information on the causes of damp and mould, potential health effects on occupants, and best practices for effective remediation.

The guidance emphasises the importance of regular maintenance, proper ventilation, and timely repairs to prevent the buildup of moisture and subsequent growth of mould. Additionally, it highlights the responsibilities of landlords and the legal obligations they have to provide safe and healthy living conditions for their tenants. The aim of this release is to promote awareness, knowledge, and proactive measures to mitigate the health risks associated with damp and mould in rented housing.

"We urge landlords to read this guidance and adopt the best practices it sets out. This will protect tenants’ health and prevent avoidable tragedies like the death of Awaab Ishak happening to another family"

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The government is dedicated to ensuring a decent standard of housing for tenants in the social and private rented sectors. Legislative changes will be implemented through the Renters (Reform) Bill and Social Housing Regulation Act to enhance housing standards.

Key actions include:

  1. Introducing ‘Awaab’s Law’ to establish new requirements for landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould in social homes. These requirements will be enforced after a consultation, as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

  2. Granting new powers to the Housing Ombudsman and amending the law to enable social housing residents to file complaints directly with the Ombudsman.

  3. Reviewing and applying the Decent Homes Standard to private rented homes for the first time.

  4. Introducing new professionalisation standards that mandate senior housing staff to possess, or work towards, recognised housing management qualifications.

  5. Establishing the new private rented property portal and providing all private tenants access to an ombudsman in cases where their landlord fails to address legitimate complaints.

Health effects of damp and mould

Living in a house affected by damp and mould can have significant effects on both respiratory health and mental well-being.

Respiratory Effects:

Dampness and mould in a house can contribute to the development or worsening of respiratory conditions. When mould spores are inhaled, they can trigger allergic reactions or respiratory inflammation. This can lead to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience more severe symptoms when exposed to damp and mould.

In addition to allergic reactions, exposure to damp and mould can also increase the risk of respiratory infections. Mould can release substances called mycotoxins, which can irritate the respiratory system and weaken the immune response. This can make individuals more susceptible to infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

Mental Health Effects:

Living in a damp and mouldy environment can also have negative impacts on mental health. The visible presence of mould can lead to feelings of distress, as it may evoke associations with dirtiness or an unclean home. This can contribute to anxiety and stress, particularly for individuals who are concerned about their living conditions or the potential health risks associated with mould exposure.

Furthermore, the musty odor often associated with mould can also affect mental well-being. The smell can be persistent and difficult to eliminate, causing constant sensory stimulation that may be uncomfortable or irritating. This can lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, or even depression.

It's important to note that the extent of the respiratory and mental health effects may vary depending on factors such as the duration and intensity of mould exposure, as well as individual susceptibility. Nevertheless, it is recommended to address mould issues promptly and take steps to mitigate the risks associated with living in a damp and mouldy environment. This may include improving ventilation, repairing water leaks, and removing or remediation of mould-infested materials.

Housing conditions that increase tenants’ risk of living in a home with damp and mould

In England, housing stock varies significantly in age, design, and building materials, each presenting unique challenges regarding dampness and mould. Certain housing conditions place individuals at a higher risk of being exposed to these issues.

These conditions include:

  • Homes where residents are hesitant to open windows due to concerns about security, noise, or excessive outdoor air pollution.

  • Homes that lack proper insulation or have insufficient insulation.

  • Homes with inefficient and costly heating systems.

  • Homes that have poor ventilation.

  • Homes without adequate damp-proof courses.

  • Homes that are not well-maintained.

  • Overcrowded homes.

Landlords should take a proactive approach in investigating their housing stock for dampness and mould, particularly when their properties meet any of these criteria.

People who are most likely to face barriers to reporting damp and mould

Tenants may face barriers that make it difficult for them to report issues with damp and mould to their landlord. These barriers can be due to various reasons such as lack of knowledge, language or literacy barriers, communication difficulties, personal circumstances, unawareness of legal standards and housing rights in England, fear of eviction or discrimination, and more.

Some of the types of tenants who are likely to face barriers when reporting include:

  • People from ethnic minority backgrounds

  • Recent migrants to the UK within the past 10 years, including refugees and foreign students

  • Individuals experiencing homelessness and/or living in insecure tenures

  • People with learning disabilities and/or neurodiverse conditions like autism

  • Individuals living with mental health conditions

  • People dependent on alcohol and/or drugs

  • Individuals receiving welfare benefits

  • People residing in houses in multiple occupation (HMO)

  • Tenants in the private rented sector who are afraid of eviction

  • Individuals without diagnosed mental health conditions or registered disabilities, but with temporary or ongoing support needs.

Legal standards on damp and mould in rented homes

There are 5 main legal standards that relate to damp and mould in rented homes.

1. All homes must be free from hazards at the most dangerous ‘category 1’ level

The Housing Act 2004 is an important legislation that ensures properties are safe for occupants. It requires homes to be free from hazards at the most dangerous 'category 1' level. These hazards are assessed using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), which is a risk-based evaluation tool. It is crucial to address issues like mould and dampness, as they can pose health risks. To understand more about these issues, refer to the section below on 'Understanding damp and mould'.

In the context of HHSRS, a 'category 1' hazard means that individuals living in or visiting the property may require medical attention within a year. Local councils have the authority to take action when hazards at the 'category 2' level are identified. This ensures that properties are safe and suitable for habitation.

2. All homes must not contain conditions that are prejudicial to health

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives tenants and local councils powers to take legal action where homes contain a ‘statutory nuisance’, which includes where they are in such a state as to be prejudicial to health. To be a statutory nuisance, the damp and mould must be harmful to the health of the tenant or a nuisance.

3. All homes must not contain conditions that are prejudicial to health

New regulations in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which was added to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, require properties to be free from hazards that could make them unsuitable for living. These hazards include damp and mould that can cause harm to the occupants' health. If a property is deemed unfit for human habitation, tenants have the right to take legal action against their landlord under Section 9A and Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Landlords should respond promptly to repair complaints, although there is no specific deadline for completing the necessary remedial work. For damp and mould to be considered a statutory nuisance, it must either pose a health risk to the tenant or be generally disruptive.

4. Social housing specifically must meet the Decent Homes Standard (DHS)

To ensure compliance with the Decent Homes Standard, adequate measures must be taken to eliminate 'category 1' hazards in social housing. Additionally, the DHS mandates that social housing should be well-maintained and offer sufficient thermal comfort. Neglecting either the repair aspect or thermal comfort can lead to issues like dampness and mould. In cases where the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) identifies a provider's failure to meet these standards, they possess a range of legal enforcement powers at their disposal.

5. Privately rented homes must meet minimum energy efficiency standards.

Privately rented homes in England and Wales are required to meet the Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency standard outlined in the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) Regulations 2015. This means that all privately rented properties should have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of at least E, unless they are exempt. While the regulations primarily focus on energy efficiency, it's worth noting that an energy-efficient home is also less likely to suffer from issues like damp and mould, as long as it is adequately ventilated. The government has also expressed its intention to consult on improving the energy efficiency of social housing.

Complying with the standards

In order to meet the requirements, landlords of all types of tenure must ensure that their homes are equipped with the necessary measures to minimise dampness and mould. Landlords should regularly inspect their properties, promptly address any deficiencies, and establish a regular maintenance and management program.

Landlords are entitled to enter their properties under specific circumstances, with reasonable notice. These circumstances may include:

  • Conducting inspections to assess the condition of the premises.

  • Carrying out necessary repairs.

  • Accessing the property to provide services.

If a tenant reports dampness and mould, landlords should determine the source of the issue and whether any property defects are contributing to it. Subsequently, they should proceed with the appropriate remedial work. While there is no specific timeline for addressing dampness and mould, landlords should always respond promptly, prioritising tenant health when there is significant dampness or cause for concern.

Enforcing these standards

Local authorities are responsible for ensuring standards are upheld in privately rented properties and social housing owned by housing associations and other registered providers. If they come across category 1 damp and mould hazards, they are obligated to take enforcement action in accordance with the Housing Act 2004.

They also have the authority to take action for category 2 hazards. In cases where damp and mould are deemed a statutory nuisance, they can take action under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Environmental Health Practitioners within local authorities play a crucial role in identifying hazards and supporting enforcement of standards.

The Housing Act 2004 states that properties must be free from hazards at the most dangerous ‘category 1’ level, as assessed using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), a risk-based evaluation tool. This includes mould and all types of dampness. See below ‘Understanding damp and mould’.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA 90) contains the key provisions in relation to the management of controlled waste with which all universities and colleges must comply. Many of the provisions of the EPA 90 have been implemented by Regulations made by the Secretary of State. A number of these are dealt with in subsequent sub-sections.

Identifying and addressing damp and mould in your property

Damp is the accumulation of moisture in a property. It impacts building materials (such as walls, floors, ceilings, foundations) and/or home furnishings and belongings (such as carpets, curtains, wallpaper, furniture, and clothing). Aside from causing damage, damp can also foster the growth of mould and other microorganisms. Various factors can lead to dampness in homes. Regardless of the type of dampness (condensation, penetrating, rising, or traumatic), landlords bear the legal responsibility of addressing damp and mould and should collaborate with qualified professionals like Vericon.

Responding with urgency and sensitivity, and taking tenants’ needs into consideration

If there are visible signs of dampness in a building, such as mould, mildew odor, or water damage, including condensation, these indications are enough to suggest the necessity of addressing the problem in order to safeguard the tenants' health and prevent the issue from spreading.

When a landlord receives a notification from a tenant or another professional about damp and mould in a property, it is of utmost importance for the landlord to take the concern seriously. They should promptly assess the issue to determine its severity and ensure that they promptly identify and address the underlying causes when tenant health concerns have been raised. It is crucial to keep tenants informed about the steps being taken to resolve the issue and the expected timeline for the work.

Identifying the root causes of damp and mould

To address the underlying causes of damp and mould and prevent their recurrence, landlords must identify and rectify all sources of water damage and condensation, both inside and outside the home. It is important to note that there may be various causes, and addressing surface mould alone will not suffice. Landlords should collaborate with specialised contractors and involve the tenants, who possess valuable experience living in the property.

Addressing damp and mould

Using connected technology to monitor damp and mould can help reduce health risks, prevent property damage, and save you time and money.

Vericon MultiDot

Vericon smart sensors are strategically placed throughout the property to continuously monitor temperature, humidity, and air quality. Real-time data collected is analysed by Vericon's advanced analytics platform, which can detect early signs of damp and mould growth. By identifying these issues early on, preventative measures can be taken to avoid expensive repairs and potential health risks. Learn more about our powerful temperature and humidity monitoring.

Our technology enables remote monitoring and management, providing housing providers with real-time visibility into property conditions. This proactive approach to maintenance ensures that potential damp and mould problems are promptly addressed, improving overall living conditions for residents.

Vericon Systems is making a significant impact in tackling damp and mould in social housing in the UK. We now offer our solutions as Managed Services, where our team of experts analyses the data collected by Vericon Systems' devices. The insights provided empower you to make informed decisions from the outset.

With Connect, and the Ecosystem, we enable clients to carry out all three elements remotely; reducing cost, person to person contact and carbon footprint whilst improving efficiencies and remaining fully compliant.

Our Managed Services include standardised reports on damp and mould for both business and government reporting requirements. Our AI algorithms constantly analyse anonymised data across the system, leading to continuous improvement in their capabilities. Additionally, we offer a suite of customisable tools and apps to enhance resident happiness and engagement.

To learn more about how Vericon Managed Services can benefit your business, explore our Managed Services page. Alternatively, you can reach out to us directly by calling 01242 582 555 or by messaging Tony Cubitt.

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