Tackling damp and mould in council homes

Our statement on damp and mould, chief executives letter to the regulator.

The council takes the issue of damp and mould in its council homes very seriously.

Following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak in Rochdale, the council’s leader Cllr Peray Ahmet issued a joint statement on damp and mould assessment with Cllr Dana Carlin, Cabinet Member for Housing Services, Private Renters and Planning on 1 December 2022. The statement set out the actions the council was taking to assess and address serious cases of damp and mould.

Along with all other councils, we were contacted by the Housing Regulator as a result of Awaab Ishak’s case, on 1 November 2022. We were asked to provide an assessment of the most serious cases of damp and mould in our properties.

On 19 December 2022, we provided an initial estimate of our most serious cases in response to the Housing Regulator. Based on the information we had at the time, we reported an estimated 64 ‘category 1’ cases, although we explained that problems with gaining access to these properties meant we couldn’t verify this figure.

We provided a more accurate assessment in March 2023, in response to a follow-up request for information from the Regulator. This confirmed the number of ‘category 1’ cases to be nearer 10 and set out further actions we are taking. These include:

  • setting up a new process for managing damp and mould cases
  • a dedicated email address to make it easy for tenants and leaseholders to report damp and mould problems

Read more about our Service Improvement Plan for Housing (PDF, 28MB) (from page 203).

Letter from the chief executive to the housing regulator

Chief Executive
Andy Donald

Date: 10 March 2023

Kate Dodsworth
Director of Consumer Regulation
Regulator of Social Housing
Level 1 A - City Tower
Piccadilly Plaza
Manchester M1 48T

Dear Kate

Assurance in relation to damp and mould issues in tenants’ homes.

We write in response to your letter dated 24/02/23 regarding the information we submitted on damp and mould issues in tenants’ homes in response to your survey in December 2022.
Our initial data analysis returned a figure of 64 possible damp and mould category 1 cases which, as noted in your letter, would represent a high prevalence of category 1 cases of damp and mould in our housing stock.

As set out in our response in December, we analysed the following datasets to create a predictive data model of the most at-risk properties:

  • Stock condition surveys where HHSRS damp and mould hazards had been identified.
  • Reported repairs data over the last two years for properties where the job included damp and mould issues; properties where mould wash has been undertaken; properties where a repair for leaks, roofing and plumbing jobs had been reported.
  • All open and closed disrepair cases, Ombudsman cases, Elected Members enquiries and complaints relating to damp and mould in assessing properties in the past year.
  • Data on properties identified as having structural defects which could increase the chances of damp and mould.
  • Properties where the EPC rating is below Band C as damp and mould is more likely to be prevalent in less energy efficient stock.
  • Resident information including vulnerability flags relating to age and disability, family make up and potential overcrowding.

We took this worse-case scenario and risk-based approach to assessing damp and mould prevalence as we wanted to ensure we minimised the possibility of missing any cases that had not been reported recently. Our submission in January was unable to confirm that there were 64 failures and set out that we needed to visit these properties to confirm if they were category 1 failures.

As promised in our earlier response, we began a programme of urgent visits to the properties identified by our predictive model, in order to carry out inspections, arrange urgent remedial works and take any other steps needed to ensure the safety of residents in these properties.

We have now visited and assessed 62 of the 64 properties identified as potential category 1 cases and can now confirm that only 10 of these were confirmed as category 1 cases by an HHSRS qualified surveyor, and these are all being actively managed with remedial works in progress. For the 2 properties from the original 64 that we haven’t been able to visit there are specific access issues that we are working to address.

We have also identified 4 additional category 1 cases that weren’t included in our original submission, and we are actively managing these through the provision of remedial works.

Update on levels of category 1 cases of damp and mould

The updated assessment of the cases previously reported is now as follows:

  Potential Category 1s reported
Dec 22 submission to the Regulator 64
No. of properties visited and assessed 62
No. of properties that we have been unable to inspect due to access issues 2
No. of confirmed Cat 1s identified and being actively managed with works in progress 10
No. of confirmed Cat 2s from indicative 64 reported 31
No. of properties confirmed as having no issue 21
  • Of the 62 properties that have been assessed by an HHSRS qualified surveyor:
    • 10 of these were confirmed as category 1 cases and these are all being actively managed with works in progress.
    • 31 were confirmed as category 2 cases and are being prioritised for work in line with the timescales set out in our earlier response.
    • 21 were confirmed as having no current issue relating to the presence of mould and associated risks (with past issues identified having been resolved primarily as a result of previous earlier work undertaken).
  • The two properties not yet visited / inspected are as a result of access issues though one of these now has an inspection date booked in.
  • Of the above 10 confirmed category 1 cases, we are working with the residents to agreed schedules of work, with actions including mould washes, provision of dehumidifiers and other remedial works identified and being progressed.
  • We have also identified 4 additional category 1 cases that weren’t included in our original submission and we are actively managing these through the provision of remedial works.
  • All of these properties will have post inspections arranged following completion of works, a follow-up post-inspection call at three months and a post inspection visit at six months, as set out in our new process.

We set out below our responses to the further information that you have requested from us.

1. The plans in place to manage this level of damp and mould within a reasonable timeframe.

In addition to the operational response delivered to assess the extent of damp and mould and manage the confirmed cases set out above, we have established a detailed damp and mould action plan and are making good progress against identified actions.

This includes:

  • We have developed a new Damp and Mould policy that clearly sets out our adoption of a 'zero tolerance approach to damp and mould', drawing on the recommendations in the Ombudsman report, and the updated policy is going for sign-off to Council Cabinet in April 2023. The policy is supported by a newly developed damp and mould process to reflect our new approach and ensure cases are identified and managed through to completion.
  • We have established a damp and mould email address that has been responding to new cases being reported and customer service and other staff are responding to enquiries and passing these on to our repairs service to be followed up under the new process established.
  • We have updated our decant policy and have developed a new decant process to ensure this fully supports any decants required as a result of severe damp and mould.
  • Training has been provided to surveyors and we are providing further HHSRS training to a wider range of staff to develop their knowledge and competency in this area.
  • Staff visiting properties have been tasked with looking for and identifying damp and mould issues and reporting these back, and our vulnerability visit approach and associated procedural documents have been updated to support this.
  • We have updated our communications approach to ensure residents have all the information they need about damp and mould issues, and reporting, through our tenants and leaseholders’ magazine and our website. We reviewed all of this information to ensure the right tone was used and to ensure effective guidance is being provided.
  • We have established a damp and mould case tracker that requires manual updating and are working towards the move to an automated case management system. While all of the other above identified actions have either been delivered or are due for completion in the next couple of months, the procurement of a new case management system is likely to take from six months to a year.

We also have a number of ongoing long-term actions that were already in place that will continue to mitigate damp and mould risk:

  • Since April 2021, a RICS registered practice has been undertaking stock condition surveys of our properties, which at the end of their commission will mean that 100% of our rented stock and blocks will have been surveyed. HHSRS hazards, (including damp and mould) are identified when these surveys are undertaken. Category 1 and category 2 hazards are prioritised for immediate action by our repairs service and the survey data feeds into investment planning which is used to prioritise work to homes that includes steps that will reduce incidence of damp and mould.
  • The council has plans in place for retrofitting its housing stock which will help mitigate some issues linked to damp and mould, such as reducing heating demand and improving health benefits. Works will include insulation and replacement heating systems. The target is to bring all council housing stock to an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of Band B by 2035. The Council will be putting an appropriate ventilation strategy in place to ensure we mitigate the risk associated with retrofit, namely thermal bridging, of an increase in damp and mould.

2. Any challenges anticipated that may stand in the way of the effective delivery of those plans.

We recognise that there are a number of challenges that stand in the way of effectively delivering those plans and we are working to address these:

  • It has been a challenge to expand our in-house surveying team to undertake the volume of surveys required at pace due to the high levels of demand in the sector for specialist surveyors. We are making use of external consultants to remedy this and are providing additional HHSRS training to a wider range of staff.
  • As an organisation with stock which was in the main built before the 1980s, there is a significant amount of spending already earmarked to undertake surveys and carry out fire safety works to our blocks. The council is committed to ensuring that all our stock meets EPC B by 2035 and until the recent changes had sufficient funding to ensure that the stock would meet Decent Homes. We have identified £500 million of spend is required on our properties to deliver this work in the next 5 years. The below interest rate rent cap combined with the increased cost of borrowing, currently means that the council will have to make some hard choices about where to prioritise our investment over the next few years unless additional Government Funding is made available given the increased financial pressures on the Housing Revenue Account.
  • We recognise that we need to continue to improve our ongoing management of damp and mould and are prioritising the move to an automated case management system to support this.

3. The role of the organisation’s leadership, including its Board [Councillors], in overseeing delivery.

The organisation’s leadership and Councillors are taking significant steps to ensure we deliver quick improvements in housing service delivery and property compliance, including damp and mould. The work to ensure the organisation’s leadership takes an effective role in overseeing delivery includes:

  • We established a cross council working group in November to ensure we had a joined-up approach to damp and mould, with senior management representation from Housing, Environment, Adults, Children’s, and our Corporate Support Services.
  • The chair of this group ensured there were regular updates to senior leadership of the council and weekly briefings to the lead member for Housing, and wider briefing of Councillors.
  • We have also created a new cross-party Housing Improvement Board, which is chaired by the Chief Executive, which will link into a Housing Improvement Members Forum, and this will monitor progress against a new Housing Improvement Plan that will include reporting of progress against key strands including repairs and damp and mould.

Our decision as a Leadership team to refer ourselves to the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) shows that we are committed to ensuring we have the benefit of your independent oversight and are being transparent about the improvements we are putting in place.

We hope the above information reassures you that we are taking significant action to respond to damp and mould cases in our housing

Yours sincerely

Andy Donald
Chief Executive

Chief Executive
2nd Floor, Alexandra House
10 Station Road

T 020 8489 2616
E Andy.Donald@haringey.gov.uk