In 2000, the Government set out a minimum standard of decency for social housing, requiring that it be: free from health and safety hazards; in a reasonable state of repair; with reasonably modern kitchens, bathrooms and boilers; and be reasonably insulated.
Fast forward 14 years and £1.6bn of investment has been made available by the Government to fund thousands of hours of refurbishment and retrofit works by local authorities and registered providers to bring their stock up to scratch.
However, our recent independent survey of tenants suggests that despite the investment that has been made, the majority are unaware their homes have been brought up to the Government standards.
One of the main concerns raised by the survey’s participants was a lack of sufficient insulation across existing social housing stock. In fact, 48% of those surveyed felt their homes didn’t have enough wall insulation, while a third believed their properties had little or no loft insulation. While the Decent Homes standards demand that properties be reasonably insulated, it appears that tenants aren’t necessarily aware of the measures that their landlords have already taken to ensure they’ve got a decent level of thermal comfort.
The survey highlighted that energy efficiency is a key issue for over 70% of tenants, with many believing they’d benefit from measures such as new double glazing (29%), a more economical boiler (28%), as well as improved insulation (51%). In many cases it’s likely that these concerns are a result of rising fuel bills and a greater awareness about improvement measures – thanks to campaigns for initiatives such as the Green Deal – rather than actual sub-standard insulation.
Despite the high level of investment that has been made to bring social housing up to standard, a third of tenants reported their homes were outmoded, with kitchens they believed to be more than 20 years old and bathrooms more than 30 years old.
While, based on the information from the HCA, it is highly unlikely that this is the case, expectations have changed markedly in the past few decades and house proud tenants may feel that their suites are looking a little worn around the edges. Smaller issues such as mould and mildew can creep in, particularly where ventilation is an issue, and nearly a quarter of tenants raised concerns that their walls and ceilings were under attack.
Low cost alternatives
For Local Authorities (LAs) and Registered Providers (RPs) then, it could be prudent to help tenants understand how they can keep their current facilities in the best condition possible, while also considering whether budget options such as replacing kitchen cupboard doors without replacing the units could improve the feel of older style kitchens. This may be a relatively low cost but high impact means of improving social housing tenants’ views on the aesthetics of their property.
There’s no doubt that the necessary refurbishment and maintenance has been undertaken so it is now paramount that the achievements of LAs and RPs are communicated effectively to tenants and future decisions are made with as much resident participation as possible for greater transparency going forwards.
While many RPs and LAs have actually brought in their own ‘enhanced’ versions of the Government’s standards, it seems many tenants aren’t aware that their properties are already above standard. Investing in better communication with tenants could not only improve the perceptions of their homes, but also encourage residents to take more responsibility for maintaining their properties and potentially extending planned maintenance cycles.
For many social housing landlords, Decent Homes was just the beginning of a long term solution in improving social housing stock. Having worked hard to bring their stock up to standard, they are now looking for more ways to improve their properties for tenants, and for a high number of them, this means looking to improve their buildings’ sustainability credentials.
Retrofitting ‘green’ measures into older properties can be challenging, but with the support of a specialist contractor, significant improvements can be made, particularly using the funding that is available through Ofgem’s Energy Companies Obligation initiative (ECO). Housing schemes across the UK are already benefitting from lower bills thanks to the installation of solar photovoltaics for example.
While it would be easy to assume at first glance that the research undermines the efforts made to restore social housing, we believe it is a case of mistaken perception over reality.
While a change in perception could be achieved with improved tenant communications, it is vital that LAs and RPs continue to ensure their existing stock is well maintained and continues to receive investment to take it beyond the Decent Homes fit-for-purpose standards and into a sustainable low carbon future.