Solving mould and damp is a partnership – it starts with trust.

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When damp and mould appear in social housing, it can spell disaster. Landlords and tenants can struggle to understand the causes of moisture. Is it the quality of the building, the quality of the repairs or simply tenants’ daily cooking, washing, or bathing habits that are the cause of the problem?

Without data, both sides will draw conclusions, which can lead to conflict. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Solving mould and damp is a partnership. Both sides need to develop trust, and technology can help.

Causes of damp.

Zurich Insurance reports that 40% of water damage claims in the social housing sector are slow leaks. A third are caused by poor workmanship and shoddy repairs.

Cornerstone, a forensic building analytics and surveying firm, discovered that 91% of the 3500 properties they had surveyed for mould and damp. They found that lack of knowledge in the trade teams and the tenants about how moisture builds up over time was to blame.

The causes of damp are simple to spot if you understand the science. Previously, this was expensive, so people relied on intuition, not transparent information. Landlords and tenants would introduce fixes without understanding the root of the problem.

If, or in many cases, when the fix fails, both sides become frustrated – and the damp worsens. The financial impact can be massive, with repairs costing providers at least £55m in the last five years

Damp can also damage health, contributing to a range of conditions. Tenants have a right to live in a damp-free property, and landlords must provide them. Everyone wants the same thing, so why do they often work against one another?

Culture of conflict.

Anyone who has worked in social housing understands this scenario:

Why can’t they fix the damp first time? Ask tenants.

Why don’t they just open a window? Why can’t they use the heating correctly? Ask landlords.

Both sides are operating with imperfect information, and that leads to each apportioning blame. And where there’s blame, there’s a claim. Type mould and damp into Google, and the first five results are for lawyers. If a tenant initiates litigation against a landlord, then trust is lost

Neither side wants the expense and emotional impact of a court case. What must happen to prevent frustration from accelerating to compensation so quickly? Would a more trusting relationship enable better resolution?

Absolutely, and here’s how we did it.

Partnering providers, engaging tenants.

Awaretag worked with partners including Leeds City Council, Ground Doctor, CSE, Cornerstone, CIVICA, Government Digital Services and the tenants of Leeds to create a consenting, data sharing and data privacy environment that promoted trust and inclusion. 

We had a shared belief that data monitoring could help us all work as partners to tackle damp. So, we brought together tenants, landlords, repairs teams, strategy teams, tenant engagement teams, and third sector providers to create a solution.

We started by identifying the barriers to trust and how we could break them down – the technology came second. Together, we sought to understand the prevailing biases and their impact on the circles of trust.

We asked how each individual or organisation dealt with an issue. Who did they blame, and who did they turn to for support? We wanted to know where people would seek information and advice. What sources did they trust, and whom would they ignore?

Each audience had different motivating factors, but there was a shared belief that damp was a problem that needed to be solved. Solving it together was better than working alone.

This wasn’t a tabletop exercise but an opportunity for us to identify problems and solve them.

In one example, we identified damp in a flat using our remote technology . We discussed the issue with the tenant, and it became clear that she couldn’t afford to heat the property but was too embarrassed to say.

Instead of blaming her or shaming her, we worked together with the partners to developed tailored solutions to support her. She worked to restructure her debt, enabling her to afford to heat her home, keeping her warmer and the property drier. The outcome was a property free of damp and a tenant who maintained her dignity.

Information creates certainty and efficiencies.

Support and solutions can also be implemented at a system level. We worked with repair teams to introduce more accurate data into their schedules. Instead of relying on intuition and instinct, we gave them the information to act – ensuring repairs were cost-effective and had the most significant impact.

Working with repair teams and CIVICA, we took a deep dive into five years of historical repair data. We aimed to identify patterns between historic repairs and future problems. 

We wondered whether our technology is accurate enough to instruct appropriate trades to attend a property. If we identified mould and damp symptoms early enough, could targeted guidance and assistance reduce or even remove the need for repairs?

The answer is a reassuring and resounding yes.

One of our partners has seen an incredible impact from our partnership.

“The project has helped us understand more about areas of repeat repairs and some of the ‘repair or replace’ decisions we make, particularly around damp and mould issues and actions that we might take at the first point of contact.  We think there are some significant cost savings we can achieve in the future, and the potential to improve customer satisfaction is exciting.”

“We found that some tenants are happy to seek help from some of our 3rd sector partners or do something themselves before coming to us, and we are now able to build on this as part of our tenant engagement strategy.  It was good to see that some of the volunteers were tenants with lower contact rates, and they felt confident enough to work with the team, third sector organisations and us to put things right.”

“This project has delivered technology to help identify the difference between building performance and behaviour.  Presenting the data in this way is incredibly valuable.  A zero-touch solution creates opportunities for us to make our services more efficient and effective.  As we come out of the pandemic and head toward a fuel crisis, we will start to look at how we apply our resources differently and work closely with partners to continue delivering high service levels.  “We see this technology will play a part in those plans.”

Adam Crampton and Rob Goor, Leeds City Council Property Management

We believe data needs to promote inclusion. Information can build trust between tenants and landlords by providing an accurate picture that everyone can agree on. In a partnership, trust becomes normal – and technology can help you achieve it.

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