Maintenance, Smart Home, Social Housing
Tenant safety, accessibility and rising maintenance costs are just some of the everyday challenges facing housing providers and their tenants. However, the Housing Ombudsman reports a 65% rise in complaints in 2021/22 compared with 2020/21, with 34% of complaints related to repairs.
Recent legislative changes, including the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 which empowered tenants to take legal action against landlords they believe aren’t maintaining their property to meet minimum standards of human habitation, have resulted in a surge in disrepair claims against housing providers. News reports are documenting how law firms representing housing providers are increasing their workforces, while data from local councils shows that in England alone landlords have paid out at least £45 million to settle tenants’ claims about maintenance issues.
And with the Renting Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) (Wales) Regulations 2022 coming into effect in December 2022 as part of The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, it’s likely the number of disrepair claims from tenants will continue to rise.
The Housing Ombudsman’s 2021 report, ‘Spotlight on Damp and Mould; It’s Not Lifestyle’, asked landlords to be proactive in identifying homes that have or may be at risk of developing problems rather than putting the onus on residents to report an issue. This follows guidelines outlined in the Charter for Social Housing white paper, where further pressure was placed on housing providers to offer high-quality, safe homes in good repair – including tackling any complaints fast and efficiently.
Nick Rutter, co-founder and chief product officer, FireAngel, said, “Anti-mould wall coatings and regular roof and gutter maintenance only go so far, and cavity or external wall insulation can increase problems if installed incorrectly. This is particularly problematic for social housing providers.
“As waiting lists and placement times get longer by the day, there’s intense pressure on housing providers to fix problems quickly and move new tenants in. This, along with poor advice and limited access to specialist knowledge, can lead to only superficial issues being treated, leaving both housing providers and residents at risk of problems recurring.”
In the last three months of 2021, the condition of properties was the most complained-about issue by tenants to the Housing Ombudsman. In a recent report, it identified 26 recommendations for landlords to implement, including using a “data driven, risk-based approach” to help identify hidden issues and anticipate and prioritise interventions before a complaint or disrepair claim is made.
But for many already stretched housing teams, the idea of introducing new data-driven, digital systems to manage hundreds if not thousands of properties, can feel like a daunting task.
There are a variety of simple solutions available that provide cohesive maintenance for residents. Unobtrusive IoT sensors can be easily installed to provide specific real-time data on a property’s environment, creating a holistic view of all properties. These sensors allow a much earlier opportunity to investigate and remedy potential problems with minimal disruption to
Analysing the data for trends and patterns can show housing providers which regions or properties are particularly prone to problems, such as damp and mould, and ensure those properties have the right infrastructure and support. Maintenance visits can be prioritised and residents identified who may benefit from referrals to support groups if they need further help.
Rutter said, “Installing IoT sensors in properties allows housing providers to deliver tailored advice to relevant tenants and provide accurate information about environments that could lead to a fault or issue.
“Smart sensors can also provide a clear audit trail, recording accurate and regular environmental readings specific to each property and room. Since the data captured can be analysed remotely, there is less need for intrusive onsite investigations. As the laws on home safety continue to tighten, data collected from IoT sensors may also play a role in future regeneration projects.”
Landlords can also remotely monitor interlinked smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms to access status updates. Combined with data from IoT sensors, information can be presented as actionable, manageable insights in a cloud-based dashboard. If the system detects a problem, it could connect to the maintenance team’s schedule to automatically book an appointment with the most suitable operative, helping to take the pressure off housing teams and reduce unproductive appointments.
Through open protocols, additional data could be integrated from appliances and other smart devices in properties to enable the prediction of breakdowns and automatic appointment scheduling to pre-empt any tenant complaints. Routine maintenance visits could therefore only be scheduled when necessary, ensuring cost efficiencies and more streamlined services for residents.
Connected dashboards can also log photographs of installations in a property, complying with Hackitt’s ‘golden thread of information’ on a building and to ensure all work and repairs are recorded. These installation images and location identifiers also help maintenance teams before any visit.
With a rise in disrepair cases against landlords and a demand for more energy-efficient housing, harnessing the power of IoT solutions allows housing teams to monitor multiple layers of data within their current budget parameters to provide more efficient maintenance services. As the expectation for more intelligent homes grows, properties that have a smart infrastructure will be more agile, responsive and cost-effective.
By using data to identify predicted breakdowns, scheduled replacements and day-to-day repairs, tenants will receive a more dynamic service tailored to their needs. Replacing reactive maintenance with proactive prevention will see landlords provide a more joined-up service, seamlessly exchanging data for action to deliver safer, healthier and happier homes.