Smart Home, Social Housing

How social landlords can use the IoT to ensure safe, decent and secure homes

As pressure mounts on social landlords to remain compliant with changing legislation, how can quick wins as opposed to quick fixes support a housing provider’s long-term digital transformation strategy?

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, is set to dramatically reform the housing sector to protect tenants’ lives and compel landlords to address problems rapidly.

Under the Act, the Regulator of Social Housing will proactively inspect landlords and be able to issue emergency repairs and unlimited fines. Other changes include giving tenants greater transparency about their landlord’s performance by introducing a new set of Tenant Satisfaction Measures.

As promised, the Social Housing Act also includes Awaab’s Law, providing more protection to residents in homes affected by damp and mould, with strict new time limits outlined for social landlords to investigate a reported problem.

In January 2024, the Housing Secretary launched a consultation on new requirements under ‘Awaab’s Law’, which unveils new plans to clamp down on social landlords who fail to provide safe and decent homes for their tenants. The consultation proposes new legal requirements for social housing providers to investigate hazards within 14 days, start fixing within a further 7 days, and make emergency repairs within 24 hours. Those landlords who fail to do so can be taken to court where they may be ordered to pay compensation for tenants.

Guidance on addressing the health risks of damp and mould in the home 

In guidance published by the government in September 2023, landlords are urged to take any notification of damp or mould in a property from a tenant seriously but are also urged to take a proactive approach to reduce the risk of damp and mould in properties.

Irrespective of whether a landlord owns one or multiple homes, government guidance stipulates a proactive approach should include:

  • having clear processes in place to document, manage and act on reports of damp and mould and to identify common issues and trends in their housing stock
  • understanding the condition of their homes and using this to adopt a preventative approach to dealing with damp and mould, making the necessary interventions to ventilation, energy efficiency and building deficiencies before damp and mould occur
  • understanding that some homes are more difficult to heat, either due to their energy efficiency or cost of living pressures, and that this can make damp and mould more likely to occur, landlords should consider what support they can provide or signpost tenants to
  • supporting tenants to understand what they can do to reduce damp and mould, where applicable and appropriate. This must never be a substitute for addressing the underlying causes of damp and mould
  • building relationships with health and social care and other frontline professionals supporting tenants to ensure that every opportunity to identify tenants living in homes with damp and mould is utilised, ‘making every contact count’
  • ensuring staff and any external contractors are aware of the significant health risks associated with damp and mould, the need to address the underlying causes of the issue and not just remove visible mould, are aware of any processes associated with reporting and addressing damp and mould, and understand the importance of being sensitive to tenants’ circumstances and vulnerabilities

The guidance also states landlords should look to build relationships with tenants, ensuring that tenants feel encouraged to report damp and mould. It is crucial a landlord “assesses the issue with urgency to identify its severity, and ensures that they always identify and tackle the underlying causes promptly, and with urgency when concerns have been raised about tenant health. Tenants should be informed about what is being done to resolve the issue and what the likely timescales for the work will be.”

A risk of rushing into quick fixes

smart approach to futureproofing homes

However, the new legislation in combination with growing waiting lists and placement times may cause social housing providers to embark on projects which lead to quick fixes and could result in only surface issues being treated.

For example, when addressing damp and mould, 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.

The additional pressure, along with poor advice and limited access to specialist knowledge can place providers and residents at risk of mould and damp reoccurring, resulting in additional time and strain on already-squeezed budgets.

Implementing immediate changes for impact

Instead of ‘quick fixes’, social landlords should consider what ‘quick wins’ can be implemented that complement a long-term digital transformation strategy to futureproof properties against continuing legislative and societal changes.

For example, FireAngel’s FA3328‑EUT: Temperature and Humidity Sensor with Carbon Monoxide Alarm records property environmental insight, such as temperature and humidity levels – the two principle indicators for damp and mould.

Using the free FireAngel Installer app, Sync-It™ (NFC technology) provides quick, quiet and contactless data extraction by holding a mobile phone over a FA3328 device to transfer and securely store logged property temperature and humidity recordings. Data can be viewed within the app, shared via email or downloaded as a PDF report for further action.

As a standalone device, this carbon monoxide alarm does not require any IoT infrastructure but still provides the insight housing teams require to be able to focus resource at properties that need it most, measuring the success of these corrective actions long-term.

A smart approach to holistic resident safety

Alongside these quick wins, the Internet of Things (IoT) can offer an alternative solution to help housing providers to futureproof properties. Carefully placed IoT sensors in residents’ homes can provide the safe, secure sharing of real-time property insight, allowing a much earlier opportunity to investigate and remedy potential problems.

As the laws on home safety continue to strengthen and the government considers the need for a standalone damp and mould standard for socially rented homes, data collected from smart sensors may also play a key role in maintaining compliance and identifying future regeneration projects.

When used efficiently, data collected from these sensors allows housing providers to allocate resource more effectively and pinpoint residents who may need further support, providing accurate information about where they might need to adopt different ventilation or heating practices, supporting compliance with the Tenant Satisfaction Measures.

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. And after any remedial work has taken place in a property, data can be monitored to ensure successful intervention has taken place.

Maintaining a long-term vision

The IoT also allows landlords to deploy a host of sensors in properties to create a holistic network of protection, detection and prevention. This includes smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, water leak detectors or motion sensors, enabling housing providers to create a technological ecosystem within each property that is scalable and expandable in the future to provide increased safety and reassurance.

FireAngel’s Home Environment Gateway delivers a holistic resident safety solution, encompassing fire safety, AI-driven risk stratification and background environmental monitoring with temperature and humidity sensors incorporated. Through additional Zigbee sensors, the solution takes resident safety and wellbeing to previously unachievable levels, enabling housing providers to prioritise condensation, damp and mould interventions and increase fire prevention measures for residents who need it most.

The gateway is ceiling mounted and occupies the same footprint of a smoke alarm. It can also be integrated with FireAngel’s Grade D1 alarms, so no additional wiring is required.

Collected data is uploaded to the FireAngel cloud platform Connected, where it can be processed to provide insight on the most vulnerable tenants and properties. Whilst Connected offers substantial insight via its dashboard, it also deploys open-source API code which allows full integration with a landlord’s current asset or resident management system if required.

For more information on how FireAngel’s environmental solutions could form part of your digital transformation strategy to ensure safe and healthy homes, please get in touch with our team of specialists.