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 Dealing with damp and mould in social housing

Dealing with damp and mould in social housing



The news of the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old child who died from a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in his Rochdale home, highlighted the significance of dealing with damp and mould quickly and efficiently within social housing.

In 2023, four of Scotland’s leading housing organisations – ALACHO (Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers), CIH Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), and the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) – came together to provide Scotland’s social housing sector with a briefing note titled: Putting Safety First: a briefing note on damp and mould for social housing practitioners. This briefing note details best practice on how to respond to reports of damp and/or mould within social housing stock.

What are a landlord’s responsibilities when it comes to dealing with damp and mould, and what does the guidance say on how to avoid similar tragedies from occurring within the social housing sector in the future.

What is damp and mould?

As a basic standard, homes should be wind and watertight. Damp and mould can occur within a property in several ways such as issues with the structure of the building which allows water ingress, inadequate ventilation, and condensation being allowed to form through excess moisture in the air. Everyday activities such as cooking and drying clothes can also increase condensation if a home is not properly heated and/or ventilated which in turn can cause mould to form. The root cause of the damp and mould can often be a combination of different factors and sources. However, the results can be devastating and potentially fatal if left untreated. Mould spores can pose a danger to health, with children and older people being particularly vulnerable, as well as affecting people with existing respiratory conditions and weakened immune systems. These poor living conditions can lead to exacerbated respiratory problems, skin irritation, allergies and asthma attacks.

What are a landlord’s responsibilities?

Social landlords have a fundamental role in ensuring that they provide their tenants with housing that is safe to live in. If any issues do arise, landlords have an obligation to resolve issues effectively and promptly in homes which pose a danger to health and wellbeing. This includes any issues with damp and/or mould. Social landlords who let out their properties using Scottish secure tenancies are under a duty (both contractually in terms of the tenancy agreement and also under statute in terms of section 27 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001) to ensure that the house is, at commencement and throughout the duration of the tenancy, wind and watertight and in all other respects reasonably fit for human habitation. In determining whether a house passes this test, regard is to be had to the existence of any “sanitary defects”, which include lack of ventilation or dampness.

Housing in Scotland must also meet the “tolerable standard” which has been the principal measure of housing quality in Scotland for more than 40 years. It is a condemnatory standard, and any housing that falls below this standard is deemed to be unacceptable living accommodation. The Scottish Government has identified several factors which would classify a home as falling below the tolerable standard, and these include the presence of rising or penetrating damp, not being insulated to a high enough standard, and not having enough ventilation, natural and artificial light or heating.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (the “1987 Act”) imposes a duty on every local authority to “secure that all houses in their district which do not meet the tolerable standard are closed, demolished or brought up to the tolerable standard within such period as is reasonable in all the circumstances”. This duty is still in force, and the 1987 Act does not restrict this duty to any specific tenure of housing. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 introduced a strategic duty for local authorities to ensure compliance and ensures that local authorities adopt a strategic approach in dealing with houses that are below the tolerable standard.

How are cases of damp and/or mould recorded?

Landlords can only ensure that their housing stock meets the tolerable standard and the repairing standard set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 if they become aware of any issues, and as such, social landlords should encourage their tenants to report issues with damp and mould as soon as possible. While condensation can be created or exacerbated by daily activities carried out by the tenant, tenants should not be blamed for damp and/or mould developing in their property. With the current cost-of-living crisis tenants may be struggling to heat their homes, and with Scotland’s seemingly perpetual spell of wet and cold weather, tenants may be forced to dry wet clothes inside. The Briefing Note highlights the need to ensure that a professional approach is taken as it is the landlord’s obligation to ensure that a home meets the tolerable standard, and blaming tenants could cause them not to report issues early, leading to the problem getting worse and harder to fix.

Landlords should ensure tenants are encouraged to report any issues promptly, and that doing so is an easy process. Record keeping is also very important as it could highlight areas of concern with certain housing stock and identify a larger scale problem rather than individual tenancies. Landlords should also provide their tenants with information on the dangers of living in damp or mouldy conditions and provide information on how to minimise these risk factors where possible. Having a proactive response is the best way to tackle issues and avoid more costly problems further down the line, both in terms of financial cost and cost of the health of their tenants. All reported issues should be dealt with promptly, but special attention should be given where there is an identified risk factor such as children or older people living in the property. This means that staff training is essential, and the Briefing Note sets out a variety of case studies to provide practical examples of practices which social landlords have adopted in addressing the issue of damp and/or mould within their housing stock. If a tenant is unhappy with the landlord’s response, there should be an accessible complaints procedure which is easy to understand, access and use.


Reports of damp and mould within a property should always be taken seriously and dealt with promptly. The root cause of the issue should be identified, and the Briefing Note suggests that follow up is encouraged to ensure that the issue has been fully resolved. The best way for landlords to deal with damp and mould is to encourage tenants to raise issues when they arise and provide information on how best to mitigate any factors which may be contributing to the issue without laying blame on the tenants.

In March this year, the media reported that planning had begun to raise a major group action against social housing providers over lung conditions allegedly linked to black mould. This, along with the cost-of-living crisis meaning people are turning their heating on less often, and the devastating consequences seen in the case of Awaab Ishak, highlights that the issue is not only serious but prominent and the need for a proactive response is required to avoid further tragedy.


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