Introduced as part of many anticipated reforms to the housing sector, the Fitness for Human Habitation act was designed to protect vulnerable residents and ensure all social homes meet with the outlined government standard. In an attempt to empower residents and give them more recourse when it comes to cases of disrepair, the Fitness for Human Habitation act has laid out specific criteria about what constitutes a violation. However, this had led to an outpouring of concern from landlords and housing providers across the social housing sector.
The 2018 Fitness for Human Habitation act has put housing providers under increased strain by expanding on what constitutes disrepair making it easier for tenants to file legal claims against their provider. This has led to an increase in ‘claim-farming’ where residents are encouraged to report their home as ‘unfit’ or claim that it violates current guidelines laid out by the Fitness for Human Habitation bill. In doing so, providers may be left facing large settlement costs, oftentimes ranging between £1000 to £30,000, that eat into their overall budget and that is before taking into consideration the associated legal costs (i.e., the hiring of legal counsel). Furthermore, a lot of social housing providers are not adequately insured against this, meaning that they face even more financial pressure.
So, what can providers do to mitigate the risk of litigation?
The best way for providers to combat claims of disrepair within their properties is to embrace digitisation. By leaning into technological solutions, housing providers can effectively manage the increasing demands of their housing stock and ensure that any issues are addressed.
Technology allows housing providers to amass data on their properties, this gives them the chance to identify any potential problem areas before they take root. Where in the past providers were typically forced into paying out on disrepair claims – regardless of whether or not they were unfounded – due to a lack of clear record keeping, a move toward increased data collection could help prevent unnecessary pay-outs. Technology can keep track of each communication between housing providers and their residents, making it easier to see how providers have tried to combat reports of disrepair within their properties. This greatly decreases the chances of legal action being levelled against housing providers and gives providers a greater sense of control over their stock.
Other digital solutions, such as the Smart Thermostat offered here at Switchee, can help prevent disrepair claims by preventing disrepair in its earliest stages. The Smart Thermostat collects data on the humidity and overall temperature of a property and communicates this to housing providers by uploading it to a secure server that can be accessed remotely. This gives providers and maintenance teams the ability to implement proactive solutions to any potential issues before they have a chance to spiral out of control. This minimises disruption to residents and reduces the overall repair costs for housing providers. In Switchee’s case, the smart thermostat grants providers a rare insight into their stock and gives them the ability to pinpoint patterns and problem behaviours across individual homes.
The Fitness for Human Habitation may put housing providers under increased pressure, but it does also help ensure that all residents’ have access to a safe and comfortable home. By embracing technology and collecting digitised data, providers can remain proactive in their work approach and make sure that all of their homes fall in-line with the current government policy, thereby reducing the risk of litigation and boosting resident satisfaction levels.