Social Housing: Helping the Vulnerable

Social housing, provided by local authorities and housing associations, enables the government to meet its goal that everyone should have access to an affordable, safe and good quality home. People who can’t afford a mortgage or a privately-rented property can turn to social housing to meet their long-term accommodation needs.

Usually considerably cheaper than private rented accommodation; social housing can also provide tenants with greater security from eviction. It is essential, helping the most vulnerable members of society.

Living room furniture

It has assisted more than 5.5 million households to find a decent place to live and helps to prevent homelessness. Whether you’re an older person, a key worker, a young family, or someone living alone, social housing can offer stability.

A survey by Inside Housing revealed 80% of respondents felt social housing was vital to help people on low incomes to find good-quality homes. In addition, 68% of respondents agreed it helped tackle poverty and 63% felt more social housing should be built across the UK.


Social housing regulations

Government regulations set the standards to ensure the properties remain in a good state of repair and provide everything tenants need. The quality of the accommodation is strictly monitored to ensure it meets the standards laid out in the Government’s Decent Homes Guidance.

Social landlords must provide a cost-effective maintenance and repairs service to homes and communal areas, responding to tenant needs quickly and adhering to mandatory health and safety requirements. The standards of social housing must remain the same throughout the tenancy as when the property was first built.

How does poor housing affect tenants?

Without social housing, finding a decent rented property on low income would be impossible for many people. Some tenants have lived in unsatisfactory conditions due to poorly-maintained homes in the private sector.

A report by Health, Social Care and Children’s Services cites the many problems of low-quality housing, most notably damp, leading to mould. Homes can be cold and draughty, often without central heating because of the high costs.Black mould © Burdun Iliya /

Data from the Housing Ombudsman, covering the 12 months up to the end of December 2020, revealed 31% of tenants’ complaints about faulty central heating, or a lack of hot water, were due to landlords not carrying out repairs on time. In addition, 17% of tenants complained about gas safety issues. However, the report also noted that in several areas, the majority of complaints related to a small number of landlords who had a large portfolio of social housing properties.

A social survey by Rentokil Property Care estimates more than five million UK tenants have lived in a damp rented property at some point. Of the 33% of tenants who contacted their landlord to resolve the problem, only 51% received assistance.

Electrical faults that aren’t fixed can make the home unsafe, while a dirty property, especially where communal areas aren’t cleaned, is unhygienic. Sometimes, too many tenants are crowded into the rooms, reducing privacy and stretching facilities. Shared bathrooms and poor ventilation can cause damp and unsanitary conditions, especially if the toilet or taps are not working properly.

Tenants who can’t afford to pay gas and electricity bills may not cook often, while unsafe electrical connections can render the cooker or microwave too dangerous to use. Broken lighting, including fluorescent strips, can lead to poor eyesight and accidents.

Damp kitchen cupboards or a faulty refrigerator can leave tenants with nowhere to store food. This can mean it goes off faster and can cause food poisoning.

Boiler breakdowns are another issue, yet the landlord is obliged to fix it under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Old pipes can leak or burst, especially in freezing weather in a poorly-heated house. Statistics show a frozen pipe has a 50% chance of bursting, causing water damage to the property and furniture.


What health impacts does this have on tenants?

No tenant should have to live in poor conditions, but in the case of families with babies, the older generation, people with disabilities and other vulnerable tenants, the health risks are more serious.

In the case of damp, unsanitary homes; respiratory problems and cross infection can result, leading to taking time off work or school, or in some cases feeling too ill to work at all. Elderly tenants in particular can fall victim to hypothermia, especially if they live alone. If people are using old electric fires to keep one room warm, this can increase the risk of a blaze.

It’s not only physical problems: stress, anxiety and mental health issues are worsened by poor physical health and poverty, while children are more likely to under achieve and have less opportunities in life. While young people face challenges as they transition to adulthood, those in poor housing conditions face even bigger hurdles.


Penalties for landlords

When landlords fail to adhere to the laws governing the condition of their rental properties, they can face stiff financial penalties in the magistrates’ court.

When houses fail to meet the legal minimum standard, fixed penalty notices can be issued that may run into thousands of pounds. For example, a landlord whose properties had damp and mould, weren’t cleaned, had no working smoke alarms and poor ventilation was fined a total of £12,500.

Another landlord convicted of offences under the Housing Act 2004 was fined £4,200, including for failing to repair a leak, causing the tenants’ floorboards to rot.

There are multiple different laws and Acts of Parliament governing rented and social housing in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, all with the same aim of protecting tenants’ wellbeing. The most recent update is the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitations) Act 2018 in England.


Social housing awards

While this paints a bleak picture of the sector, there are, of course, thousands of excellent social housing landlords out there. The annual UK Housing Awards recognise service excellence in the sector, with social housing providers who have sought to eliminate homelessness being recognised at the 2021 awards.

Working with 40 social housing providers across the UK and connecting with 500,000 tenants; winners included Voicescape, a company that provides software to help with everything from arrears collections to wellbeing checks.

Another winner: Optivo’s Increase Valorisation Sociale campaign supports social housing residents to become self-employed. It funds training for tenants in deprived areas to help them find work. It is currently helping 3,200 tenants, with 650 having already started their own business.

With modern innovations in managing social housing portfolios, the days of damp properties and an unhealthy environment are numbered.


Furnishing social housing

Let Us Furnish provides high-quality furniture for social housing, council housing and housing authorities.

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