Taking proactive action on black mould with technology supporting feet on the ground

By Deborah Matthews, Managing Director for MRI Living for Social Housing at MRI Software

The risks of black mould in social housing shot to the top of social housing agendas after topping the news across the UK for months. Black mould is nothing new to housing associations, local authorities and landlords but rises in the cost of living amid high energy costs over the past year has seen its damage to homes and the accompanying health hazards skyrocket – leaving many providers grappling for a solution.


A government report, Damp and mould in social housing: initial findings, published in the first quarter revealed that 3%-4% of the four million social housing homes in the UK – as many as 160,000 – have at least some notable damp and mould, with 1%-2% facing a severe problem. “These are not acceptable conditions for tenants to be living in,” the report stated.


In addition, research commissioned by MRI Software in late 2022 revealed that nearly a quarter of social housing residents (24%) were in energy bills arrears. The fact that such a large proportion were struggling to heat their homes through the winter adequately exacerbated the problem, leaving many with an ongoing issue that has left them susceptible to health problems – especially young children, the elderly and those with chronic conditions.


Despite housing providers working hard to address the problem, there is no quick fix. And efforts to meet the challenge can be hampered by sheer scale – providers may have up to 100,000 properties they are trying to monitor and maintain simultaneously. The fact is addressing the scourge of black mould is no easy task for social housing providers, most of which have extensive repair and maintenance backlogs that are often spread across ageing housing stock.


Flagging black mould early

It is not all doom and gloom, however. There are steps that social housing providers can take to create, in effect, an ‘early warning system’ for black mould. By tapping into integrated repair and maintenance solutions and the expertise of the teams using them, housing providers are better able to log, track, and manage black mould outbreaks before they get out of control – and even pre-empt them when serious damp issues are identified.


There are two primary types of black mould outbreak social housing providers need to deal with. The first is an isolated occurrence resulting from resident behaviour. For example, a resident could be regularly drying laundry in a poorly ventilated room without opening windows or turning on a fan. The second type is a more pervasive spread of black mould due to a structural issue across a number of homes within a housing estate, such as poor built-in ventilation.


What is critical for social housing providers is to get ahead of the problem by finding ways to address the problem proactively. In the first instance, they want to be able to respond fast to residents reporting black mould. But, more importantly, they want to be able to act before a black mould problem is even reported, whether in a single home or across several similar or linked properties. Furthermore, being able to identify at-risk properties based on their construction type or repair history enables providers to set up a regime of pre-emptive inspections.


Vigilance backed by the right tech is crucial

repair and maintenance teams become, in effect, the eyes and ears of the organisation because they work in common areas within buildings, and service individual apartments or houses. They are then ideally able to identify damp or mould outbreaks first-hand and log them before they can grow into a severe problem that impacts residents. Devices can also be used to proactively identify any problem areas prior to black mould appearing.


When the system is set up, any time there is a service or compliance task to be carried out, such as a boiler inspection or repair, these teams have the opportunity to capture information on mould and damp and act fast. For example, if they find black mould that is only a couple of inches wide, they can treat it with little delay before it becomes a larger patch that’s more complex and costly to deal with – or if they spot pre-mould damp, they can address the problem before mould even appears.


The key for maintenance and repair teams is to be vigilant whenever onsite at a property so they can be proactive. Critically, they also need the tools and processes the enable them to take effective action when they do spot black mould. In many cases, an integrated repairs and maintenance solution provides an effective first line of defence against damp and mould – equipping teams to create detailed follow-up actions, including identifying all at-risk properties, capturing data, and setting next steps.


Dealing with wider structural outbreaks

Repair and maintenance teams may also identify black mould outbreaks across not just one property but multiple homes, indicating that the problem is fundamentally a result of how the homes were built and not resident activity. Having the technology and data capture in place to track multiple instances of black mould enables resident-facing staff to look beyond localised cases. This type of broader view is critical to dealing with these more widespread black mould outbreaks.


Ensuring onsite teams have the integrated tech solutions necessary to gain a linked-up picture of the work that needs to be done across extensive property portfolios is essential, helping organisations to establish a proactive and long-term approach to structural outbreaks.


Solving a widespread mould issue may involve steps such as installing extractor fans or insulation across a building or set of houses to address or prevent further black mould problems. This type of solution becomes a planned project rather than a one-off repair.


More than ever, technology can play a critical role in empowering onsite teams to more proactively and effectively combat the spread of black mould. In addition to leveraging the software used to maintain properties, many social housing providers are increasingly deploying new solutions such as sensors and other IoT technology to automate aspects of damp and mould detection – further aiding those on the frontlines in the battle against this scourge.





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