Damp Housing

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

I thank Foysul Choudhury for bringing forward the motion and I thank members for their thoughtful contributions, which I will touch on later.

The tragic death of Awaab Ishak in a housing association property in Rochdale in 2020 highlighted the issue of damp and mould in housing to everyone across the United Kingdom. Nobody should live in substandard accommodation. Today, we have heard from various members that decent housing is a human right. Nobody should lose their life due to the condition of their home.

The Scottish Government takes—I take—the issue very seriously, and I will touch on some of the points that have been raised in that regard. The Government is committed to tackling disrepair and driving a culture in which good maintenance is given a high priority. The condition of homes in Scotland has been improving due to the action of this Government, but there is no doubt that we need to quicken that action. We recognise that there is much to do to ensure that everyone has the same chance to live in a high-quality home.

Earlier this week, the First Minster was clear in setting out that this Government’s work will be defined by three distinct and interdependent missions. Those missions are centred on the principles of equality, opportunity and community. Housing plays a key part in that and it has a vital role in delivering on those principles.

All homes in Scotland must meet the minimum tolerable standard. We have heard that 40,000 homes do not meet that standard, which is 40,000 homes too many. Local authorities are required to have a strategy for ensuring that all homes that do not meet the tolerable standard are improved, and they have broad powers to assist home owners to ensure that their properties meet that standard. In the rented sector, there are additional standards that must be met.

In the social rented sector, the standard of homes has improved since we introduced requirements to meet the Scottish housing quality standard in 2012. The Scottish Housing Regulator is responsible for monitoring and reporting on social landlords’ performance against the Scottish social housing charter. Social landlords are required to have a clear complaints process, and where a tenant is dissatisfied with the response of their landlord, they are able to escalate the issue to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Given the severity of the issues that have been identified in social housing in England, it was right to take urgent action here in Scotland. The Scottish Housing Regulator immediately wrote to all social landlords to ask them to consider the systems that they have in place for dealing with damp and mould and what work they have done. The SHR has since worked with the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to produce updated guidance. I hope to meet all those organisations in the near future and will raise the issue with them. I am pleased that the sector is taking action and working together to tackle the issue.

Foysol Choudhury mentioned private landlords. They have to adhere to the repairing standard, which was updated and strengthened in 2019. Mr Macpherson talked about the additional standards coming into force in 2024. It is key that we monitor that and I have asked officials to consider how we do that much more regularly. We cannot be in a position in which we are looking at figures that are two or three years old.

If a landlord has been notified of a problem and it has not been dealt with, tenants have the right to refer the matter to the First-tier Tribunal housing and property chamber, which can require landlords to take action. I encourage anyone who is in that position to do so. However, I take on board the point about communication to ensure that tenants are aware of their right to do that. I am also asking officials to consider that.

To support private landlords to meet the requirements of the updated repairing standard, we published new guidance last month. The guidance sets out the action that private landlords must take when dealing with problems of damp and mould.

Foysol Choudhury and Clare Adamson correctly said that problems with damp and mould can be exacerbated if people are not able to heat their homes. Everyone needs accommodation that is safe, warm and affordable. Energy bills are still at historically high levels and the UK Government is withdrawing its energy bills support scheme even though we know that many people are struggling to afford their fuel bills.

At First Minister’s questions, the First Minister mentioned the fuel insecurity fund, which we had doubled from £10 million to £20 million but will now triple to £30 million. The fund is a critical plank in our support to people who are struggling with their energy costs. It continues to provide a lifeline to households who are at risk of self-rationing their energy use or of self-disconnection.

As we progress our just transition to net zero, we must ensure that we continue to tackle fuel poverty, working with our advisory panel to meet our statutory fuel poverty targets. The Scottish Government has allocated £350 million to heat, energy efficiency and fuel poverty measures this year, including £119 million targeted at fuel-poor households.

Rhoda Grant mentioned the winter heating payment. I would be willing to discuss with her how we monitor the new system and how it supports the Highland communities. I will touch a bit more on the points that you raised in that regard. The investment of £20 million in the winter heating payment is alongside other valuable support, such as the child winter heating assistance and wider energy-efficiency measures.

To ensure that all homes are warmer, greener and more efficient, we have, through our heat in buildings strategy, set the target of all homes in Scotland reaching a good level of energy efficiency by 2033. I take the point that Rhoda Grant made. How we work with our rural communities on that is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That is vital.

I am keen to visit rural communities this summer, so I would be delighted to engage with you on suggestions for doing that. In particular, we could discuss housing and other issues that you have raised the debate. I am happy to engage—[


.] Sorry, but I do not know whether that was an intervention. [


.] No, it was not—my apologies.

In addition to playing a key role in meeting our climate targets, improving the energy efficiency of our homes will also help to ensure that energy costs in the future are affordable and will provide considerable wider social, environmental and health benefits. We have committed to investment of at least £1.8 billion across this session of Parliament for heat and energy efficiency projects.

I will touch briefly on some of the other points that have been raised. Foysol Choudhury mentioned the 40,000 homes that are below the standard. That number is far too many.

Ben Macpherson requested that I meet Edinburgh MSPs. I would be delighted to do that. Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned that as well. We could talk not only about damp housing but about the wider issues. I will ask my officials to contact you and Mr Cole-Hamilton, and I would be delighted to attend any summit.

You also mentioned enforcement in tenement repair and maintenance. That is incredibly important. I hope to meet the City of Edinburgh Council soon and will engage with you on that. If there are any examples—