Damp Housing

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

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Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I begin by thanking all those who signed the motion and all my colleagues who are present to speak on what is an important issue.

As members will be aware, in December 2020, two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from a respiratory condition that was caused by extensive mould in the housing in which he lived, in Rochdale, England. That tragedy is a stark warning of the danger that mould can cause when it is not dealt with properly. We must act now to stop preventable deaths such as Awaab’s from occurring in Scotland.

Unfortunately, too many Scottish residents live in dangerous housing. The charity Crisis found that 2 million British households on low incomes are living with poor conditions such as mould, damp and overcrowding. Scotland is particularly hard hit by that. The Scottish Government’s most recent house condition survey found that 40,000 homes in our nation fall below the tolerable standard, with one third of that figure being directly due to rising or penetrating damp. Given that, on average, there are two people per household, 80,000 Scottish residents are living in homes that their own Government considers to be unacceptable. For 27,000 of those, that is directly due to damp.

That brings me on to the experience of my constituents for whom the problem of damp and mould has become all too common. Sara Martin and Alistair Stuart live with their four children in a council house in Edinburgh. Two of the children have asthma, which has got worse, and another has developed a constant hacking cough as a result of damp and mould. Ms Martin has told me that she fears for her children because of their prolonged exposure to mould. At one point, she had to call an ambulance due to her son’s severe chest pains. The ambulance report cited mould as an environmental factor at the property.

Council repairs were undertaken at the property, but my constituents have reported that the work was simply cosmetic—it only covered up the mould, which came back just months later. Sara and Alistair have now had to leave the flat after dealing with the damp and mould for 10 years. Structural repairs to deal with the mould are still not finished.

Another of my constituents has been living in a mould-infested house for 16 months. The placement was supposed to be temporary accommodation, but she now has to live out of one bedroom with her 21-month-old son. She has spoken of the serious effect that the situation has had on her mental health. She believes that she cannot access the help that she needs until her difficult living situation is resolved. She feels helpless and that nothing is being done to move her into permanent or safe accommodation.

The negligent behaviour of private landlords is particularly to blame for the situation. Almost half of private sector rented homes in Scotland failed to meet the Scottish housing quality standards. The lack of regulation in the sector means that the worst landlords get away with providing poor-quality homes, and people on the lowest incomes live in them because they feel that they have no other option.

The experience of my constituents speaks for itself. I have heard from other constituents who have had to move out of their privately rented accommodation because of fears about the effects of damp and mould on their very young child. That was after repeated attempts to get the letting agent to do more than cosmetic repairs that simply covered up the mould instead of eradicating it.

Letting agents and private landlords must ensure that tenants are aware of the ways in which mould and damp occur and how to prevent them. Many tenements around Scotland have no place to dry clothes outdoors. That only makes the problem worse. More information needs to be made available to tenants to make them aware of the causes of mould and ways in which to treat and prevent it. In addition, landlords should not rent out houses or flats that need structural repairs to avoid mould forming.

Ultimately, housing providers should be held responsible for ensuring that the accommodation that they provide is clean and safe for every resident or tenant who moves in. The Scottish Government needs to do more to help them and to hold them accountable when crucial repair work is not done properly. How many trips to hospitals, long-term illnesses or deaths caused by damp housing will it take for the Scottish Government to take the issue seriously?

Too many of our citizens are living in dangerous accommodation, and landlords are getting away with doing nothing about it. We, as a Parliament, have to do more.