Safety concerns have been raised about Scotland's 600,000 social rented properties as the housing regulator found that more than half of tenants experienced issues in the past year - and half of those indicated they had not been resolved.

A new analysis for the Scottish Housing Regulator seen by the Herald reveals that 59% said they had experienced safety issues with nearly one in four saying these were "significant".

The study involving the regulator's own national panel of over 260 people set up to gauge tenants' experiences found that damp or mould was the most common safety concern, mentioned by 44% of respondents, including around 1 in 10 for which it was a "significant" concern.

Around 1 in 6 respondents mentioned other safety concerns including electrical safety, fire safety and stair access. Around 1 in 20 indicated that the problems were "significant".

The regulator said that feedback suggested that dampness and mould had been a long-standing issue for some but that "recent news coverage may have contributed to a particular awareness of this safety issue".

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It found nearly half of those who had reported safety concerns indicated that their landlord had not resolved the issue, although some involved concerns recently reported which the landlord was in the process of rectifying.

However, others indicated that their landlord’s response had been "inadequate".

As many as 46% of the panel said they were unsure of whether the landlord would be able to resolve a safety issue.

This included several participants who had reported concerns around dampness and mould, and who "expressed significant frustration around their landlord’s response", according to the regulator.

The Herald:

The Scottish Tenants Organisation (STO) said the safety analysis was "very disturbing" adding: "Action must be taken as the vast majority of tenants are expressing real concern over safety and that includes one in ten tenants having significant damp and mould surveys.

Housing campaigners Living Rent said the analysis was "staggering", adding: "Disrepair and poor safety is not the fault of tenants. We need this government to enforce strict legislation on disrepair and commit to introducing retrofitting schemes across the country to ensure that we have access to warm, dry, safe homes."

The regulator has written to landlords asking for a "clear statement" on their 2023 assurance statement that they meet all duties in relation to tenant and resident safety. In particular, they ask for confirmation of compliance with all relevant safety requirements including in relation to gas, electrics, water, fire, asbestos, damp and mould and lifts.

It comes after concerns surfaced of a north-south divide over housing standards after the death of toddler Awaab Ishak ushered in tough legislation forcing landlords to fix damp and mould in properties within "strict new time limits".

New laws proposed by housing secretary Michael Gove and now set to become law that will give deadlines to tackle mould and other repairs will only apply to England and Wales, while in Scotland, landlords have been given non-statutory guidance, which is not enforceable.

Other measures south of the border give the social housing watchdog greater powers, including being able to issue unlimited fines to landlords who fail to meet standards.

It followed the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home which was managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH).

The Herald: Awaab Ishak (Family Handout/PA)

The housing regulator had sent letters to landlords giving advice on tackling the problem saying that they should "consider the systems they have in place to ensure their tenants’ homes are not affected by mould and dampness and that they have appropriate, proactive systems to identify and deal with any reported cases of mould and damp timeously and effectively".

Aditi Jehangir, secretary of tenants group Living Rent said: "It is clear to everyone in them that our social housing is in serious need of repair. But for close to two thirds of tenants to have safety issues, illustrates how successive governments have allowed landlords to get away completely neglecting their responsibilities at the expense of tenants’ safety. Through failing to invest in social housing, landlords are allowing our homes to become dangerous, unsafe, and uninhabitable.

"For nearly half of the respondents to say that they are unsure if the landlord would resolve the issue highlights how systematic under-investment by landlords and a failure to ensure that our homes are warm, dry and safe has put tenants’ lives at risk.

"Faulty electrics, and inadequate fire safety is a serious risk to life. Mould and damp in our homes is a public health issue and will only get worse as Autumn comes and heating bills remain unaffordable. Landlords need to stop blaming tenants and start taking concrete action to fix the mould."

Sean Clerkin of the STO added: "All social landlords in Scotland should be required to do stock condition surveys so we can ascertain the full scale of the problem so that it can be resolved once and for all."

The analysis also found that one in four (28%) disagreed that they were confident that the landlord would deal with any safety concerns effectively. And nearly a third (31%) said they were not confident they would deal with safety concerns quickly.

Some indicated that their landlord had suggested behavioural changes such as opening windows and/or keeping heating systems on to address the issue.

A small number indicated that their landlord had installed additional ventilation, but felt that this had been ineffective due to the poor standard of their heating system.

Tenants linked dampness and mould problems to difficulty heating their home, including poor insulation and inefficient heating systems.

The regulator said that mould problems were a particular concern for some, including those with long-term health conditions and/or those who referred to their home being affected by extensive and long-standing mould.

Some of the tenant panel affected by extensive and long-standing mould indicated that they had been informed that resolving the issue was their own responsibility.

Several of the panel reported having tried to prevent the issue, for example through use of damp traps, having to open windows even during cold weather, and keeping their heating on for longer than usually required.

Others were required to treat the issue on a regular basis using chemical cleaners.

However, some noted that they had limited success in preventing dampness and had been unable to remove any mould that developed.

One man who suffers with a severe mould allergy and has been requesting a move from his home in the south side of Glasgow is still awaiting a move after being offered a flat which “does not meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard” according to an independent inspector.

Alex Gordon, whose GP says that his current home has been affecting his health, was given a flat where, according to Kristine Reilly-Blake, a certified indoor air quality environmentalist, there were four types of mould present, “that are a known hazard to human health” including aspergillus, to which the tenant had an allergy to.

Wheatley Homes Glasgow said after details of the inspector's report emerged that major improvement work was being carried out at the flat and that the family have been given the highest priority for rehousing.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s social rented homes have improved over a number of years to meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, with more tenants living in warmer, safer and drier homes.

“Social landlords are already required to meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard which requires properties to be free from damp, have adequate ventilation and be suitably insulated and they are required to ensure any requests for repairs are carried out in a timely fashion. Compliance is monitored by the Scottish Housing Regulator. 

“The regulator is currently working with social housing providers to identify best practice in maintaining tenant safety and dealing with damp and mould and is expected to publish updated guidance shortly. If landlords fail to comply, tenants can escalate complaints to the Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman.”