Cold damp houses, overcrowding, disrepair, trip hazards, and dangerous electrics are just some of the different types of issues that South Somerset District Council’s Housing Standards Team have to deal with on a daily basis.
Excessive cold in a property, which can cause hypothermia, is the biggest problem the team face this time of year. Poorly heated and insulated properties can result in damp, condensation and mould. Every year an increased number of elderly residents die during episodes of exceptionally cold weather.
Team leader Martin Chapman, said, “By thinking carefully about how you use your accommodation you can avoid some of these problems. For example, rather than turning your heating on full, gradually increase the temperature so the walls heat up slowly. This reduces condensation on walls and the chances of damp and mould developing. You should also keep your house well ventilated and try and reduce the amount of damp washing around the house. You should also ensure your property is well insulated. We can advise on home improvement loans or grants that are available to assist with this if you don’t know where to start”.
SSDC’s Housing Standards Team mainly inspects houses and flats in the private sector to ensure they meet statutory requirements and are fit for habitation.
When inspecting properties the team look for things such as trip hazards that result in falls on stairs due to no hand railings etc. Hip and other bone fractures as a result of falls by the elderly result in a huge cost to the NHS. Likewise, it is important to ensure there are adequate window restrictors in place when small children are present to prevent falls from windows. Electrical problems such as sparking plugs and sockets falling off walls are also regularly investigated. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is another issue dealt with by the team.
The team also inspects bedsit accommodation (known as Houses of Multiple Occupation) to ensure they are kept up to standard. With increased housing pressure more and more young people live in shared bedsit accommodation and it is important to ensure that standards are maintained. Officers ensure these types of properties have an adequate number of facilities for the residents and are provided with adequate means of escape in case of fire.
Plans for potential new HMOs should be sent by landlords to the Housing Standards team so that they can give their professional opinion and possibly suggest amendments to ensure the property is safe and well designed. It is always good practice for HMO owners to consult with the team before doing any work so as to avoid having to do further work later on. All HMOs are regularly inspected by members of the team. The team also meets regularly with landlords at SSDC’s Landlord’s forum to explain the latest changes in legislation etc. and help them in making applications for the licensing of their HMOs.
Speaking about the work of the Housing Standards Team in South Somerset, Councillor Peter Seib, Portfolio Holder for Environmental Health said, “With increasing housing pressure it is important for us to work with private landlords to ensure everyone is provided with a good standard of accommodation. Likewise we need to ensure that private homeowners get the help they need to ensure their homes are kept in good repair. The Housing Standards team is here both to help where help is required and to enforce relevant legislation as necessary to ensure that standards are maintained”.
The team works in partnership with Wessex Homes Improvement Loans, a not-for-profit organisation, to assist homeowners to make essential repairs, adaptations or improvements to their homes. A loan can be provided to fix damp or roof problems, rotten windows, broken boilers or to provide insulation as well as other essential repairs.