Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]
Meeting date: Thursday, April 20, 2023
Official Report 1223KB pdf
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Damp Housing, Portfolio Question Time, Deposit Return Scheme, Climate Change and Just Transition, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Points of Order, Eurasian Lynx
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Damp Housing
- Portfolio Question Time
- Deposit Return Scheme
- Climate Change and Just Transition
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
- Points of Order
- Eurasian Lynx
I encourage those who are leaving the public gallery and the chamber to do so as quickly and quietly as possible.
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07511, in the name of Foysol Choudhury, on damp housing in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the tragic death of Awaab Ishak due to mouldy housing; notes the view that there is a need for urgent action to avoid similar tragedies happening in Scotland, including in the Lothian region; recognises that mould and damp in homes can be dangerous and cause health problems; understands that the cost of living crisis has caused constituents across Scotland to avoid heating their homes, which can further exacerbate the problem of damp and mould; further understands that damp housing is disproportionately affecting those living in poverty; acknowledges the calls for every constituent in Scotland to have a right to safe, warm housing; notes the view that extra investment for a whole house retrofitting programme is required to tackle problems caused by damp housing; further notes the calls for the creation of a grant scheme to tackle the problems of damp housing across the housing sector, including social housing, housing associations and the private sector; notes the belief that there is a need for increased support and guidance for constituents on the prevention of damp in properties across Scotland; believes that this issue is of nationwide importance, and notes the calls for all political parties in the Parliament to collaborate to tackle damp housing in Scotland.12:56
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.
Given the earlier start time for the resumption of business this afternoon, I would be grateful if colleagues stick to their speaking time allocation, although I will certainly allow time back for interventions.13:03
I commend Foysol Choudhury for his motion and for bringing this important debate to the chamber.
I am speaking in my capacity as a constituency MSP, of course, and in light of the experiences in casework that I have received. The number of Edinburgh and Lothian MSPs who are in attendance is interesting. The motion was, of course, lodged by a Lothian MSP.
I commend the incredible action from the Scottish Government since 2007 in delivering 118,000 affordable homes across the country, but there are areas across the country—particularly in Edinburgh—where the standard of housing is not up to what we would want our constituents to experience. Indeed, the City of Edinburgh Council has stated that Edinburgh has the lowest proportion of social rented homes in Scotland. That is an important fact to consider when thinking about the wider question.
The problems that are outlined in the motion and which will be discussed in the debate fall into two areas of concern: the public provision of social housing through registered social landlords or council houses, and the provision through mid-market rent.
The clear argument that I want to articulate on behalf of my constituents is that, first, we need additional capital investment in Edinburgh to provide more affordable homes here in the capital. Secondly, we need to work with the local authority to make sure that the quality of the works undertaken is of the right standard.
I know that colleagues will also have had casework relating to repairs not being done to an adequate standard. Indeed, I have discussed that issue with the City of Edinburgh Council, and I would be happy to engage with the Government and the council on how we address the matter more substantially.
Foysol Choudhury referred to the private rented sector. The problems that are emerging relate to two policy considerations. The first is the lack of enforcement of our housing standards. That will become even more pertinent when 1 March 2024 comes around and the new standard is implemented. We have to get better at enforcing the standards that we have more strongly. I am not sure that we necessarily need new legislation—a new standard is coming next year—but we need to make sure that standards are enforced and that private landlords are held to account for the quality of the dwellings that they provide to people.
The second consideration relates to a piece of work that I started back in 2016 and which I was leading on in the Parliament until 2018. It has been taken on by other members of the Scottish Parliament—in particular, by Graham Simpson. I am talking about tenement repairs and maintenance. A great deal of work has gone into taking the matter forward by that group of MSPs and stakeholders, and I know that Patrick Harvie is leading on this area for the Government. We have to do the hard work and implement the law so that we have a system that facilitates greater upkeep of properties.
It is all very well building new properties and building them to a high standard, but we also need to make sure that we repair and maintain the quality of our current stock. That involves systematic change, and it will also require political leadership. There is lots of work to do. We are all committed to making sure that we improve the situation. All that I ask of the minister, whom I welcome to his post, is a commitment in his summing-up speech to meet me—indeed, I think that it would be worth while for him to meet all the MSPs for Edinburgh and the Lothians—to discuss the specific challenges that we have here in the capital.13:07
I thank my friend and Lothian MSP colleague Foysol Choudhury for securing this important debate. As Ben Macpherson has outlined, I hope that the debate provides the opportunity for Edinburgh and Lothian MSPs to really push the Government on this issue, which is really important to our constituents. I also welcome both ministers to their positions.
We all know the negative impact that poor housing can have on people’s health—individuals and families. The Royal College of General Practitioners briefing for the debate made a number of important points about the real, direct impact that poor housing has not just in terms of housing but on our health service, too. We need to look at the matter holistically across our public services, because cold, damp homes make people ill. General practitioners are often approached by patients—I have worked with GPs on this—who have concerns about their housing and are trying to move out of those homes. They are looking for supporting letters to be able to achieve that through a housing association or a private tenancy. Those are important issues that we also need to consider.
As the Crisis briefing for today’s debate states, Scotland has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe. One in five homes were built more than a century ago, so ensuring that homes are healthy, safe and energy efficient presents a huge challenge to us all. We have to recognise that, in Scotland, about 40,000 homes that people are living in fall below tolerable standards—that was the 2019 figure from the Scottish house condition survey.
Replies to recent freedom of information requests that I have sent to local authorities have shown that a number of incidents involving the reporting of mould and damp, especially during the pandemic, have not been addressed. Foysol Choudhury made some important points in his opening speech in that regard. Along with other Edinburgh MSPs, I recently met the Edinburgh Tenants Federation. The standard of repairs that we are seeing is totally unacceptable. People are reporting cases of mould and damp, but it is just being painted over. Literally within hours, the problem is re-emerging. How we make sure that repairs take place, rather than the damp being painted over, is key. Ben Macpherson touched on that, and I hope that the housing bill might present an opportunity to address the matter. We also need to make sure that there is qualitative work, because there is not enough of that.
I welcome the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations’ briefing, which makes some positive points about the work that it, along with the Scottish Housing Regulator, has undertaken to try to make sure that standards are improving. It points specifically to a practical guide that it has developed with housing professionals to make sure that housing associations respond to incidents of mould and damp and that specific standards are put in place.
The United Kingdom Government is perhaps slightly ahead of us in that regard. Michael Gove has taken a good lead on the issue, and there is a shared need for us to look at it. Awaab’s law will make sure that there are specific laws and protocols relating to how damp and mould are reported, to the time limits that people should expect for inspections and work to take place, and to people being removed from homes that are unfit for habitation. It is important that we develop Scottish standards on that as soon as possible.
I know that I have only a few seconds of my time left. I recently lodged a written question for the Scottish Government, which Shona Robison responded to. She said:
“The Scottish Government does not have a reporting system in place to track incidents of damp and mould”—[Written Answers, 10 January 2023; S6W-12614.]
in homes in Scotland. We need to rectify that, and I hope that the minister will take that away. I welcome the fact that he is reaching out to all parties and spokespeople on the matter, and I look forward to taking the issue forward. I hope that we can have a wider debate on the issue in Government time in the coming weeks.13:11
I apologise to members, as I will have to leave early to attend an event that I agreed to chair some time ago.
Like other members, I am grateful to Foysol Choudhury for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I will also plug a housing summit that I am hosting in the Parliament about the housing crisis in Edinburgh—I know that some members have already signed up to it—that will look at scarcity, overcrowding and dilapidation. I look forward to seeing some members there.
I acknowledge the unspeakably tragic loss of Awaab Ishak, who was just two years old when he died. The appalling conditions in his family’s home should never have had to be endured, and his death must serve as a wake-up call highlighting how deeply important it is to fix the state of housing in the United Kingdom. A home must be a place of safety and solace. It is a space where loved ones can gather, relish the joys of life and find peace. No matter the size or price, whether rented or owned, someone’s home should be a comforting presence in their life. All too often, that is not the case.
The right to adequate shelter is a fundamental human right that is recognised in both domestic and international law. However, frankly, the rapid deterioration of housing conditions has threatened that right for thousands of families across Scotland. The latest Scottish house condition survey found that 40,000 homes in Scotland failed the tolerable standard threshold—that is 2 per cent of all dwellings in Scotland. Once characterised by warmth and safety, countless Scottish homes have now been plunged into damp, dilapidation and mould. Any such home is a real risk to health, as we have heard many times in the debate, and those dire conditions have led to a material negative impact on the wellbeing of many of our constituents.
Far too many of my constituents, many of whom live in areas of extreme deprivation, have contacted my office seeking assistance with the condition of their homes. I know that I am not alone in that; we have heard some of that in the debate. They include Bobbie, whose flat has been covered in mould for months, which has made her young children sick as a result; or Karen, a woman with pre-existing respiratory problems who, because of high levels of mould in her house, is struggling to breathe in her own home. Constituents such as Karen and Bobbie tell me about the impacts that that mould has had on not just their physical health but their mental health. They are racked with anxiety about their safety and that of their loved ones inside their own homes.
I know many of my parliamentary colleagues have had similar conversations in their constituencies. Cases such as those of Karen and Bobbie are all too common. Frankly, that is not acceptable. It is incumbent on us in the Parliament and it is our duty as public servants to use every tool that is at our disposal to solve the crisis.
As the tragic case of Awaab Ishak painfully demonstrated, we cannot afford to wait. First, the Government must recognise and rectify the hollowing out of Scottish communities and the slashing of council budgets. Those cuts have left local authorities without the ability to provide widespread high-quality housing for their most vulnerable constituents. Addressing that must be a top priority for the new SNP-Green Administration. It would greatly aid in fixing council-owned properties in a dire state.
My amendment in the cost of living and child poverty debate this Tuesday called for the Government to take on the Liberal Democrats’ plan for an emergency home insulation programme that would save more that £700 million for Scottish families that are in social housing and private lets. Regrettably, the amendment was voted down.
The skyrocketing energy costs this winter led to seven in 10 Scots reporting that they would heat their home less than they normally would, which undoubtedly contributes further to mould and exacerbates the housing crisis.
The SNP must commit to being honest with the country, and I hope that our new housing minister will join a cross-party conversation that acknowledges the shortcomings of previous Government strategies, and that he agrees with me that concrete action needs to be taken urgently to address this pressing issue. Then, and only then, can Scottish families live in the safety and solace that they deserve.13:16
I thank my colleague Foysol Choudhury for bringing this important debate to chamber.
I begin by offering my condolences to Awaab Ishak’s family. They suffered an unimaginable tragedy in 2020. Awaab was two years old and he died needlessly. His death was wholly preventable. He was a poor bairn who was poorly served by public service, and that should be chilling to all of us in the chamber. Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
“I have the right to have a proper house, food and clothing.”
A proper house does not mean any house; it means a house that gives security and safety and that does not damage health.
I am heartened by the action that the Scottish Government has taken on housing during the pandemic and amidst a cost of living crisis. Measures such as the rent freeze and the moratorium on evictions were bold rights-based policies, and those ideals—protecting people’s right to housing—should be the benchmark for future policy. We can build on that progress.
My office has a vested interested in this debate, as our case load has been high with serious concerns about the prevalent dismissive attitudes of many landlords—including social landlords—when it came to damp and mould. Awaab’s story should have set alarm bells ringing for landlords across the UK but, during the past year, my office has received several reports of damp and mould in local authority housing from constituents. Sadly, the blame game exists. The most typical excuses that are given in response are that damp and mould are caused by excessive showering, drying clothes in the house and not ventilating the property. We have to push for further action.
As reflected in today’s motion, that dismissive culture has led to tenants being forced to adopt potentially harmful daily practices. Many will feel compelled to turn on the heating to counter the cold and damp, and many will feel conflicted because they are worried about rising bills. Some will feel pressured to open windows to increase ventilation, but Scottish winters are unforgiving.
In some cases, the council eventually agreed to do remedial works. Unfortunately, that often means just covering over the damp areas and not tackling the dampness in the buildings. When the damp inevitably returns, the work order is repeated.
I have been helping a constituent who was forced out of their home due to flooding caused by empty council properties, or voids. The council in question is North Lanarkshire Council, which has a Labour administration that is supported by the Tories. The failure to secure voids against the winter has caused immeasurable damage not only to the void properties but to neighbouring ones and to council tenants.
One constituent of mine has been out of her home for five months awaiting remedial work because of damage caused by flooding because a void property was not protected from the winter. In that time, she has been paying rent for a property she cannot live in. That inequity cannot be allowed to exist.
As I said at the outset, the right to safe, secure and warm housing is not rhetoric; it is a fundamental human right and, indeed, a children’s right. The abrogation of that right has become prevalent, and landlords must be held to account when it is impinged on. I wholly reject the notion that that is a lofty or idealistic want; with political will, it is eminently achievable.
I again thank Foysol Choudhury for highlighting the very sad case of Awaab Ishak and his family. Let us ensure that his death was not in vain, as we tackle this issue.13:20
I, too, thank Foysol Choudhury for securing the debate, and I hope that it will be instrumental in getting this issue the priority that it deserves.
Others have already spoken about the death of Awaab Ishak. It was a tragedy but, sadly, it was not a one-off. His parents fought bravely to have their housing issues recognised and to protect their child, and I am sad to say that they also had to fight to have the cause of his death properly recorded. That took strength.
I fear that, if all deaths due to damp and mouldy homes were recorded appropriately, the numbers would be huge. We all have cases of families coming to us, complaining of damp in their homes. All too often, they are told that it is down to their drying washing indoors, and their concerns are not taken seriously. “Putting Safety First: a briefing note on damp and mould for social housing practitioners” states:
“Responding to damp and mould primarily or initially as a lifestyle problem is inappropriate and ineffective.”
Indeed, that was reflected in the Housing Ombudsman’s report into the social landlord responsible for Awaab Ishak’s death. It takes effort and persistence to get a different approach taken and to get concerns taken seriously.
Housing problems are going to get worse, because of the cost of living crisis. People can no longer afford to heat their homes adequately and, as a result, damp is much more likely. The Highlands and Islands has the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country. The climate means that homes need year-round heating, and people do not have the luxury of being able to turn off the heating in the summer. The Scottish Government must therefore revisit the winter heating payment. It is unacceptable that people who have to have their heating on year round receive the same amount as those who can switch theirs off over the summer.
The Scottish Government must also look at its other schemes such as the boiler replacement and insulation schemes, which do nothing for off-gas-grid properties. They have been designed for urban housing schemes, not draughty old croft houses. It is sad that such ignorance on the part of the Scottish Government is actively stopping intervention instead of putting it in place.
Moreover, there is no point installing heat pumps in homes that have poor or no insulation. The Scottish Government must start by retrofitting old homes to make them energy efficient and then look at heating solutions. Of course, we need to stop reliance on fossil fuels, but the only way of doing that is by providing workable alternatives, which must start with cutting the amount of fuel needed to heat a home.
The Scottish Government is not doing that in the areas with the highest fuel poverty. Policy devised for rural areas works everywhere, whereas policy designed in urban areas does not transfer easily to rural parts. I urge those in the Government to get out from behind their desks and look at the reality of the impact of these policies on rural Scotland, because our young people should be able to grow up healthy and happy in warm homes.13:23
I, too, thank Foysol Choudhury for lodging this motion for debate. There is no doubt that, in the 12 years that I have been an MSP representing the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, housing—and, in particular, damp housing—has been the number 1 issue for my constituents.
Given the numerous cases that my staff and I have raised with the City of Edinburgh Council and Link PSL with regard to the condition of some properties in my constituency, including the Wester Hailes area, I welcomed the announcement in March 2021 that the council was piloting its new mixed tenure improvement service to upgrade all 1970s-built flats in Wester Hailes. That £30 million improvement scheme, which applies to almost 1,300 homes across 167 blocks of flats, is now well under way in the Murrayburn, Hailesland and Dumbryden areas. Work on each block includes repair or replacement of roofing, guttering, drying room facades, installation of external wall and attic insulation, as well as maintenance and decoration of the communal stairwells and closes.
Although most residents were pleased that the upgrade was happening, there was a large financial penalty for the 29 per cent of homes that were privately owned. Owner-occupiers were initially asked to contribute over £30,000, which many found was simply unaffordable and the only option available to them was to sell their home back to the council.
I was approached by several owners at the time and, by working with council officials, we managed to identify that substantial untapped funding for owners was available through the Scottish Government’s home energy efficiency programme grant scheme. We also highlighted to the council that, in comparison to other city councils, the loan period was too short and the interest rates were too high. The outcome was that the loan period was extended from 10 to 15 years and the interest rate was cut from 6 per cent to 4 per cent. The result was that my constituents saw their bills for the improvement work drop by at least 50 per cent.
Phases 1 to 4 have been completed, covering 484 flats and 18 houses, and those streets now look vibrant and modern with residents benefiting from warmer and more energy-efficient homes. The common areas between the blocks have yet to be upgraded but my understanding is that council plans are under way to further enhance the area with new play areas, upgraded landscaping and improved car parking.
Given the energy crisis of the past couple of years, it is important to measure how the energy efficiency measures are performing. Many residents have agreed to have Tinytag loggers installed in their homes to enable moisture and temperature levels to be measured and to track the energy efficiency of their homes.
The early indications of the energy efficiency of the refurbished homes are encouraging, with residents highlighting that their homes heat up quicker and stay warmer for longer, and that they do not need to have the heating on for as long or as often as they did prior to the works. There are also financial savings: one tenant said that she did not switch on her heating at all last winter and believes that she has saved about 80 per cent on her heating bills. The homes in the completed phases are now reaching an average EPC rating of B, which is equal to new-build standard and is higher than the current Scottish average EPC rating of D.
It is a hugely successful improvement programme that I believe should be not only replicated across my constituency but rolled out across all social housing in Scotland. I welcome the minister to his post. If he has not yet seen the improvements that are under way in Wester Hailes, I invite him to visit my constituency to see what can be achieved to tackle the issue of cold and damp homes.13:28
I welcome the new housing minister to his post. I congratulate Foysol Choudhury for leading this important debate and for his relentless campaigning for justice in highlighting the tragic death of Awaab Ishak.
What a shameful indictment it is that, nearly a quarter of a century since devolution, and since housing has been solely in the hands of the Scottish Parliament, it is still necessary to lodge a motion on the scandal of damp housing in Scotland. Why is that? Is it because there are too many landlords in this Parliament and too few tenants? We do have a problem of the overrepresentation of landlordism—the register of members’ interests is bulging with landlords. Is it because there are too few representatives in the Parliament who have first-hand experience of poverty and the decrepit slum housing that is below the tolerable standard that invariably goes with it, or is it because the Government of the past 15 years has simply had the wrong political priorities?
Next year will mark the centenary of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1924—the John Wheatley housing act. By common consent, it is not just the most important piece of legislation but the most important practical action and act of socialism of that first-ever Labour Government.
Wheatley took the concept that he had developed as an Independent Labour Party councillor in Glasgow, representing the slum dwellers of the city, and worked with people such as Mary Barbour, and John Maclean, whose centenary we celebrate this year. He also worked with the tenants movement and the trade unions to invest the surpluses from the Glasgow Corporation trams to clear out the slum landlords and to invest in decent council housing.
He scaled that concept up nationally and, in so doing, he unleashed the means for some of the finest council houses ever built—“homes, not hutches”. That is the kind of national vision that we need now, but it is also the kind of national urgency that we need now, because I tell you this: the experience of Wheatley, of Mary Barbour, of Maclean and of other pioneers was that bad housing led to bad health.
Wheatley, as minister for health, had responsibility for housing, too. In 1945, Nye Bevan was not just the minister for health but minister for housing, too. They knew that we needed the clearance of slums to ensure the clearance of public health ills such as tuberculosis. So I call on all members of this Parliament to start giving a much higher priority to housing, and for much higher investment, too. Let us have the imagination of a century ago.
Finally, I do not want to overinflate the minister’s ego, but I have long held the view that the housing minister should be a dedicated minister of Cabinet rank, because there is a housing crisis, there is a public health crisis and there is a class-based crisis.
So we are indebted to Foysol Choudhury for lodging this motion, but we need to send out the message that Parliament does not bring about change; it is the people who bring about change. It was the people outside Parliament—the rent strikers in Glasgow—who brought about the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act 1915. It was the people outside Parliament who built the movement for change that culminated in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1924, and it will be the people once again—the Living Rent campaigners, the tenants organisations and the trade unions—who will build up pressure on this Parliament to use the powers that we have to build a better future and to banish damp housing finally to the history books.
Thank you, Mr Leonard. I call Paul McLennan to respond to the debate.13:32
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—[Interruption.] Sorry, but I do not know whether that was an intervention. [Interruption.] 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—
Minister, I give you a gentle reminder that remarks should be made through the chair rather than directly to members.
My apologies. Miles Briggs mentioned tenure and meeting the same standards as set out in “Housing to 2040”. That is something that we will be looking to do. It will be part of the housing bill, and I am happy to engage with Mr Briggs on the issue. Indeed, we already have a meeting planned in regard to it.
Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned the housing summit. I would be happy to pick up on that as well. On cross-party discussions on housing in general, I have already engaged with the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and met Mr Rennie of the Liberal Democrats.
Clare Adamson’s point about empty homes and voids is incredibly important. I have already touched on Rhoda Grant’s points. I would be happy to accept Gordon Macdonald’s invitation to visit the scheme that he mentioned. I have read about that great scheme, and there are opportunities to see how we could replicate it across Scotland.
It was the usual passionate speech from Richard Leonard. Housing is a human right. That is the key point. With the appointment of a dedicated Minister for Housing, there is more of a focus on that. I am dedicated to pushing it as a human right. There are lots of issues in that regard.
Standards have improved in Scotland over the years, and we have taken urgent action to support households that are experiencing high energy bills and poor living conditions, but there is much more to do. The Government and I have big ambitions and there is much more work to be done to achieve them. However, the tragic story of Awaab Ishak reminds us all why doing so is so important.
I again thank Foysol Choudhury and other members for their contributions.
That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 2 o’clock.13:40 Meeting suspended.
14:00 On resuming—
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