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Housing: Repairs in retrograde

by Aoife Deery, CAS Senior Policy Officer (Social Justice)

This article was first published in the Herald on 16 December 2023.

I don’t know about you but for the last couple of months everything seems to have gone upside down. Something about a planet in retrograde or the changing of the seasons but it feels like a lot of things have been going wrong for me. One of these things is my dishwasher breaking down. An unexpected perk when I moved into my flat, I’ve developed a close and enduring bond with it, and it also keeps my relationship with my flatmate intact as well. 

After doing some diligent research about what the flashing lights meant and concluding that we’d probably cause more damage if we tried to fix it ourselves, I contacted my landlord to report the fault and she quickly resolved the issue. This is good and standard practice – but it’s something that our recent CAS research revealed is not the same for everyone. 

As ever, I caveat that people don’t tend to seek advice when things are swimming along nicely, and we know that there are many landlords who are competent and keen to resolve repairs issues quickly, partly to prevent them developing into bigger problems. What we can say however, is that the scale of the demand for CAB advice on repairs is big – in every quarter of the last two years, our advisers gave out over 1000 pieces of advice on repairs. Numbers rarely tell the whole story though, and we were keen to find out the human stories behind the statistics, so we did some research into the detail of these cases. The result is our ‘In a Fix’ report, which was published on Thursday.  

Unsurprisingly we found that there was a huge variety of repairs issues, from broken down appliances like my own, to problems with heating systems, vermin infestations and plumbing. A very common theme was damp and mould, and many clients appeared to particularly struggle to get this problem properly remedied. We found that owner occupiers tended to have more problems concerning common parts such as roof repairs, close maintenance and shared gardens. Regardless of tenure however was the acute impact on people: stress, anxiety and the impact on physical health too. 

As expected, most clients came to us because they were having problems getting repairs done. Tenants had problems contacting their landlord, the landlord couldn’t afford the repairs or there was a dispute about whose responsibility it was. We saw that social renters were sometimes told that there wasn’t the funding to do the repair. Possibly most concerningly were the clients who were afraid to report the problem for fear of eviction, and indeed we saw people who had been evicted after doing so. This practice does nothing but pass the problem onto the next tenant, and to be clear, it is not legal to evict a tenant because they reported a need for a repair. 

So what can be done? Clear guidance and better awareness of rights and responsibilities around repairs, better options for redress when repairs are not done within a clear timeframe, and more resourcing especially for social housing providers to do repairs quickly and sustainably.  

The Scottish Government says it wants everyone to live in good quality safe accommodation. Making it easier for repairs to get done is critical to this.