The Duty To Manage Asbestos In The UK’s Housing Stock

The Duty To Manage Asbestos In The UK’s Housing Stock

Social housing is a umbrella term that refers to rental housing that is owned and managed by the state, by non profit organisations or a combination of the two in order to provide low cost housing for people in need of a home who either cannot, or choose not to, secure a mortgage and do not want to rent property on the private rental market. 

Renting on the private market in the UK is expensive compared with other European countries and is often beyond the financial means of those working in low paid employment.  This means that many families are dependent upon the social housing market, renting either from a local authority (council) or from one of the housing associations.

However, with housing stock in short supply, there are always long waiting lists and eligibility depends on a complex point-based system, leading to many low income families living in temporary bed and breakfast style accommodation on a fairly long-term basis.

In the UK the provision of mass council housing began in the 1920’s and housing was an issue adopted by the Churchill government in the 1950’s  when housing construction was given much higher priority than it had enjoyed previously.  There was an urgent need to house families whose properties had been destroyed during bombing raids in World War 2 and the UK government committed to building 300,000 new homes per year.

During the 1960’s the pace of new building accelerated in order to replace unfit housing and tower blocks began to spring up in cities all over Britain.  During this time the proportion of council owned housing rose to 50% of the nation’s total with 1.3 million new homes built between 1965 and 1970.

With the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1979, local authorities were discouraged from building council housing and the Right to Buy scheme was introduced into the Housing Act 1980.  This led to record numbers of council tenants buying their properties from the local authority (one third of council property tenants) with huge discounts on the market value of the homes in order to reflect the rents already paid by those tenants and to encourage take up.  This led to the UK population’s ingrained desire for home ownership, unlike most other European countries where renting residential accommodation is considered much more acceptable.

Because many of the houses and flats built since the 1950’s were built using asbestos containing materials, this has now led to a situation where homes (both social and privately owned) across the UK contain asbestos.  Ex-council houses that were bought on the Right to Buy scheme may have changed ownership many times on the private market since their original purchase from the local authorities and many of these have been remodelled or refurbished in the intervening years.  The majority of the council owned housing stock is in need of remodelling or refurbishment to bring them up to acceptable modern standards.

This means that asbestos surveys are necessary in many of these residential properties and, in many cases, the asbestos will need to be removed or made safe by qualified professionals.  In privately owned properties the duty to manage asbestos rests with the homeowner.  However, in public housing, the duty to manage asbestos is the responsibility of the local authority or housing association that owns the properties.