Skip navigation
Traditional English terraced houses with huge council block in the background

What you need to know about indoor air quality and social housing in the UK

Start reading

What you need to know about indoor air quality and social housing in the UK

On 16 February 2024, the INGENIOUS project hosted a webinar focused on how we can address indoor air quality in UK homes. This event organized by the University of York and SEI brought together experts from housing, academia and government, aligning with the UK’s consultation on the 2023 Social Housing Law.

Sarah West, Jennifer Aghaji / Published on 20 February 2024

The conversation about air quality typically revolves around outdoor pollution. Yet, a recent webinar held by the INGENIOUS project, led by the University of York and supported by SEI and partners, highlighted a significant oversight: indoor pollution. Despite its considerable impact on health and well-being, there is no specific UK legislation on indoor air quality (IAQ). SEI York Centre Director Sarah West facilitated discussions on the UK housing sector, polluting behaviours and strategies to enhance IAQ, stressing its relevance not only in social housing but across all housing types. Read on for a detailed account of the discussions and key findings.

Addressing housing and IAQ challenges in the UK

The quality of housing in the UK has been a growing concern since the 1990s, with the state’s efforts to develop affordable, high-quality housing lagging significantly behind need. This has resulted in a deteriorating housing stock and insufficient new housing, leading to a scarcity of affordable housing options. 

Despite efforts like the Decent Homes Standard, aimed at ensuring homes meet basic criteria for amenities and structural integrity, a significant portion of the housing stock continues to present severe hazards to its occupants. Issues such as cold, dampness and structural deficiencies are not uncommon.

The case of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old who tragically lost his life in 2020 due to prolonged exposure to mould in his family’s social housing unit, has brought these issues into sharp focus, highlighting the need for urgent action to address these dangers.  

Prof Nicholas Please from the University of York emphasized that, while problems like dampness and mould are visible and somewhat understood, there is still a widespread lack of awareness about the broader impacts of IAQ. This includes how everyday activities such as cooking and cleaning, along with the interaction of indoor and outdoor pollutants, can significantly affect our health. This knowledge gap is precisely what the INGENIOUS project aims to bridge, by raising awareness and developing strategies to mitigate these risks.  

The health risks of indoor-generated particles

In its early stages, the INGENIOUS project has uncovered startling levels of particulate matter in the homes studied in Bradford, with a significant portion stemming from cooking activities. Surprisingly, these concentrations can be ten to twenty times higher than what is found on busy streets.  

However, professor of indoor air chemistry, Nicola Carslaw, highlighted a critical gap in our understanding – while we know the sources of these indoor-generated particles, the specific health implications, particularly when compared to outdoor pollutants like diesel particulate matter, are not well understood. INGENIOUS intends to develop interventions that assist residents in lowering pollution levels indoors. This includes promoting the use of low-emission household products and changing behaviours around ventilation. In addition, Professor Carslaw highlighted the need to conduct further research into the toxicity of particles generated indoors. Such efforts are crucial for designing effective strategies to protect public health from the risks associated with indoor air pollution.

Home ventilation: a key to IAQ improvement 

Dr Chantelle Wood from the University of Sheffield brought to light the vital role of ventilation in combating indoor pollution. Daily activities, especially cooking and cleaning, are significant contributors to the level of pollutants inside homes. Proper ventilation, including the use of extractor fans not only during but after these activities, is essential in reducing concentrations of particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  

However, encouraging effective ventilation practices is not straightforward. It requires a deep understanding of the barriers that prevent individuals from ventilating their homes adequately. Initial findings indicate that barriers can range from physical limitations of the living space, such as extractor fans not working to a lack of awareness about the impact of indoor air quality on health. Dr Wood’s work focuses on identifying these barriers and developing behaviour change interventions that can motivate residents to adopt better ventilation practices, thereby significantly improving IAQ.

A collective effort for healthier indoor environments 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), under the advisory of its principal environmental public health scientist, Prof Sani Dimitroulopoulou, plays a pivotal role in the country’s efforts to combat indoor air pollution. The agency has taken a proactive stance by offering guidance on managing dampness and mould for the rented housing sector, review of building regulations to improve ventilation and fostering collaboration with government departments and external organizations. 

Such initiatives are part of a broader strategy to mitigate the health risks associated with poor IAQ, especially for the most vulnerable populations. By working with various stakeholders, including projects like INGENIOUS, the UKHSA aims not only to increase the evidence base on indoor air pollution and its health effects but also to implement practical solutions that can lead to significant improvements in public health. This collaborative approach is essential for addressing the complex challenges of IAQ and ensuring healthier living environments for all UK residents. 

The INGENIOUS webinar served as a platform for dialogue and collaboration among various individuals and organizations involved in the housing sector, including government officials, housing professionals, researchers, civil society organizations, students and the public. By sharing insights and recommendations, the event aimed to drive positive change and enhance IAQ standards in UK homes. It fostered dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders and sensitized participants on what they can do to improve air quality in various enclosed spaces regardless of housing type.


A team of scientists from four universities, led by the University of York, are working together with the internationally recognized Born In Bradford (BiB) study. The team includes specialists in environmental, social, medical, engineering, economic and health issues, from the University of York (including the York centre of the Stockholm Environment Institute), University of Manchester, University of Cambridge and the University of Sheffield.

Visit the INGENIOUS website

Topics and subtopics
Air : Pollution
Related centres
SEI York

Design and development by Soapbox.