Published March 2023
The government has tabled amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to introduce ‘Awaab’s Law’, which will require landlords to fix reported health hazards within specified timeframes.
In addition, the Housing Ombudsman has issued an updated Damp and Mould Report, alongside an evaluation of how landlords responded to the recommendations made almost sixteen months ago and reflecting the renewed focus on damp and mould. It comes as they recorded a 77% increase in the number of enquiries and complaints on damp, mould and leaks. The Ombudsman identified ten key tests (listed at the bottom of this article) for governing bodies to evaluate its organisation’s response to damp and mould and highlighted areas that need continued focus: legal proceedings, fairness, good governance and continued learning.
Why the Change?
The move comes in the wake of the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, caused by the damp and mould in his home. Awaab died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom housing association flat where he lived with his parents in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Giving her findings in November 2022, senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said: “I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought, ‘How does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?’
“The tragic death of Awaab will and should be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould.”
Mould can cause many health issues for the tenant that, although appearing less serious than Awaab’s tragic case, should not be downplayed. The Regulator of Social Housing has estimated that up to 160,000 social homes in England are impacted by damp and mould, with around 8,000 of those posing a “serious and immediate risk to health”.
Moulds produce allergens (substances that can cause an allergic reaction), irritants and, sometimes, toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mould spores may cause an allergic reaction, such as sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes and skin rash, moulds can also cause asthma attacks.
When will the Change become Law?
As of March 2023, Awaab’s Law is at report stage in the House of Commons (before 3rd reading), and will then be considered for amendments and Royal Assent, the law will likely be enacted (barring any delays) later in 2023.
Housing Associations should not wait for this law to take effect, the Housing Ombudsman arrived at 13 severe maladministration decisions about the handling of damp and mould reports in 21-22. The volume of casework and findings have increased significantly for the Ombudsman, with the number of findings made about the handling of damp, mould and leaks increasing from 195 in 2020-21 to 456 in 2021-22, a 134% increase. The rate at which they upheld the findings increased from 37% to 45%. The Ombudsman had 1,993 enquiries and complaints about damp, mould and leaks in 2020-21 – that figure increased last year to 3,530, a 77% increase and, as of writing this article, they have already received 3,969 enquiries and complaints for 2022-23.
What will Change?
The new rules will form part of the tenancy agreement, so tenants can hold landlords to account by law if they fail to provide a decent home. Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said:
“The tragic death of Awaab Ishak should never have happened. He was inexcusably let down and his family repeatedly ignored. I want to pay tribute to Awaab’s family for their tireless fight for justice over the last two years. Today we have announced tough new laws to force social landlords to fix their homes within strict new time limits. Those landlords who continue to drag their feet over dangerous damp and mould will face the full force of the law. Our Social Housing Bill will enshrine tenants’ rights in law and strengthen the Housing Ombudsman and Regulator’s powers so that poor social landlords have nowhere to hide. Awaab’s Law will help to ensure that homes across the country are safe, decent and warm”.
The government has already committed to a rapid review of existing guidance on the health impacts of damp and mould, followed by new guidance tailored to the housing sector, to be published by summer 2023.
Further powers continue to bolster the Housing Ombudsman in ensuring landlords learn from past mistakes. The Ombudsman will be able to instruct landlords to measure their service against guidance on issues such as damp and mould, to help drive improvements following complaints from tenants. Other amendments tabled will continue to strengthen the Bill, including improvements to insolvency arrangements, data protection and the requirement for written reports after inspections.
How can PWS help Housing Associations?
PWS can assist housing associations with mould remediation with our Mould Kits, which protect the worker from not only the risk of mould which releases spores, but also the chemicals to remove the mould which could be potentially harmful.
Devised in consultation with Guinness Housing Association, the Mould Kits are designed to be given to an operative when entering a mould risk area, giving them the adequate PPE kit to do the job safely. The kit contains: a disposable coverall, safety glasses, disposable gloves, a mask and filters, all within a handy holdall.
Get in touch here or contact your Account Manager direct to discuss our Mould Kits.
Further Information and Resources:
The UK goverments Social Housing (Regulation) Bill.
The Housing Ombudsman’s updated damp and mould report.
The Housing Ombudsman’s 10 tests for governing bodies to evaluate its organisation’s response to damp and mould:
- Find your silence – who’s not using your complaints system and why? Some landlords see high complaints as a bad thing, but high complaints about damp and mould can be a sign that you are open and transparent, and people feel they can complain
- Proactive communications strategy – Damp and mould cases are out there, and you need to engage with that. But our call for evidence also highlighted that landlords are often doing quite a lot in this space and their residents have no idea. Don’t patronise, don’t be obscure and make sure you use every day terms – the advice needs to be helpful and understandable
- Treat residents fairly – It isn’t their fault they are in a home unsuitable for living or currently in a property that is marked for regeneration/demolition
- Improve record keeping – How can you adopt an intelligence-based front foot if you have no data on what you’re dealing with? How can you ensure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing if nothing is recorded? We’ll soon be releasing a Spotlight report on this issue for you to engage with
- Know your residents – Occupancy factors may include overcrowding and the availability and use of heating and ventilation systems. They also include individual circumstances such as disability, financial hardship, and health conditions
- Check net zero plans – Electric heating costs more than gas. If your net zero strategy is pushing people into hardship, you need to make sure you’re making mitigations
- Know your homes – Structural factors include property age, design, and modifications. For example, certain types of properties such as converted street properties, buildings of concrete construction or traditional solid type construction are more susceptible to damp and mould than others
- Dedicated damp and mould strategy – Create one by looking wider than the individual cases. Use your void periods and mutual exchanges too
- Empower staff – if they’re in a property for something else, help them clock the signs. We encourage landlords to consider the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Professional Standards if they have not already done so
- Use the complaints system to learn – Be robust in using the complaints process until such time as proceedings are filed.
Following the release of this guidance, the Housing Ombudsman will be running a webinar on 14 March at 12pm, where they’ll share both good practice and where they are still seeing landlords go wrong on damp and mould. See registration details.
NHS guidance on how Damp and Mould can affect Health
Guinness Housing Association advice on damp, mould and condensation.