On 9th January 2024, the Housing Secretary launched the Awaab's Law consultation as part of new measures to address issues with social landlords who don't offer safe homes.
Awaab's Law, named after Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy who tragically lost his life due to mould and damp in his parents' housing association home in Rochdale, has led to significant changes and updates in the legal framework concerning damp and mould in rented accommodation.
Awaab's Law stands as a game-changer for both tenants and landlords, emphasising the critical importance of adhering to its rules and regulations. The impact of this law on human life and well-being, as evident from past cases, underscores the significance of strict compliance.
In this article, we will look into what Awaab’s law is, how it may help you if you are a landlord or a tenant and the relevant guidance you need if you are a tenant who is trying to deal with damp and mould in a rented property.
What is Awaab’s law?
Awaab's law, officially known as the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, reflects the major changes made by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)
Within this much-needed act, the law has gone a long way in giving tenants more rights and protection in the rental game and will require landlords to fix any potential health hazards, including dampness and mould, within specific and specified timeframes.
According to the the DLUCH, January 2024:
Landlords must take residents’ concerns about health and safety seriously. The government’s new guidance on the health risks of damp and mould for landlords states that residents should not be blamed for its presence in their homes, and mould in homes must not be pinned on ‘lifestyle choices’ – cooking a meal, having a hot shower and putting clothes out to dry are not discretionary activities but part and parcel of living in your home.
The Act is currently in consultation, lasting 8 weeks from January 9th, 2024. If you want to be part of the consultation and in shaping the timescales for repairs in social housing, you can complete this online survey through the Government website.
Once consultations are complete, and the final Act is published, the Act will be enforceable. In the meantime, the Government promises to introduce secondary legislation to bring Awaab’s Law into force as soon as practically possible.
Why was Awaab’s law made?
Awaab’s law came about following the tragic death of 2-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died as a result of direct and prolonged exposure to mould in a rented social home.
Shockingly, Awaab’s parents repeatedly raised concerns about their living conditions time and again. The landlord not only repeatedly failed to act, but shamefully blamed the family for causing the hazardous mould. (Department for Levelling Up, Housing 7 Communities, January 2024)
Sadly, this is not just affecting the odd person here and there. According to the English Housing Survey, around 904,000 homes in England had damp problems in 2021. Of these, around 11% in the private rented sector had damp problems compared with 4% in the social-rented sector and 2% in owner-occupied homes. (Health inequalities: Cold or damp homes, February 2023).
The act has rightly addressed that it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address underlying causes, such as structural issues or inadequate ventilation as everyone deserves to live in a home that is decent, safe and secure.
Is Awaab’s law now in force?
Awaab’s law is not in force just yet and is currently in consultation for 8 weeks from 9th January 2024. The consultation aims to set out the new, strict time limits for social housing providers.
However, The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which became law last year, does give the Regulator of Social Housing and tenants stronger powers and rights now to hold the small minority of rogue landlords accountable for non-decency.
Awaab’s Law and the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill
The Social Housing (Regulation) Act is the parent of Awaab's law and is the guiding force that sets the stage for a fairer housing landscape. This act was given royal assent in July 2023 and describes its purpose as being to "reform the regulatory regime to drive significant change in landlord behaviour".
The Act introduced significant changes aimed at improving tenant protection, proactive and timely enforcement, and overall improvement in social housing standards.
Let’s have a look at the breakdown of the key provisions:
Proactive enforcement powers
The Act removes the 'serious detriment' test for social landlords' breach of consumer standards, allowing the Social Regulator to intervene before serious harm occurs.
The Regulator gains stronger powers, including the ability to impose unlimited fines.
Performance improvement plans
The Regulator can now issue notices requiring social landlords to prepare and implement performance improvement plans when failing to meet regulatory standards.
Performance improvement plans are intended to be proactive, enabling the Regulator to hold providers accountable, with tenants having the right to request copies.
The Act grants additional enforcement powers, including the imposition of unlimited fines, property surveys, and authorisation of emergency remedial action by the landlord.
Tenant safety (Awaab’s Law)
The Act introduces 'Awaab’s Law,' which includes new requirements addressing hazards like damp and mould will be set by the Secretary of State, giving tenants the right to claim breach of covenant if landlords don't comply.
Most changes are anticipated to take effect from 2024.
What is included in Awaab’s law?
Awaab's Law specifically aims to make sure that reported housing standard violations are addressed quickly and efficiently. This is in response to instances like Awaab's flat in Rochdale, which even though was flagged by surveyors and health professionals, was not fixed.
The law holds social housing landlords accountable for meeting these standards, making it a legal obligation rather than an option. The legislation puts pressure on landlords to prioritise the repair of poor-quality housing, emphasising it as a legal duty. Additionally, GPs will have a direct role in assessing social housing conditions and reporting poor living standards that adversely affect residents' health. This approach takes a holistic view to tackle the problem comprehensively.
It also proposes to introduce new strict time limits for social housing providers and force them to take rapid action in addressing dangerous hazards such as damp and mould.
It proposes social landlords to investigate any hazards within 14 days, start fixing within a further 7 days, and make all emergency repairs within 24 hours. Those landlords who fail can be taken to court where they may be ordered to pay compensation for tenants.
What will Awaab’s law do?
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.
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.
With the government's commitment to the health impacts of damp and mould and further powers including Awaab’s law, this will continue to give power to the Housing Ombudsman in ensuring landlords learn from past mistakes and never make them again.
How Will Awaab’s law protect tenants in social housing?
If you are a tenant in social housing, this Act will bring positive change and transformation by strengthening and protecting your rights, so that you can live in a safe, good-quality home and not be subjected to conditions that could cause you and any others in the property health risks posed by building hazards.
Due to the new proposed legal requirements for social landlords, this means that when you report a problem, your landlord must investigate the potential hazard within 14 days, start fixing it in your rented property within a further 7 days, and make emergency repairs in 24 hours.
The new rules are to form part of your tenancy agreement, so you will be able to hold landlords to account through the courts if necessary, a measure which will also form part of the PRS's Renter's Reform Bill.
Understanding your tenants’ rights regarding damp and mould and other aspects of your tenancy agreement is vital for ensuring you are living in a safe environment. For more information about what your tenants' rights are and the right-to-repair scheme, read our article here.
Awaab’s law and private rented sector reforms
Awaab’s law currently only applies to social landlords, however, housing campaigners are now calling for private landlords to be held to the same high standards as will be introduced by 'Awaab's Law' in the social sector.
Citizens Advice claims that there could be as many as 1.6 million children living in the Private Rented Sector at risk of health issues due to damp, mould or excessive cold, so it seems vital that this change is made.
According to The Minister of State:
For private rentals, we have given councils strong powers to force landlords to remedy hazards, and the Secretary of State has made it clear that he expects councils to use them.
Awaab’s Law and social landlords
As we have covered, Awaab’s Law aims to make sure that every landlord follows the rules and carries out their responsibilities and obligations in making those who live in their accommodation safe, healthy and happy.
The rules and regulations, when agreed through consultation, will clearly set out the time restrictions you have on investigating potential health hazards and getting things sorted so that the property is not a health risk to those who are living in it. The timeframes are rapid, giving you only 14 days to investigate and start fixing within 7 days. Any emergency repairs should be responded to in 24 hours.
Although this Act is only currently in consultation, as a business owner and landlord you have specific landlord obligations and responsibilities to adhere to. As an ethical business owner, you should also always have your customer's best interests at heart.
Remember, that according to The Landlord and Tenant Act, failure to comply with the rules and regulations could lead to serious legal consequences.
Guidance for tenants on dealing with damp and mould in rented housing
Nobody likes dealing with damp and mould – it's the stuff of nightmares and as we know can cause serious health complications.
Let’s have a look at a simple guide to help you deal with your damp and mould issues if you have one.
Step 1: Identify the Issue
Check for damp patches, water stains, or mould in your home. Common spots include corners, ceilings, and around windows.
Take pictures of the affected areas and keep records of your communication with the landlord. Having evidence can be helpful if the situation escalates.
Step 2: Inform Your Landlord
As soon as you spot an issue, don't wait! Inform your landlord right away. Communication is key to getting the problem addressed quickly and correctly.
Step 3: Understand Your Rights
Familiarise yourself with your rights as a tenant. Your landlord is responsible for maintaining the property in a habitable condition, including addressing damp and mould issues.
Step 4: Follow Up
If your landlord doesn't respond promptly, follow up with a polite reminder. Persistence can be crucial in ensuring your concerns are taken seriously.
Step 6: Seek Professional Advice
If the issue carries on, consider seeking advice from professionals. Environmental health officers or local council services may assist.
While waiting for a permanent fix, you can use temporary solutions like cleaning mould with appropriate products, improving ventilation, and using moisture absorbers.
Step 9: Request a Health Assessment
If the damp and mould are affecting your health, ask your GP for a health assessment. This can serve as additional evidence and highlight the urgency of the situation.
If all else fails, and your landlord neglects their responsibilities, you may have the right to take legal action. Consult with a housing advisor or legal professional for guidance and to support you in taking legal action if you need to.
Consultations on Awaab’s law were released on September 9th, 2024 for 8 weeks. We included a link earlier in the article to complete an official survey in response to the consultations, which is a good idea to do if you feel particularly compelled to support or argue against the timescales for repair that are proposed.
In the meantime, make sure you understand your rights if you are a landlord and tenant and get to know the ins and outs of Awaab’s law, so you are fully prepared when it becomes a legal requirement officially.
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