The long awaited renting reforms first muted in 2019 will be implemented next year, promises Housing Secretary, Michael Gove MP.
Admitting that the Government should have “moved more quickly” on these reforms to protect tenants following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Mr Gove’s latest comments come in the wake of the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak and a visit to his estate.
Over five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire and an Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (The Hackitt Review) among three others, the Government has introduced a whole host of new regulations either enacted or in progress:
The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, The Fire Safety Act 2021, the Building Safety Act 2022, a Fire Reform White Paper and The Buildings Safety Act 2022, all of which represent a real opportunity to provide fairness for tenants and accountability for those responsible for managing social and private rental housing.
Despite all of this, the family tragedy in a social housing flat highlights issues which still pose risks to life. Earlier this month a coroner in Rochdale, Lancashire found that the toddler, two-years old Awaab Ishak, had died from complications following exposure to mould spores in his social housing home.
The black curse
Black mould in homes is caused by cold, damp and condensation which in turn are usually accompanied by the lack of heating and ventilation, moisture. This is produced by washing, cooking and indoor drying of clothes, the usual cause of black mould.
Moulds produce allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions), irritants and, sometimes even toxic substances. Inhaling or touching these spores can cause serious allergic reactions, sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes and skin rashes, and for those with pre-existing conditions these substances can cause asthma attacks and other serious reactions.
The English Government’s comprehensive renting reforms first proposed back in 2019 will be in place next year Michael Gove has promised. He’s admitted the Government should have “moved more quickly” to protect tenants after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.
Pressure piled on the Housing Secretary this month with the coroner’s verdict on Awaab Ishak’s death and he is now facing urgent calls to strengthen tenants’ rights following that inquest. Awaab was found to have died from a severe respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in his home.
It came out at the hearing that Ishak’s parents had contacted their social housing landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, multiple times raising their concerns about the black mould in their flat but were ignored.
Gareth Swarbrick chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing has since been removed from his post as. His sacking came just four days after the inquest verdict came out into the death of two-year-old Awaab.
On Saturday 19 November, Mr Gove wrote a letter to all English council chief executives and council leaders asking them to provide an assessment of damp and mould issues affecting social and privately rented properties in their area, including the prevalence of category 1 and 2 (HHSRS Rating System) damp and mould hazards, as well as an assessment of action that might need to be taken.
Under the instruction, Local Authorities must provide to The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, their last three 12 monthly reporting periods, detailing how many damp and mould hazards they have sorted out compared to assessments made, how many times enforcement action was taken, how many civil penalty notices were issued, and the number of prosecutions successfully pursued.
A landmark tragedy
Housing charities and campaigning groups have highlighted the Ishak case as being as significant as the Grenfell Tower tragedy in the history of English housing. 72 residents lost their lives in the London tower block after which the inquest and subsequent enquiries have highlighted a long list of deficiencies, a host of safety issues concerning fire protection and building standards.
While the Rochdale incident concerns only one death, the implications are equally far reaching: black mould is a very common issue particularly in rental property both for social and private housing.
While deaths by this cause are extremely rare, nevertheless the effect on people’s health is a serious concern. The NHS has spoken out about the underlying and long-term health issues caused by living in cold and damp conditions, the heath effects of black mould, and the log-term cost to the health service.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Mr Gove said:
“I freely admit and acknowledge that in the aftermath of Grenfell we should have moved more quickly to take a particular set of actions to help people in social housing. We’re doing so now.”
On a visit to the housing association estate in Rochdale, where the boy died, Mr Gove was said to be clearly shocked at the conditions facing some tenants. Apologising for the conditions people were living in he said, “They haven’t dealt with the fundamental problems.”
After a meeting with the boy’s family they said he had agreed to an amendment to the Social Housing regulation Bill, to adopt “Awaab’s Law”, which would set mandatory deadlines for inspections of damp and mould.
Mr Gove has already cut £1 million from the budget of the Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Association in the wake of the boy’s death, but the family are demanding the resignation of the entire board as well as the already fired chief executive, Gareth Swarbrick.
Mr Gove could not confirm exactly when legislation aimed at strengthening tenants’ formal protections would be introduced to parliament, saying only that the Renters Reform Bill “should come in 2023”.
Ending Section 21
The main thrust of this Bill is to end the so-called “no-fault” evictions, Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, a mandatory measure that allows landlords to force evictions without giving a reason for requiring it.
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, told the BBC Today programme that these no-fault evictions make tenants “fearful of complaining” in case they were given notice. Ms Neate added that tenants living in the private rented sector (PRS), as well as those tenants in social housing, such as Awaab Ishak’s family, urgently need stronger protections.
Mr Gove is now to give the social housing regulator new powers, and on Thursday he announced that he would cut funding for RBH and other landlords that failed to protect tenants.
“My message to [RBH] is clear: Awaab’s death was a tragedy which should never have occurred. It occurred because the housing association knowingly failed to maintain their properties in a decent standard, failed to heed complaints.”
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