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Extend damp and mould safeguards to private rented sector – MPs

Safeguards to protect tenants in social housing from damp and mould in the wake of the death of a two-year-old child should be considered for the private rented sector too, MPs have said.

Landlords in social housing would be obliged to make emergency repairs within 24 hours under proposals announced earlier this month as part of Awaab’s Law.

The legislation is named after Awaab Ishak, who died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Awaab Ishak's death aged two prompted the Government to promise action on poor housing (Family handout/PA)
Awaab Ishak’s death aged two prompted the Government to promise action on poor housing (Family handout/PA)

The proposals also state that social landlords would be required to investigate hazards within 14 days and start fixing them within a further seven days.

The measures, which are out for consultation, have been welcomed in a report by the House of Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee but MPs suggested the Government should consider extending the safeguards to the private rental sector.

The report, published on Friday, said while an estimated 0.2% of properties in the social rented sector have a category one – considered the most dangerous level – damp or mould hazard, the figure is at around 3.6% of properties in the private rented sector.

The report adds: “It is welcome that the Government has proposed measures to protect social sector tenants from the worst impacts of unhealthy homes, via the implementation of ‘Awaab’s law’.

“We recommend that the Government act quickly on the outcome of its consultation on this topic for social sector tenants.

“It should also consider how similar safeguards could be extended to tenants in the private rented sector who are affected by housing hazards, such as damp and mould, that can pose an immediate danger to health.”

The consultation on Awaab’s Law proposes that social housing landlords who fail to act on issues within the stated timeframe can be taken to court where they might be ordered to pay compensation to tenants.

The MPs’ report states that private rentals “contribute disproportionately to both the total number of poor quality homes and the costs that poor housing causes to the NHS”.

Committee chairman Conservative MP Steve Brine said both social housing and private tenants “deserve greater protection by law”.

He criticised the Government for having “dragged its feet” on updating the Decent Homes Standard – which sets out the minimum standards for the condition of homes – for the social rented sector, and on efforts to extend it into the private rented sector.

He said: “Poor quality homes can have a catastrophic impact on the health of the those who live in them. The death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak from a respiratory condition caused by mould in his home should leave ministers in no doubt that tenants in both the social and private rented sectors deserve greater protection by law.

“The Government has dragged its feet on updating the Decent Homes Standard for the social rented sector and in extending it to cover the private rented sector. We’re calling on the Government to set out its timetable for doing so without delay.

“Our report welcomes the Government’s plan to introduce Awaab’s law for tenants in the social sector. We urge swift action on the outcome of the consultation, but the Government must also consider safeguards for tenants in the private sector where risks of damp and mould can pose an immediate danger to health.

“Creating healthy places to live to prevent ill-health among the population must take priority for ministers. Not only will that reduce pressures on the NHS but will save vast sums spent each year on treating people with preventable illness.”

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Other recommendations from the report include urging the Government to require developers to have a high standard for housing that protects residents’ health, and consulting on the content of existing design and space standards and how they relate to health.

The report also notes the potentially positive impacts of social prescribing – an approach connecting people to activities, groups and services in their community to meet the practical, social and emotional needs that affect their health and wellbeing.

MPs suggested the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) should work with NHS England and existing providers to develop a national strategy for social prescribing, aiming to improve frontline clinicians’ understanding of the benefits and their confidence in offering social and community-based solutions to unmet social needs.

The committee also urged the DHSC to reconsider the case for having a public health representative on all integrated care boards, something previously rejected by the Government.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said: “Everyone deserves to live in a safe and decent home. We have already made strong progress on improving housing quality, reducing the number of non-decent homes in all tenures by over two million between 2010 and 2020.

“Our landmark Social Housing Act will drastically improve the quality of life in social housing, granting residents a proper voice to fight those who think they can cheat the system, and Awaab’s Law will force landlords to fix their homes within strict new time limits.

“We are also introducing a Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector for the first time, and creating a new ombudsman to resolve issues quicker and empower tenants to challenge poor practice.”