The inquest into the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak from mould exposure has started a national debate over housing quality – as well as new enforcement efforts.
The story sparked national outrage and led to calls for immediate change at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, where the tragedy took place, and also in the social housing sector as a whole. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, cut off £1m in planned grant funding to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, and has said that he will block funding to other housing providers that fail to deal with maintenance issues.
While Awaab Ishak’s family lived in a housing association property, the private rented sector is also under scrutiny. Gove has told local councils to report on damp and mould in privately rented properties. Authorities will have to share their enforcement records from the past three years, and also set out their plans for improving housing quality in the private rented sector.
Changing the rules
Housing health and safety rules could be about to change. Under new guidance in the updated Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), which is expected to come into force next April, environmental health officers will be asked to consider tenant behaviour when inspecting privately rented properties. If tenants are not keeping homes appropriately warm and ventilated, councils may decide not to take action against landlords.
The report references some common landlord complaints, such as tenants not opening windows or drying wet clothes on radiators. But critics worry that it could allow landlords and councils to blame tenants for issues and avoid taking action, as happened in the Rochdale case.
The rules could also be due for a further shakeup. In October, the government wrapped up a consultation on applying a Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector. Under plans set out in the government’s A fairer private rented sector white paper released earlier this year, the Decent Homes Standard will become legally binding – and tenants will be able to reclaim rent if their homes are judged to be non-decent.
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