Michael Gove has backed a new “Awaab’s law” as part of a crackdown on councils and housing associations renting out mould-infested homes after a two-year-old died with fungus in his blood and lungs.
Awaab Ishak died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in his one-bedroom housing association flat in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
His parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, repeatedly complained about the state of the accommodation and are now campaigning for reform to prevent other families going through the same experience.
Speaking after the Housing Secretary had met with Awaab’s family on Thursday, Christian Weaver, their lawyer, said: “The family are pushing for the implementation of an Awaab’s law to ensure that no other family goes through what they have been through.
“Awaab’s law would significantly improve the experiences of those living with mould and damp in their properties, and is therefore crucial. We are pleased that the Secretary of State has provided his support for an Awaab’s law.”
Building on the Social Housing Regulation Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, Awaab’s Law sets timeframes and requirements for inspections to be carried out on damp and mould.
It will also give greater urgency to cases where health issues have been identified and make sure all residents are told their rights.
Talks were ‘unsatisfactory’
Government sources said that the Housing Secretary had an “unsatisfactory” meeting earlier in the day with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which failed to explain how it would ensure tenants’ safety.
Mr Gove blocked £1 million in funding that RBH was set to receive to build new homes, and threatened “further action” unless it proves it is a responsible landlord.
After his talks with RBH, a government source said: “[RBH] yet again failed to answer basic questions about their operations and how they will ensure that tenants are safe in their homes.
“The Secretary of State does not have confidence in the leadership of RBH and will continue to pay very close attention to their work, in close co-operation with the regulator.
“He will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.”
Tens of thousands ‘in poor condition’
On Thursday morning, the Housing Secretary vowed to strip other failing landlords of funding as he warned at least tens of thousands of homes are unsafe because of damp and mould.
“I fear it’s the case that there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the state that they should be,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Asked if tens of thousands was correct, he said: “Yes, at least.
“We know there are a significant number of properties, some of which were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s and are in poor conditions, but some of which have been poorly maintained that simply need to be properly repaired and properly maintained.”
Gareth Swarbrick was removed as RBH’s chief executive following the highly-critical inquest into Awaab’s death.
Asked if the organisation should still be operating at all, Mr Gove said: “If the penny has dropped, if the organisation is ready to learn appropriate lessons to improve and there are signs they fully appreciate the need to improve, we will work with them, and indeed with Rochdale Council, in order to make improvements.”
The Housing Secretary awarded a £14 million pot for seven areas with high numbers of poor, privately rented homes to crack down on rogue landlords, including Greater Manchester, Leeds and Cornwall.