The landlord failed to act on concerns raised by Awaab’s family and blamed his family for causing the hazardous mould.
This tragic death brought to light the urgent need to eradicate this hazard from social homes and improve living standards across the sector.
On 9 January 2024, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities launched a consultation into Awaab’s Law, as introduced by the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023. Awaab’s Law will require landlords to investigate and fix reported health hazards within specified timeframes. It forms part of an interrelated package of publications relating to social housing in England.
The new rules will form part of a tenancy agreement, so that tenants can hold landlords to account by law if they fail to provide a decent home. The consultation seeks views on the specific performance requirements for landlords, specifically regarding time scales for investigating hazards and carrying out repairs.
What is a hazard?
The Housing Act 2004 introduced a Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to address how hazardous a property is by identifying defects, assessing the risk, outcome and effect.
An inspector applies two key tests to any hazards:
- What is the likelihood of a dangerous occurrence as a result of this hazard?
- If there is such an occurrence, what would be the likely outcome?
Damp and mould growth may amount to a Category 1 hazard - those which pose the most serious risk of harm, including death. Damp and mould growth is one of the most prevalent and costly hazards in terms of repair costs and costs to the NHS.
Need for timescales?
The consultation gives consideration to the Housing Ombudsman Service which indicated that many social tenants struggle to engage their landlords and far too many repairs are taking a long time, putting some residents at severe risk.
There is currently no legislation that sets out specific timescales that a landlord has to make repairs once they know about a hazard. The reforms give residents in social housing a stronger and louder voice.
Proposed time limits
The consultation proposes response times of 14 days from the complaint to investigate the causes of damp and mould. Thereafter repairs must start within seven days where a medical professional believes that there is a risk to a tenant’s health. The timescale for investigation should be achievable, however commencing work within seven days may present an issue in terms of resources.
How will these proposals impact claims?
We expect these timescales are likely to increase the number of housing disrepair claims. We are already seeing a rise in these claims following the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018; the Housing Ombudsman’s report on damp and mould in October 2021; and the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023.
Enforcement of Awaab’s Law will be by way of a disrepair claim with reference to the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims (England), legal proceedings and/or escalation to the Housing Ombudsman.
Until such time as housing disrepair claims attract the fixed recoverable costs regime, we predict that the number of claims will increase.
Courts will take the issues reported by tenants seriously. In order to defend housing disrepair claims involving damp and mould, landlords will need to ensure these timescales, once implemented, are adhered to.
Communication with the tenant will be key in building good relationships. One of the issues for landlords will likely be obtaining trained in-house HHSRS technical inspectors to carry out the required inspections of their properties. There is likely to be a short-term sector wide skills gap whilst technical inspectors are trained in HHSRS, which will also make finding not only inspectors but also tradespeople potentially challenging. There needs to be clear guidance on report writing and providing a written report to the tenant within 48 hours of the inspection is, in our view, unrealistic.
Managing budgets for social landlords is always going to be difficult. Many use external contractors and delivery partners and these contracts may need to be realigned. Short lead times to carry out the repairs may mean more repairs have to be done in-house rather than using external specialist contractors, which will affect budgets and cause difficulties with cost management control.
In the meantime, landlords should review their damp and mould policies and consider allocation of resources.