Publication of the coroner’s report into the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, and her formal letters to the health and levelling up Secretaries of State, were national news and the subject of this column in December 2022. Both departments have moved swiftly in response.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) set up a team to develop up-to-date guidance for landlords, working with a multidisciplinary expert group and advice from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. The resulting guidance was published on 7 September.
The guidance sets out the responsibilities of landlords, in both the social and private sectors, for ensuring that their accommodation is fit to live in and free from serious hazards, including damp and mould. It makes very clear that they must act with urgency to deal with damp and mould in their dwellings, and must protect their tenants’ health.
‘The guidance is very clear that tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould in their home… they are absolutely not the result of ‘lifestyle choices’
It includes guidance on the requirements of the Building Regulations that relate to minimising the risk of damp and mould, and that they apply whenever building work is carried out in the dwelling. The coroner in the Awaab Ishak case found that his family’s flat was not compliant with Building Regulations.
The guidance is very clear that tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould in their home, and that they are absolutely not the result of so-called ‘lifestyle choices’. Washing, showering and doing your laundry are not ‘lifestyle choices’, and any dwelling must be adequately heated and ventilated to prevent them causing damp problems.
Where moisture problems are reported, landlords are required to act quickly to determine the underlying causes, whether they are down to inadequate ventilation or structural faults in the building.
In addition to the new guidance on avoiding damp and mould, the government released further guidance on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, used to assess the safety of homes and identify and prioritise health and safety risks.
Forthcoming legislation in the Renters (Reform) Bill and the new Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, are intended to improve housing standards by:
- Creating a statutory duty on social housing providers to appoint a senior health and safety lead; significant statutory duties to monitor compliance with health and safety provisions and raise compliance risks or failings with senior management (see Section 10 of the 2023 Act)
- Introducing new requirements for landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould in social homes
- Empowering the Housing Ombudsman and changing the law to enable social housing residents to complain directly to the ombudsman
- Reviewing the Decent Homes Standard and applying it to private rented homes for the first time
- Introducing new professional standards and requiring senior housing staff to hold, or work towards, recognised housing management qualifications
- Introducing an ombudsman for private tenants.
Landlords and their health and safety leads need to read this guidance and adopt the best practices it sets out. Those who work in social housing or manage private rented homes would be well advised to read section 10 of the Social Housing Act as well.
In addition to protecting tenants’ health, it will help to prevent a repeat of the utterly avoidable tragedy that befell Awaab Ishak’s family.
- The damp and mould guidance can be found at bit.ly/CJdampriskGov
- The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 is available at bit.ly/CJSHAct23
- Government has also released a summary of damp and mould returns in the private rented sector, provided by local authorities in England: bit.ly/CJDampPSGov
- Further guidance on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System is also available: bit.ly/3CJHHSRS23