''Awaab's Law''- changes to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill
What is Awaab's Law?
The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will require social landlords to investigate and fix reported hazards in their homes within a specified time frame or rehouse tenants where a home cannot be made safe. The Bill provides that there will be penalties for social landlords if they fail to comply with the new rules. This new amendment will be another standard on which housing providers are assessed by the Regulator.
What prompted Awaab's Law?
This amendment to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill was prompted by the death of Awaab Ishak. Awaab Ishak was a two-year-old boy living in a social housing property who died on 21 December 2020 from inhaling toxic damp and mould. The inquest specifically blamed his housing conditions as contributing to his death. Awaab's death drew a lot of media attention and public concern, which resulted in the Government declaring a 'crackdown' on damp and mould and other health hazards in social housing properties.
What will be the impact on the social housing sector?
The response to Awaab's Law has been positive, and the amendment has received broad support across the sector.
The law will not just be limited to damp and mould but will also cover other health hazards such as cold temperatures, excessive noise and so on. RPs will also need to be aware of the likely timescales to act upon complaints received from residents. These will be set out later in secondary legislation, but 14 days to investigate and a further seven days to carry out the necessary repairs has been mooted. We already know that increased claims are being brought by social housing tenants against their landlords for damages (for alleged breach of the landlord's repairing obligations) and private prosecutions are being brought in Magistrates' courts, where tenants are alleging the conditions in their home constitute a statutory nuisance/are prejudicial to the health of the occupants.
Will the private housing sector be affected?
At present, the Bill only affects social housing landlords and tenants, but charities such as Citizens' Advice have urged that the private rented sector should be covered. It is not yet clear if this might be introduced as part of the Government's wider reforms of the private rented sector.
What impact will this have on tenancy agreements?
With the introduction of Awaab's Law, tenancy agreements will automatically be updated to include covenants on the part of the landlord to carry out repairs and/or rehouse tenants whilst the repair works are ongoing. This would mean that a landlord would be liable for breach of tenancy if they fail to meet the standards.
Landlords will need to monitor their own compliance to satisfy the Regulator and the Ombudsman, which will both naturally be focussing on this as a compliance issue.
Similarly, landlords will need to consider these obligations in wider contexts such as portfolio stock swaps, stock acquisitions and disposals to ensure that liability for any existing health hazards such as damp and mould is accounted for.