Awaab's law: upcoming changes to the law on damp and mould

News and developments

Recent developments on damp and mould in rented housing, following the death of Awaab Ishak in his parents’ housing association home in Rochdale.

Updated August 2023 | First published February 2023

Social housing and Awaab's law

Following the coroner’s report into Awaab Ishak’s death, the government announced plans to make major changes to the law on damp and mould. These changes are due to be introduced through the Social Housing (Regulation) Act, with other regulations already planned for the private rented sector.

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act received royal assent in July 2023. After the coroner's report was published, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) announced in February 2023 that new measures on damp and mould would be included in the bill. This will be known as ‘Awaab’s law’.

'Awaab's law' will require landlords to fix reported health hazards within specified timeframes. This will become an implied term in social housing tenancy agreements.

These measures, along with other provisions from the Act, are expected to come into force in 2024.

Read more about the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 in news and updates: Social housing regulation - what, why and when.

Private rented sector reforms

The government published its proposal for legislative change in the white paper ‘A Fairer Private Rented Sector’ in 2022. The white paper proposed major reforms to the private rented sector, such as the abolition of Section 21 notices, as well as introducing a new Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector. 

The Decent Homes Standard would require private sector landlords to ensure their properties are free from health and safety hazards.

The Renters (Reform) Bill received its first reading in May 2023 but the initial bill did not include provisions to extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector. This is due to be introduced at a later date.

Read A fairer private rented sector on Gov.uk.

Government guidance

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has published guidance to be actioned immediately by social landlords and local authorities in their role reviewing private sector standards in their area.

The Housing Ombudsman published a report on damp and mould with recommendations for landlords in 2021. In 2022 the Ombudsman published an update via an open letter to its member landlords.

Guidance for social landlords

DHLUC has published guidance to social landlords covering damp and mould in rented housing in November 2022.

The guidance instructs social landlords on how to respond to the coroners’ report on Awaab Ishak, including:

  • ensuring all their homes meet the Decent Homes Standard

  • ensuring they are aware of any which do not meet the standard

  • undertaking rapid remedial works where required

The letter also made clear that damp and mould should not be treated as a lifestyle issue and reiterated that landlords should listen to tenants who report issues.

DLUHC has asked landlords to undertake assessments of the damp and mould problems affecting their properties, including any category 1 and 2 hazards.

Read DLUHC's Direction letter on standards to all providers of social housing.

Guidance for local authorities on private rented housing

In November 2022, DLUHC also published guidance for local authorities on their duty to review housing conditions in private rented accommodation under the Housing Act 2004.

All local authorities are directed to:

  • pay particular attention to high scoring category 2 damp and mould hazards

  • provide DLUHC with an assessment of the damp and mould issues affecting private rented properties in their area

  • supply DLUHC with an assessment on action which may need to be taken

Local authorities are also asked to provide information to DLUHC on the last three 12-month reporting periods on the number of:

  • damp and mould hazards the authority has dealt with

  • occasions where enforcement action has been taken, and how this has been done

  • civil penalty enforcement notices issued on damp and mould

  • prosecutions successfully pursued regarding damp and mould

Authorities who do not collect this information are asked to explain their reasons to DLUHC.

Read the full DLHUC LA direction letter on standards.

Housing Ombudsman: Spotlight report on damp and mould

The Housing Ombudsman published a report on damp and mould in 2021, titled ‘It’s not lifestyle’. 

The report found systemic issues with landlords placing the blame for damp and mould on residents and their lifestyles, rather than addressing issues properly.

The report makes recommendations for landlords on dealing with cases of damp and mould in their properties, including:

  • taking a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould

  • avoiding actions which place the responsibility solely on the tenant

  • developing a dedicated policy for dealing with damp and mould

  • identifying and resolving any skill gaps relating to the treatment of damp and mould

Read the full Housing Ombudsman Spotlight report on damp and mould.

Housing Ombudsman letter to landlords

Following the coroner’s report on Awaab Ishak, the Housing Ombudsman published a follow-up letter to landlords on handling complaints about damp and mould in November 2022.

The Ombudsman reminds landlords of the findings from last year’s report, and highlights the need to take a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould and to consider a dedicated policy to enable decision-making.

The letter reiterates that landlords should avoid patronising, stigmatising or potentially discriminatory language which blames tenants for damp and mould and that this may even lead to a finding of maladministration.

Read the Housing Ombudsman full letter on Complaints relating to damp and mould.

Guidance for tenants

The House of Commons library has published a brief guide for tenants on how to deal with damp and mould in rented housing. 

The guide summarises the existing legal remedies open to a tenant living with damp and mould.

Read the guidance on Helping tenants with damp and mouldy housing (England).

About the author

Madeleine Hunter is a legal content producer and former housing adviser at Shelter.