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What is Awaab’s Law and how did the death of the two-year old reopen the discussion about the public housing sector?

On Thursday the 9th of February 2023, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, announced amendments to the Social Housing Regulation Bill. The amendments are called Awaab’s Law, named after Awaab Ishak, who died in December 2020 due to poor housing conditions. This amendment aims to confront the issue of poor housing by recognising the mistakes made by Awaab’s death.

Mold on a wall

Michael Gove has supported making social housing safer and warmer; however, reports of social housing falling below the required standards still make their way to the headlines and across social media. Housing campaigner, Kwajo Tweneboa, brings awareness to poor quality of housing across the UK on social media. His campaigning has allowed him to speak on large platforms such as Good Morning Britain and become involved in meetings with politicians and housing directors.

Awaab was born in 2018 in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, to two Sudanese immigrants who migrated to the UK in 2016 and 2017. The family lived in a one-bedroom flat in the Ilminster Block on Rochdale’s Freehold Estate. Initial complaints about the (ultimately) fatal mould were reported to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) by Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, in 2017. Abdullah was told to paint over the mould, which he had done several times, but this had failed to prevent the mould from growing.

Around July 2020 a Health Visitor saw the mould personally and wrote to the RBH housing offices, highlighting that high levels of mould could have a detrimental effect on the family’s health, especially on Awaab, due to his age. The letter suggested the family be rehoused.  Unfortunately, there was no reply. 

After living in the property for two years, Awaab Ishak died of a respiratory illness on the 21 December 2020. In November 2022, almost two years after Awaab’s death, the Coroner found that the black mould in the flat, mostly in the bathroom and kitchen, caused the death. 

Awaab’s law will be a part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, which is currently in the process of becoming law. The Bill’s main aims are to introduce a more effective system of regulating social housing set out by the Social Housing White Paper (which was an initial draft of the Bill). Specific aspects of the Bill include:

  • further intervention from regulators when landlords fail to address their tenants' concerns; this includes removing the capped amount a landlord can be fined,
  • the “performance improvement plan”, which highlights the requirement for landlords to create a repair plan if they breach standards, 
  • landlords must also ensure that an assigned individual will address health and safety concerns, and
  • removing the “serious detriment” test means regulators can still be involved in a case, even if the case is not deemed significantly detrimental. 

What Awaab’s law will do specifically is to make sure that reported breaches of housing standards meet strict deadlines. This recognises the fact that Awaab’s flat in Rochdale had been flagged up by surveyors and health professionals several times but was not rectified. Overall, Awaab’s Law will ensure that social housing landlords are held accountable in case of unmet housing standards. Pressure from legislation means landlords can no longer view repairing poor quality housing as an option, but as a legal duty. Crucially, GPs will also play a direct role in reviewing social housing conditions by reporting poor living standards that cause detriment to the health of those living in them, ensuring more of a holistic approach to the problem.

Legislation like the Social Housing Bill protects tenants living in social housing that fall below the required standards. Although this protection could be extended to the private sector to maximise its effectiveness, it establishes that Landlords are to be held accountable so that tragic deaths like Awaab’s will not be repeated.

By Muorada Ibrahim
First Year LLB Law and Politics student at Queen Mary University of London

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