Gove warns not to ‘hide behind legal process’
1 January 2023
This article was first published on the Batchelor’s Solicitors website prior to its merger with Birketts.
In an open letter to social housing providers, the Levelling Up and Housing Secretary, Michael Gove has warned the sector that they must learn from mistakes instead of hiding behind the legal process.
The warning follows the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak from prolonged exposure to black mould in his family’s rented flat in Rochdale.
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing was accused by Awaab’s family of repeatedly ignoring their pleas for remedial work and, following an inquest last week which was highly critical of the housing provider’s lack of action, its Chief Executive, Gareth Swarbrick, was fired.
In his letter to other social housing providers, Michael Gove has now urged the sector to listen and take urgent action when tenants report black mould issues.
He wrote: “Every single person in this country…. deserves to live in a home that is decent, safe and secure. I expect those who hold the high responsibility of managing people’s homes to ensure that no family experiences such a tragedy again.
“Together, we must raise the bar dramatically on the quality of social housing and empower tenants so that their voices are truly heard. I want to be clear about what this must mean in relation to damp and mould, as I have been made aware of many cases where this has gone unaddressed for far too long and am concerned that they are not treated with sufficient seriousness.
“The coroner’s report into Awaab’s death is a litany of failure. As housing providers, I expect you to read it in full and absorb its lessons. All social homes must meet the Decent Homes Standard; you must be aware of any that do not and undertake rapid remedial works.
“However, in light of this case I expect you to go further than the letter of the Standard and have particular regard to damp and mould.
“Damp and mould are not ‘lifestyle issues’ as the Housing Ombudsman Service underscored last year. Where people complain about damp and mould, you must listen; where you find them, you must take prompt action. To keep tenants safe, you must not hide behind legal process.”
Mr Gove also warned that the Regulator of Social Housing is in the process of writing to all social housing providers and that they should respond promptly and also self-refer to the RSH if they are aware that they may be in breach of the Decent Homes Standard.
The RSH has the power to proactively inspect landlords and issue unlimited fines by intervening in cases where tenants’ lives are being put at risk because of delays in dealing with repairs. In the very worst cases, it also has the power to instruct that properties are brought under new management.
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The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2023.