Oxford City Council says a new law for social landlords to tackle damp and mould should be extended to all rented homes.
People living in homes with damp and mould are more likely to have respiratory problems, allergies or asthma. Damp and mould can also affect the immune system and have a negative impact on people’s mental health.
Last November, a coroner found mould caused the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak at his home in Rochdale in 2020.
In response, the government has announced new legislation known as ‘Awaab’s law’. This will make councils and housing associations fix reported health hazards – including damp and mould – in their homes within strict new time limits.
The council is taking a proactive approach to dealing with damp and mould and is in the process of writing to all its 8,000 tenants asking them to report problems in their home.
However, it says that all tenants deserve a decent home and that Awaab’s law should also cover private rented as well as social housing.
The English Housing Survey 2021-22 found that private rented homes were nearly three times more likely to have damp problems than social housing. Newly published research for Citizens Advice also suggests that more than half of private renters in England – 2.7 million households – live in homes with damp, mould or excessive cold.
In a letter to secretary of state Michael Gove, the council has also outlined how current safety guidance provides inadequate protection for tenants and leads to an underreporting of damp and mould in private rented homes.
The housing, health and safety rating system (HHSRS) assesses hazards in the home based on the likelihood and severity of the harm they could cause. Although councils must take enforcement action against the most serious (category 1) hazards, in most cases the HHSRS assesses damp and mould as a less serious (category 2) risk.
While it is one of the most common problems found during inspections the council must now typically use other HHSRS hazards like excess cold to effectively tackle damp and mould in private rented homes. This also means that the council reports far fewer cases of damp and mould to central government than it is dealing with.
The government announced a review of the HHSRS in October 2018. The council says this review needs to be completed as a matter of urgency, putting greater emphasis on the risk posed by damp and mould and also addressing issues not covered in current HHSRS guidance.
Excess moisture, inadequate ventilation and a cold home are the causes of condensation which leads to mould in the home. The HHSRS does not provide adequate guidance on the affordability of heating, other complex causes like overcrowding, or the effect of damp and mould on people’s wellbeing.
“This is an issue we take very seriously. Oxford City Council welcomes the announcement of Awaab’s law and I would urge our tenants to report problems with damp and mould in their homes.
“But everybody deserves a decent home. If the government is really serious about tackling damp and mould it should extend Awaab’s law to cover all rented homes and not just social housing.
“We’d also like to see better protection for all tenants in HHSRS guidance. We should be able to treat damp and mould as category 1 hazards and this would have the added benefit of providing a better picture of the extent of the problem in England. We were promised a review of the HHSRS nearly four and a half years ago. It’s time the government delivered.”
Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing
Reporting damp and mould
Council tenants experiencing damp and mould should call 01865 249811.
In the first instance, private rented or housing association tenants should contact their landlord or managing agent in writing to report problems with disrepair, damp and mould.
If a landlord does not respond within 14 days or will not carry out work to fix the problem, tenants should contact the council:
- call 01865 252658 or email email@example.com
- people living in a house in multiple occupation, call 01865 252211 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If the council identifies problems needing repair, it will ask the landlord to carry out any necessary work. If a landlord does not take action, the council can serve them with an improvement notice.
All private rented homes in Oxford now need a licence. It is a condition of the council’s licensing schemes that landlords and agents carry out regular inspections of the homes they rent out to identify disrepair problems.