Charity calls for Awaab's Law to extend to private renters in cold, damp and mouldy homes

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Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from a respiratory condition caused by mould at his home in Greater Manchester. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Private renters must get the same legal protections against being forced to live in mouldy conditions as social housing and housing association tenants, a charity says.

More than half of private renters in England – including 1.6 million children – are living in excessively cold, damp or mouldy homes, a survey by Citizens Advice suggests.

The government has tabled new legislation to protect social tenants after two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from a respiratory condition caused by mould in his Rochdale, Greater Manchester home.

The little boy's family successfully campaigned for change following an inquest into his death.

The government tabled an amendment to the Social Housing Bill that would place strict, legally binding timelines on social landlords to fix serious health hazards such as damp and mould.

Citizens Advice is calling for this protection to be extended to private tenants suffering in squalid conditions in rental properties too.

The estate in Rochdale where Awaab lived.

It says tenants in the private rental sector are some of the worst affected by the cost of living crisis - left shouldering the burden of poor insulation via skyrocketing energy bills.

Yonder surveyed 2,000 private renters aged 18 and over in the UK between January 23-31 on behalf of Citizens Advice.

Some 2.7 million households are struggling with the poor living conditions brought on by a combination of high energy bills and a lack of insulation, the charity found.

The problem is especially bad in the least energy efficient homes, with private tenants being 73% more likely to be living with damp if they are in a property with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D-G rather than A-C, it said.

Tenants are 89% more likely to experience excessive cold in a D-G rated property than one rated A-C, according to the survey.

Mould in Awaab Ishak's flat in Rochdale.

The average private sector tenant in England is paying £350 more a year on heating because of poorly insulated and damp homes, while those in the least efficient properties are paying an extra £950, Citizens Advice calculated.

With energy bills set to rise again in April, those in the least efficient homes could pay a “terrifying” £1,190 more a year to keep warm, it added.

Some 40% of renters told the charity's survey they had felt stressed as a result of damp, mould and excessive cold, with 36% saying it made them feel anxious.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to bring regulation of the private rental sector in line with social housing by following the lead set by ‘Awaab’s Law.’

The charity also urged the government to follow through on its promise to make sure all private rental properties are upgraded to a minimum EPC C by 2025.

Landlords are currently required only to bring their properties up to an E rating, and do not have to make any improvements costing more than £3,500 – a cap which Citizens Advice said needed to be increased to £10,000.

Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Every week we hear stories of people living in cold, damp and mouldy properties they can’t afford to heat properly.

“It’s shameful that more than 20 years since legislation came into force to reduce fuel poverty and improve the energy performance of homes, people are still suffering.

“Improving energy efficiency in privately rented homes has never been more urgent. It’s the step needed to keep people’s essential bills low, while also helping to protect their mental and physical health.”

A government spokesperson said: "We are covering around half of the typical household’s energy bill this winter, but these conditions are unacceptable. That is why we are introducing a Decent Homes Standard for the Private Rented Sector for the first time ever which will make sure tenants have a safe and decent place to live. 

“The Social Housing Bill will strengthen the powers of the regulator so they can issue unlimited fines to rogue landlords, enter properties with only 48 hours’ notice and make emergency repairs where there is a serious risk to tenants - with landlords footing the bill.”

The Bill is also tipped to abolish Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and introduce a housing ombudsman, covering all private rented sector landlords and providing redress for tenants.

However it has faced delays, and the government was last year forced to reject reports speculating the measures could be shelved, amid reports of a U-turn on the Conservatives' manifesto pledge to ban no-fault evictions.

The Bill is currently in the report stage, and is yet to have its third and final reading.

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