New law passed after death of toddler Awaab Ishak gives social housing tenants stronger protection

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died following respiratory problems caused by prolonged exposure to damp and mould. Credit: Family photo

New rules which now require social housing landlords to fix damp and mould issues to strict deadlines or rehouse tenants in safe accommodation, have become law.

Awaab's Law is named after two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died who died in December 2020 from prolonged exposure to mould in his family's home in Rochdale.

The toddler's parents, Aisha Amin and father Faisal Abdhullah, worked alongside the Housing Secretary Michael Gove to facilitate it, and say the changes will "make a big difference".

Awaab father delivering their petition for Awaab's Law to parliament which received over 170,000 signatures. Credit: ITV News

Christian Weaver, Awaab's family's Barrister said that for them, "the passing of Awaab's law is huge and represents justice actually being done".

He continued: "All throughout the process they felt so ignored. They made so many complaints to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing and absolutely everything fell on deaf ears.

"The fact that Awaab's law will now be a reality, the fact that Awaab's death hasn't been in vain, and the fact that if another family find themselves in the same situation, there is actually something that they can now do."

"Something the family would always be keen for me to stress is the gratitude for the 177,000 members of the public who signed the petition calling for Awaab's law," Mr Weaver added.

"I joined the family as they delivered that petition to 10 Downing Street and it was such a significant thing for them because they had felt so ignored and they felt that the whole country listened to them in their time of despair and worked with them to ensure that no other family will go through what they went through, so for that they are incredibly grateful."

Housing secretary Michael Gove. Credit: ITV News

Awaab's Law is part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act which has been described as the most significant reform of the housing sector in more than a decade.

The Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities said: "I think it will make a big difference because we are putting those who are responsible for looking after tenants in social housing on notice.

"Ever since I arrived in this job, it's been clear to me that we need to do better by those who live in social housing.

"This bill marks a significant change. The tragic death of Awaab Ishak has influenced the debate and influenced the debate in what I believe is a powerful way for good in making sure that tenants have stronger rights and stronger protections."

The new rules also include a requirement for managers of social housing to have professional qualifications - a measure which had been called for by Tory former Prime Minister Theresa May and campaign group Grenfell United.

Grenfell United was formed by the bereaved and survivors of the deadly west London tower block fire in 2017 which killed 72 people.

The group has been hailed for its "tireless campaigning" to improve how social housing tenants are treated.

Grenfell Tower block. Credit: PA Images

The group said the Grenfell fire "should have been the catalyst for change" but noted how long it had taken for this new legislation to be passed.

It said: "For six years we have fought tirelessly for a Social Housing Regulation Bill that will create a legacy for the lives that were lost to ensure they are remembered for the changes that came.

"We hope that this legislation will go some way towards the positive change the social housing sector so desperately needs to improve conditions for tenants.

"Higher consumer standards, a proper complaint process, Ofsted-style inspections by the Regulator and professional social housing management can only be a step in the right direction. But this is just the beginning."

The group, however has said that more still needs to be done and that they "will not give up until every social housing tenant is treated with respect and dignity."

Other measures give the social housing watchdog more teeth, including new powers to issue unlimited fines to landlords who fail to meet standards.

Awaab Ishak. Credit: Family photo

Housing charity Shelter said that the passing of the act is "historic moment for the nearly nine million people who live in social homes in England".

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, continued: "Six long years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, this legislation is the result of tireless campaigning by Grenfell United and other activists to improve the way social tenants are treated.

"The landmark legislation means social landlords must be professionally qualified and can be properly held to account for the homes they let out.

"The Act should mark a step change in ensuring tenants have homes which are fit to live in, and that nobody's life is put at risk, as has happened too many times before, from Grenfell to the tragic death of Awaab Ishak.

"As we look to the future, it is important to remember that stronger regulation alone cannot fix this country's serious housing problems.

"Social housing has a vital role to play in providing decent, secure homes that are genuinely affordable for people, but to do that it desperately needs more government investment to both improve the existing homes and build new ones."