A watchdog has warned landlords to “act now” in addressing damp and mould in social housing after an investigation revealed tens of thousands of homes had “notable” issues.
The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) began its probe late last year after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishaak shocked the country.
A coroner ruled the toddler died in 2020 of a respiratory condition caused by mould in his one-bedroom housing association flat, despite pleas from his parents to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) to fix the problems.
As a result, RBH was stripped of its funding and its chief executive Gareth Swarbrick was sacked.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove said too many homes were not of a decent standard, adding: “Landlords must get a grip of damp and mould issues and make improvements now.”
The RSH asked all providers of social housing to submit evidence about the extent of damp and mould in the homes they provided, and details of how they were tackling it.
In its final report, the regulator said the vast majority of the dwellings were “largely free from damp and mould”.
And it said less than 0.2% of social homes in England had the most serious damp problems.
But that is the equivalent of 8,000 properties failing the decent homes standard.
The regulator also said between 1% and 2% of social homes – 40,000 to 60,000 – had “serious” damp and mould problems, while a further 3% to 4% – 120,000 to 160,000 – had “notable” problems.
The RSH warned the numbers were just estimates as providers measured cases in different ways, making it difficult to come to exact conclusions, but it said it was “essential that providers identify and address these issues promptly and effectively”.
And it said it would look in more detail at how individual landlords were performing.
“We expect providers to be asking themselves how they can improve – regulation should not be the only driver for change, it added.
Chief executive Fiona MacGregor said: “Tenants deserve quality services and homes that are safe and of a decent standard.
“Where there are issues, landlords need to act now to put things right, before we start our active consumer regulation, including inspections of providers.
“We expect all providers to continue to look at how they can improve the way they identify and address damp and mould.”
The housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, Darren Rodwell, said councils were “determined to improve housing conditions for all social and private tenants”.
Mr Gove said it was good to see the regulator “taking action on landlords who continue to shirk their responsibility”.
He added: “Our Social Housing Bill will strengthen its powers so complaints are handled properly, issues are fixed and people have good quality, decent homes.
“The LGA continues to work with professional bodies, as well as the government, to discuss possible solutions on improving housing standards – including those relating to damp and mould in tenanted properties.”