The number of social housing tenants in England complaining of damp and leaks is on course to more than double in the two years since a child died after living in a rented flat with chronic mould.
However, less than half of landlords are estimated to have introduced policies to tackle the problem and some are still blaming tenants’ lifestyles, the housing ombudsman said.
Richard Blakeway described the response after the inquest into two-year-old Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020 as “disappointing”. Formal complaints to the ombudsman about damp, mould and leaks are expected to reach 5,300 for the year to March, up from fewer than 2,000 in 2020-21.
A coroner found that Awaab died from respiratory illness caused by chronic mould in his family’s rented flat in Rochdale. The landlord failed to tackle the problem despite complaints.
Awaab’s story prompted the housing secretary, Michael Gove, to pledge the introduction of a law that would give more rights and protections to tenants living in mouldy homes. Gove and Steve Barclay, the health secretary, last month announced a rapid review of guidance about health risks from damp and mould, which is estimated to affect more than 150,000 households renting from social landlords.
The housing ombudsman called for landlords to stop blaming tenants’ laundry, cooking and other “lifestyle” issues for mould. It also found that “some landlords had removed words such as ‘lifestyle’ from their policies and replaced them with euphemisms such as ‘internal environmental factors’”.
“The inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak has focused the minds of the sector. But we are continually finding in our casework that landlords have not responded to this issue with sufficient urgency,” Blakeway said.
“It is disappointing when we conducted our review how few landlords had acted to implement a dedicated damp and mould policy, despite there being a clear and driving need to have a bespoke response for these reports given the shortcoming identified in our casework.”
This week the ombudsman found Clarion, England’s largest social landlord, to be responsible for “severe maladministration”, including failures to fix mould in homes in London and Kent. Clarion said it would increase monitoring of repairs.
Last month the ombudsman made the same finding against Leeds city council for failing to fix damp. The council responded by announcing a new damp and mould team. The ombudsman has also launched investigations into the developer L&Q and Haringey council to determine whether damp and mould cases are indicative of wider failings.
“I would urge senior leaders to go faster and further in their efforts to do what is right by their residents,” Blakeway said.
Kate Henderson, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents social housing providers, said: “While government data shows that most people have a good experience in their housing association home, it’s become clear that this has not been the case for everyone.
“Housing associations take this really seriously, and many have already begun work to improve the quality of any homes and services that have fallen short. This work has included extra inspections on homes and setting up special helplines for damp and mould cases.”
The Local Government Association housing spokesperson Darren Rodwell said councils are “determined to improve housing conditions for all social and private tenants”. He added: “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.”