New legislation ‘should mean nobody’s life is put at risk’ in social housing

The new Act includes Awaab’s law and measures campaigned for in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Aine Fox
Thursday 20 July 2023 17:12 BST
Grenfell United has been hailed for its tireless campaigning to strengthen social housing regulations (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Grenfell United has been hailed for its tireless campaigning to strengthen social housing regulations (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

New rules aimed at improving the quality of social housing and described as the most significant reform of the sector in more than a decade have become law.

The long-awaited passing of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act is a “historic moment for the nearly nine million people who live in social homes in England”, housing charity Shelter said.

It includes Awaab’s law, which requires landlords to fix reported hazards in social housing, such as mould, in a “timely fashion” or rehouse tenants in safe accommodation.

It followed the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home.

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

Polly Neate, Shelter

The new regulations also include a requirement for social housing managers to have professional qualifications  – a measure which had been called for by Tory former prime minister Theresa May and campaign group Grenfell United.

The group of bereaved and survivors, formed after the deadly west London tower block fire in 2017 which killed 72 people, has been hailed for its “tireless campaigning” to improve how social housing tenants are treated.

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.

“There is more to be done and we will not give up until every social housing tenant is treated with respect and dignity. That is the very least that we deserve”.

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

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The passing of the Social Housing Regulation Act is a historic moment for the nearly nine million people who live in social homes in England.

“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.”

Homelessness charity Crisis described the Act as a “huge win for social housing tenants who for too long have been ignored”.

Its chief executive, Matt Downie, said: “The Act will finally begin to put right some of the countless horrors tenants have suffered from: flooded corridors, mouldy rooms and cramped conditions – absolutely no-one should ever be forced to live like this or have their life put at risk because of poor conditions.”

He also called for the Government to build more social housing “if we’re to tackle the housing crisis that is gripping this country”.

The charity Electrical Safety First said the Act is a “huge step towards bringing about equal protection from electrical dangers for those in social housing as those already afforded to renters in the private sector”.

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