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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Stephen Topping

Awaab's death was a 'hammer blow to our conscience', housing secretary says - now he has a powerful legacy that will save lives

Michael Gove says he is confident Awaab's Law will make 'rapid progress' after being voted through in the House of Lords. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill is due to be signed off by King Charles following a historic day in Westminster yesterday (June 27).

Awaab Ishak's father delivered the petition in his son's name to Number 10 Downing Street before Lords approved the new legislation. More than 177,000 people signed the Manchester Evening News' petition for Awaab's Law on in memory of the two-year-old boy, who died following prolonged exposure to mould in a Rochdale social flat.

Housing secretary Mr Gove said politicians across the divide were 'moved by Awaab's case' and that there was a 'universal acceptance that change was needed'. "We know that there are far too many homes in the rented sector that are just not in a decent state," he told the M.E.N.

"It shouldn't have taken Awaab's death to focus attention, but out of that tragedy has come a renewed move to deal with this."

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Amendments were made to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill earlier this year in line with the Awaab's Law campaign, capturing the spirit of our demands. The Bill passed through the House of Commons in March before being debated for the final time in Parliament yesterday. It is now due to receive Royal Assent.

An outpouring of anger at Awaab's death saw support for a change in the law soar in the days following his inquest. The demands could not be ignored by lawmakers.

Mr Gove said he was thankful to those who backed the campaign - and praised the strength of Awaab's family.

Michael Gove is hopeful of 'rapid progress' on Awaab's Law as it goes to Royal Assent (Manchester Evening News)

"I think Awaab's family have shown amazing courage," he said. "To lose a child is a terrible thing, and to lose a child in the circumstances that Awaab's parents lost their son is unimaginably sad.

"Then to have displayed the leadership that they have in pushing for change, I think is wholly admirable. I'm grateful to them, I'm grateful to the Manchester Evening News, I'm grateful to everyone that has signed the petition which has helped ensure that the right change has come."

Awaab case was described as a 'hammer blow to our conscience' by Mr Gove, with the toddler's family facing a situation unacceptable in 21st Century Britain. Awaab's inquest heard how his father first reported mould at the Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) property in 2017, a year before Awaab was born. He was told to paint over it.

The problem worsened by 2020, when a disrepair claim was made and repeated concerns were raised about the mould, but RBH failed to carry out work. Assumptions were also made about the family's lifestyle.

Following Awaab's death in December 2020, the flat was 'unfit for human habitation without repairs', the inquest heard.

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP; Honor Barber from; Awaab's father Faisal Abdullah; M.E.N. reporter Stephen Topping; Kelly Darlington from Farleys Solicitors; and lawyer Christian Weaver, who has represented the family (Ian Vogler)

Mr Gove said the story 'heart rending' and has led to social landlords taking damp, mould and threats to tenants' health more seriously. "We've had change," he said.

"On the one hand, RBH, there has been a recognition of responsibility there and a determination not to allow this situation to arise again. More broadly across the whole social rented sector, and indeed across the private rented sector, the impact of poor housing on health has been reinforced.

"I think it's impossible also to think about poor quality housing without recognising that during the covid pandemic, people who were living in either overcrowded or poor conditions were more likely to suffer as a result of that. There have also been other campaigners like Kwajo Tweneboa who have raised the importance of doing right by people in social housing.

"Awaab's Law crystallises the concerns that so many people have had and gives a practical effect to that by ensuring that social landlords live up to their responsibilities." Mr Gove wrote to housing associations and councils in the aftermath of Awaab's inquest on the need to ensure damp and mould is effectively dealt with.

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He said almost all social housing leaders have responded 'positively' to that call and he doesn't 'doubt the sincerity' - but said there cannot be room for complacency in making sure Awaab's Law is followed. Mr Gove added: "One of the things that is critical is having great local campaigning newspapers, like the M.E.N, holding them to account and drawing attention to any failure on their part to live up to their responsibilities."

Awaab's Law will mean social landlords have to follow strict timeframes to inspect cases of damp and mould, and carry out urgent repairs. Those timeframes will be set following a consultation period, expected to take place later this year.

Faisal Abdullah, Awaab's dad, delivers the petition for Awaab's Law on Downing Street (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

The campaign had called for inspections to take place in 14 days and urgent repairs carried out in seven. Ahead of the consultation, Mr Gove said: "I think that the requests that Awaab's family have made, the campaign that the M.E.N. has run, seems to me to be absolutely the right lead option."

Following the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, campaigners have turned their attention to the private rented sector, with calls for Awaab's Law to be extended. The Renters (Reform) Bill is due to progress through Parliament, and Mr Gove says the Government will consider how all properties can be 'decent, civilised and humane'.

"We will look exactly at how we can make sure the private rented sector takes quality and decency seriously," he said. The overwhelming majority of private landlords do, but there are a proportion of rogue landlords who we do need to have effective sanctions against."

Michael Gove knocking on doors on the Freehold estate (Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

Success for Awaab's Law came on the same day Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham called for local powers to strip rogue landlords of their properties in the region, under the terms of the 'trailblazer' devolution deal. Mr Gove believes that deal could 'really drive change' in Greater Manchester.

He added: "Obviously Andy's from a different party than me, but I admire the ambition that he's shown for Manchester. We've given him, and indeed Andy Street in the West Midlands, £15m to improve housing quality.

"I'm sure that will be well used and I think that the additional powers Andy has, which I hope other mayors will enjoy in due course, should enable him to intervene in ways that will improve the lives of every citizen."

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