All renters must have the right to a mould-free home

Every weekend, like many MPs across the country, I love visiting different streets and blocks in my constituency of Putney, Southfields, Roehampton and Wandsworth Town. We have a wide range of housing types across our community, including the largest social housing estate in Europe in Roehampton.

I am always horrified during my doorstep rounds when families show me mould in their homes. Often babies and children in the family have respiratory problems. As soon as I open the door, I can feel that the air inside is difficult to breathe. Many families have told me that they have sealed off affected rooms entirely, with children sharing rooms with parents or being forced to camp out in the living room.

This terrible rise in affected households has been caused in part by the cost of living crisis. Families cannot afford heating, or the electricity to run the tumble dryer if they have one, nor to repair broken windows or leaky doors. It’s easy to see why this issue is soaring to crisis levels in homes in Putney and across the country.

Always on my mind during these doorstep conversations with residents is Awaab Ishak and his family. Awaab was just two years old when he died from a respiratory condition caused by the mould in his home. This terrible, avoidable tragedy must never be allowed to happen again. I was pleased to see the Government introduce ‘Awaab’s Law’, which when implemented will require social housing landlords to act quickly to resolve hazards including mould and damp, within a strict timeframe.

But there is a glaring loophole in this law – it does not protect private renters, who make up the majority of people renting homes. It means that a child living in a home that is rented from a private landlord will not be protected by Awaab’s Law.

I have submitted my Private Member’s Bill to ask the Government to extend the law, to ensure all renters have the right to a home free from damp, cold and mould. Labour is also urging the Government to back the extension of Awaab’s Law in amendments to the Private Renters Bill, due to be debated in Parliament in February.

According to research by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the average tenant is facing annual energy bills that are £350 more expensive due to poor insulation. 31% of renters said they were unable to heat their home to a comfortable temperature, rising to 45% of renters who have a disability. Unbelievably, there are 1.6 million children in England living in the private rented sector in cold, damp or mouldy homes.

We have a high proportion of private renters in our constituency in Putney – at the time of the 2021 census, around 34% of households in Putney were private renters (around 14,260 households), compared with 30% across London and 20% across England and Wales. When speaking with residents, families often tell me they have contacted their landlord but action to remove mould is slow, taking many months. In far too many cases, tenants are afraid to complain to their landlord about the mould for fear of being served a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction.

This is a common-sense extension that has the backing of Citizen’s Advice and Generation Rent, amongst other renter rights organisations. Some private landlords say that they could not respond to complaints by the 14 days deadline in Awaab’s Law. I don’t think this is right, but there could be an extended timeframes permitted for private landlords that ensures they deal with hazards, rather than leaving tenants to pick up the extra bills and pay in ill health. I am hoping that the Government will listen and swiftly deliver equality of rights to both social housing renters and renters in the private sector. The Government must not wait for another tragedy before it acts.

Fleur Anderson MP

Fleur Anderson, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Putney, elected in 2019. A member of the Labour Party, she is the Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland.