On 9th February 2023, the government announced proposals for a number of important changes to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. The Bill is now in its final stages and is expected to gain Royal Assent. Referred to as ‘Awaab’s Law’, the changes will impose a legal duty on landlords to fix hazards to health within a set deadline. In this article, we will discuss what led to the proposed amendments and how house expert witnesses can play a key role in housing disrepair cases.
What is Awaab’s law?
The drafting of the proposed changes to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill followed the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in December 2020. Awaab had been exposed to toxic mould in a one-bedroom housing estate flat managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH). This is despite the fact that Awaab’s father reported the mould as far back as 2017 and requested to be rehomed, to no avail.
According to the details of the case, Awaab developed “flu-like” symptoms and had difficulty breathing. Following an admission to hospital for treatment, he was then discharged back home. Once home, Awaab’s condition worsened two days later (just two days after his second birthday). He was taken to his local A&E department, where it was discovered that he was in respiratory failure. Awaab was then transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital but suffered a cardiac arrest and died.
The pathologist in charge of the case explained to the inquest that Awaab’s throat was extremely swollen, most likely due to exposure to fungi, and this compromised his breathing.
During the court hearing, it was revealed that Awaab’s home had been visited by a health visitor who raised her concerns with housing officials regarding the mould in July 2020. No response was received from the RBH housing association at the time.
Referring to the death of Awaab Ishak, the Senior Coroner said, “I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought: how does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?…The tragic death of Awaab will, and should, be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould”.
The value of housing expert opinion
Health and safety concerns such as asbestos and excessive dampness, mould and noise in residential homes impact both the physical and mental well-being of residents. As in the tragic case of Awaab Ishak, it can even lead to death. Housing expert witnesses specialise in a range of inter-related disciplines including in the areas of tenancy law, medicine, health and safety, and social work. This combination of these different areas of expertise can play an important role in ensuring the successful outcome of housing disrepair claims (including Part 35 claims).
Housing disrepair claims are typically made where there is deterioration or degradation of a residential property resulting from neglect, lack of maintenance, and normal wear and tear. This can include serious mould and/or dampness in addition to other problems such as drainage issues, flooding, lack of running water, poor ventilation, and insect infestations. As such, housing expert witnesses often play a key role in the prevention of harm. If, for example, a health risk has been identified, a housing disrepair report can be drafted, which can then be used as a basis to compel a landlord or housing association to take specified action.
Housing disrepair claims and expert witness
Serious mould in a residential home represents a risk to health and safety and may form the basis for a housing disrepair claim. Before a claim can be made to the court, a pre-action protocol must be followed. The pre-action protocol enables serious disputes to be resolved amicably without the need for court action. If alternative methods do not prove successful, however, it may be possible to make a formal housing disrepair claim.
Expert witnesses are frequently asked to provide an expert opinion in cases of housing disrepair claims and disputes and appeals to the Residential Property Tribunal. Having carried out a detailed analysis of the residential property concerned and any documents provided, a housing disrepair expert will prepare a witness report on behalf of the landlord or the tenant. The report will set out the condition of the property, any disrepair, the potential health impact of the disrepair, and what needs to be done to resolve the problem. It may also take into account the wider needs of the family living in the property.
An experienced housing expert witness will ensure that the correct legal protocols and guidelines are followed, including the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims, Part 35 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), and the Guidance for the Instruction of Experts in Civil Claims.
The number of housing disrepair claims is rising each year. The case of Awaab Ishak demonstrates what is at stake if landlords and housing associations fail to take action against health risks such as mould and dampness. Gaining the opinion of a housing expert witness means that those in positions of responsibility are more likely to be legally compelled to take action to make their properties safe and that deaths, such as that of Awaab Ishak, never happen again.
How can Expert Court Reports Ltd help?
Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies, including the police, probation services, prisons, and third-sector organisations as well as private clients.