Protections for English renters first proposed in 2019 will not be in place until next year, housing secretary Michael Gove has said, as he admitted the government should have “moved more quickly” to protect tenants after the 2017 Grenfell tower fire.
Gove is facing calls to urgently strengthen tenants’ rights following an inquest into the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, which this month found that the toddler died from a severe respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in his home.
Ishak’s parents told the inquest that they had raised concerns with their landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), multiple times but were ignored.
Housing campaigners have drawn parallels between Ishak’s case and the Grenfell blaze, in which 72 people were killed. Residents in the west London tower block had also raised a litany of safety concerns before the fire.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Gove said: “I freely admit and acknowledge that in the aftermath of Grenfell we should have moved more quickly to take a particular set of actions to help people in social housing. We’re doing so now.”
But he could not confirm when legislation aimed at strengthening tenants’ formal protections would be introduced to parliament, saying only that the Renters Reform Bill “should come in 2023”.
At the core of that bill is a plan to scrap so-called “no-fault” evictions, which allow landlords to force tenants out without providing a reason.
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, told the Today programme that no-fault evictions made tenants fearful of complaining in case they were given their notice.
“The government has promised to fix [no-fault evictions] in its Renters Reform Bill, but where is the bill? That’s the question,” she said.
Neate added that people in the private rental sector, as well as social housing tenants such as Ishak’s family, needed stronger protections.
In 2016, a year before the Grenfell fire, Conservative MPs including Gove voted against a Labour amendment to the government’s housing and planning bill that would have ensured all rented homes were fit for human habitation.
Teresa Pearce, then shadow housing minister, put forward the amendment citing concerns about mouldy walls in rented homes. But at the time, the government argued the move would needlessly add to landlords’ costs.
Gove is now giving the social housing regulator new powers and on Thursday announced he would cut funding for RBH and other landlords that failed to protect tenants.
“My message to [RBH] is clear: Awaab’s death was a tragedy which should never have occurred. It occurred because the housing association knowingly failed to maintain their properties in a decent standard, failed to heed complaints,” said Gove.
Neate said a stronger regulator would “make a really big difference”, but warned that stripping housing associations of funding risked hitting their ability to invest in high-quality housing.
“Do not divert funding from their ability to build new, high-quality social homes because that’s the real crisis here,” she said.