“Tens of thousands” of rented homes are in a shoddy or unsafe condition similar to that where a two-year-old boy died from exposure to black mould, Michael Gove has admitted.
The housing secretary acknowledged the poor state of much of social housing – prompting a suggestion he should be “embarrassed” by the situation, 12 years after the Conservatives came to power.
Mr Gove also revealed the government is exploring beefing-up rules for private landlords, 6 years after Tory MPs, notoriously, voted against the move – calling it needless and costly for landlords.
He laid bare the crisis after cutting off £1m of funding earmarked for Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which failed to maintain the home where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died.
Mr Gove said he was “giving new powers to the regulator in order to make sure that housing associations are kept up to the mark”.
But he added: “I fear it is the case that there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the situation, not in the state, they should be” – adding “at least”.
On BBC Breakfast, Mr Gove was asked: “Are you embarrassed, laying out those statistics to me today?”, but replied only that it “makes me angry”.
The head of the housing charity Shelter attacked the failure to introduce a long-promised ban on no-fault evictions from privately-rented homes.
Polly Neate warned tenants feared coming forward about slum conditions, adding: “They are probably scared of being served a Section 21 no fault eviction if they complain.”
Awaab died in 2020, eight days after his second birthday, three years after his father first reported the mould to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which failed to act.
He was told to paint over it, which he did several times, and a health visitor also wrote, twice, to RBH in 2020, expressing concern about the health risks from the mould.
Mr Gove defended stripping the £1m from the housing association, denying it would affect its other tenants because the money was for planned new homes – not existing properties.
“If it can’t even run homes properly that it is currently responsible for, then it certainly can’t be building new ones,” he insisted.
Mr Gove also insisted a Tory backbench revolt over housebuilding that has led to Rishi Sunak delaying a vote would not derail the government’s promise to build more homes.
However, he admitted the target of 300,000 new homes each year would not be achieved this year, blaming high inflation and a lack of workers.
“That remains our ambition, but one of the difficulties that we face at the moment is that inflation has meant that the cost of building materials has risen,” he told Times Radio.
“We all know that there’s quite a tight labour market at the moment in Britain and elsewhere. So we’re not going to be able, I think, this year, to hit that number.”