'You must listen': Michael Gove puts councils on notice after 'avoidable' death of Awaab Ishak

The inquest into Awaab Ishak's death heard the two-year-old died following prolonged exposure to mould which led to fatal breathing difficulties.

Deaths like that of two-year-old Awaab Ishak must “never be allowed to happen again”, Housing Secretary Michael Gove has told English council leaders and social housing providers.

Mr Gove called the death of Awaab, who died after exposure to mould in a housing association flat, an “avoidable loss”, in a letter to every English council boss and social housing provider.

He said the country needed to “raise the bar dramatically” on the quality of social housing and “empower tenants” to ensure “their voices are truly heard”.

Two-year-old Awaab died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in in the one-bedroom flat where he lived with his parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, an inquest this week ruled.

Mould in the flat where Awaab Ishak lived.

The housing secretary, who is promising that the Government’s Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will bring tougher regulation to the sector, said he would “stand up for tenants”.

He said housing providers should carry out assessments of damp and mould in their properties, as well as any action that may need to be taken to tackle the issue. In his letter he warns providers: “I want to be clear about what this must mean in relation to damp and mould, as I have been made aware of many cases where this has gone unaddressed for far too long and am concerned that they are not treated with sufficient seriousness.

“Where people complain about damp and mould, you must listen; where you find them, you must take prompt action. To keep tenants safe, you must not hide behind legal process.”

The letter directs local councils to supply his department with an assessment of damp and mould issues affecting their privately rented properties, as well as details of how it is being tackled.

Awaab Ishak died just over a week on from his second birthday. Credit: MEN Media

He continued: “All of us – including my department – need to deliver our responsibility to people living in poor quality housing. “That is why I am writing to you to request you do everything in your power to prioritise the improvement of housing conditions for the millions of private and social tenants, in line with existing duties in the Housing Act 2004. “This becomes ever more urgent as we go into winter with a cost-of-living and energy crisis, which may exacerbate damp and mould conditions in some homes.”

Research conducted by ITV News in 2021 found it costs the NHS £38m a year to treat people living in damp, mouldy homes.

The chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), Gareth Swarbrick, was sacked from his position on Saturday after saying he would not resign in the wake of the verdict.

Earlier this week, Mr Gove said it “beggars belief” that Mr Swarbrick was still in his job. Councils have also been asked to list the number of civil penalty notices and successful prosecutions pursued in relation to dangerous damp and mould. Mr Gove said: “The tragic death of Awaab Ishak has rightly shocked people across the country. This is an appalling case of the utmost gravity and it is abhorrent that anyone should have to live in such conditions in Britain today.”

Here is ITV News' first report into the shocking state of social housing some tenants have to put up with - the first of a hard-hitting series of reports

“Alongside delivering new laws on tougher social housing regulation, I am directing all councils across England to make an urgent assessment of housing conditions for tenants in their area with particular focus on issues of damp and mould, and enforcement action being taken. “I am putting housing providers on notice, I will take whatever action is required to improve standards across the country and ensure tenants’ voices are heard. “Everyone has the right to feel safe in their homes, and the death of a child like Awaab Ishak must never be allowed to happen again.” Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said there was “no excuse” for not making progress on the issue. “The circumstances around Awaab Ishak’s death are appalling,” the Labour MP said. “It is a stain on our nation’s conscience that such a thing could happen in modern Britain. “There is a political consensus around the urgent need to end the scourge of families living in damp, mouldy and squalid conditions, so there is no excuse for any more delay. “As Labour has laid out, we need a decent homes standard fit for the 21st century and greater rights and protections for tenants, including the right to request speedy repairs. Action must be taken urgently.”

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