Gove admits not enough change since Grenfell as he's confronted with mould-infested flat

Watch ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt's exclusive report on Michael Gove's visit to the same Rochdale housing estate where Awaab Ishak died two years ago

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has admitted to ITV News that his government has not been quick enough to introduce change to housing regulations following the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017.

Mr Gove made the comments as he visited a family on the same Rochdale housing estate where Awaab Ishak died in December 2020.

Awaab died from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom housing association flat where he lived with his parents.

The housing secretary told ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt that while "lessons were learned" after Grenfell the "process of implementing changes hasn't been either as quick or as complete as it should be".

Mr Gove's visit to Greater Manchester saw him meet with a pregnant woman who is suffering from issues of mould in her family home. She described how she had painted over the mould and feared bringing her unborn child into a property with inadequate living conditions.

During a wide-ranging interview, Mr Gove said he thinks it is "terrible" that families across the UK, who live in social housing, don't always have access to "decent" accommodation.

He said: "It's entirely understandable for a young woman who is bringing a child into this world to worry, particularly after everything that we know about Awaab's case, about the conditions in which they're living.

"And I think we all know, following [on] from Awaab's case that a light has been shone on the condition of so many homes. And to be here in Rochdale and to see that the situation still hasn't improved... it is something which makes me think that we've got to work even harder to crack this problem."

Housing Secretary Michael Gove told ITV News the "process of implementing changes" to housing regulations following the Grenfell Tower Fire has not been quick enough

Pressed on whether the government response had arrived too late Mr Gove insisted: "My job now is to make sure that people won't feel that they are waiting in vain."

Elsewhere, the housing secretary refused to commit to introducing legislation which would give the government greater control of housing organisations that fail to meet the needs of their tenants.

"The critical thing I think is legislating in order to ensure that councils [and] registered social landlords are actually listening to you and responding to tenants," he added.

"And if they're not doing that, the regulator - the government back regulator - has teeth to be able to correct what they're doing."

'I don't rule anything out in terms of improving the conditions of people's lives'

Following his trip to Rochdale, a government source said the housing secretary's meeting with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), the housing organisation responsible for the property Awaab lived in, was “unsatisfactory”.

“They yet again failed to answer basic questions about their operations and how they will ensure that tenants are safe in their homes," the source said.

“The Secretary of State does not have confidence in the leadership of RBH and will continue to pay very close attention to their work, in close co-operation with the regulator."

Meanwhile, lawyers for the family of Awaab said they had a “productive” meeting with Michael Gove, who committed to an “Awaab’s law”.

“The family are pushing for the implementation of an Awaab’s law to ensure that no other family go through what they have been through,” lawyer Christian Weaver said after Mr Gove's visit to Rochdale.

On Thursday, it was announced that the government will strip new funding from RHB.

Mr Gove said Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) will not be given its expected £1 million funding from the Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) or receive any new AHP contracts for new homes, until the Regulator of Social Housing has finished its investigation and RBH can prove it is a responsible landlord.

Mr Gove said in a statement: "RBH failed its tenants so it will not receive a penny of additional taxpayers' money for new housing until it gets its act together and does right by tenants.

"Let this be a warning to other housing providers who are ignoring complaints and failing in their obligations to tenants. We will not hesitate to act.

"Everyone deserves the right to live in safe, decent home and this government will always act to protect tenants."

Awaab Ishak was just two when he died in 2020. Credit: Family photo

The government will continue to monitor housing standards of RBH tenancies closely, the statement added, working with the regulator and ombudsman, to ensure that tenants have appropriate housing.

As part of a wider crackdown on poor standards, Mr Gove will block any housing provider that breaches the regulator's consumer standards from new AHP funding until they make improvements.

He will also consider stripping providers of existing AHP funding, unless construction has already started on site.

Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

On Saturday, Gareth Swarbrick was removed as chief executive of RBH.

Awaab's parents, originally from Sudan, had repeatedly complained about the mould. They also believed their treatment was shaped by them not being from the UK.

In a statement on Tuesday, RBH said: "We did make assumptions about lifestyle and we accept that we got that wrong.

"We will be implementing further training across the whole organisation. We abhor racism in any shape or form and we know that we have a responsibility to all our communities."

The housing association published the update on Twitter a week after a coroner called for Awaab's inquest to be a "defining moment" and said it would "significantly accelerate" inspection of homes for damp and mould.

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It said: "We want to start by saying again how sorry we are for the loss of Awaab.

"We know our words will not take away the pain felt by his family, nor will they immediately heal the hurt and the strength of feeling which is justifiably being felt in Rochdale and across the country.

"Our whole organisation, which is made up of caring and passionate colleagues, is completely focused on putting things right for our customers, the people of Rochdale and the wider community and sector.

"However, we know that we got things badly wrong."

RBH said its priorities included bringing in an experienced interim chief executive as soon as possible, meeting key stakeholders and sharing what it had learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector.