IT systems used incorrectly caused Awaab Ishak to live in home 'unfit for habitation', inquest hears

Awaab passed away just a week after his second birthday on 21 December 2020. Credit: MEN Media

Crucial information about a mould-infested home where a two-year-old lived was hidden from some workers due to IT systems not being used correctly, an inquest has heard.

Awaab Ishak died on 21 December 2020 - just over a week from his second birthday.

The toddler was living in a one bedroom flat at the Ilminster block on Rochdale's Freehold estate, which is owned and managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH).

Dr Philip Lumb, a Home Office pathologist, previously told Rochdale Coroners' Court that mould at the property was 'the most plausible, or only explanation' for the fatal breathing conditions that led to Awaab's death.

The two-year-old lived in the Ilminster block of Rochdale's Freehold estate. Credit: MEN Media

Rochdale Council building surveyor Daniel McVey, who inspected the property two days after Awaab's death, told the inquest it was not fit for human habitation without repairs being carried out.

However, giving evidence across the inquest, a number of RBH workers said they did not know Awaab lived in the flat, and if they did, they would have acted differently.

In admissions made on Tuesday 8 November, RBH said it used a number of different IT systems, but one of them - known as CRM - should have been used by all staff.

The statement added: "It is accepted by RBH that in 2020 the CRM system was not being fully and consistently used by RBH and not all contacts and/or communications were being logged on the CRM system."This resulted in some information relating to Awaab and his family not being immediately available to RBH staff when looking up their files."

The inquest heard that mould was 'the most plausible, or only, explanation' for the toddler's fatal breathing difficulties. Credit: MEN Media

RBH received a letter from one of Awaab's health visitors, Caroline Ridley, on the 9 July supporting a request for the family to move due to damp and mould - but she did not receive a response.In a written statement read in court, former apprentice in RBH's Homechoice team Lorna O’Malley said she filed the letter on an IT system which was not CRM - before workers inspecting the property believed Awaab's dad Faisal Abdullah lived there alone.

Phil Heron, who joined RBH as head of customer experience in September 2021, told coroner Joanne Kearsley on Thursday 10 November work is now ongoing at the housing association to make sure all relevant staff are using the correct IT system.Mr Heron also told the court RBH staff will get an app on their phones to give them access to an interpreter which could help workers dealing with tenants who have limited English - as Awaab's mum Aisha Amin had, the inquest previously heard.

Joanne Hill, customer service lead at RBH, told the court that following Awaab's death, a new form has been rolled out for complaints about damp and mould which will make it clear for technical inspectors to see if children are living at the property.She also suggested a 'higher priority' could be given in future when issues are raised where there are children involved or a risk to health.

Asked whether other housing associations faced challenges over damp and mould, Mr Heron insisted social landlords should learn from Awaab's case 'as a sector'.

Awaab went into cardiac arrest while being transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital from Rochdale Urgent Care Centre. Credit: MEN Media

RBH worker John Tilbey, who visited Awaab's flat with technical inspector Andrew Foster in November 2020, following a leak being reported in the property below.

He said: "I saw a bucket which I assumed was being used for bathing."Mr Foster told the court he believed wetness on the family's bathroom floor was also caused by bathing with a bucket, but Mr Abdullah had previously told the inquest his family took showers rather than baths.

Asked if it was in the family's culture to bathe by 'pouring water over your head', Mr Abdullah said 'no'.The court also heard evidence from Amanda Highland-Partington, head of Early Help at Rochdale Council, who told the coroner that going forward any 'blockages' when reporting issues such as housing problems should be escalated.

It followed evidence on Wednesday that early years worker Lauren Hughes contacted RBH about the mould on 5 November and 10 December, 2020.She received no response to the second call, after being told her concerns would be passed on to the relevant team when the report was first made.

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