Housing Secretary has 'no confidence' in housing association in Rochdale where boy died

Video by ITV Granada journalist Tim Scott

The Housing Secretary Michael Gove does not have "confidence" in the leadership of a housing association that owned the flat where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died after prolonged exposure to mould.

Mr Gove said he had an "unsatisfactory" meeting with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which failed to explain how it would ensure tenants' safety.

The Minister also met with Awaab's family and gave them a commitment he would back an "Awaab's law" that would improve the experiences of those living with mould and damp in their properties.

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

Awaab died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in a one-bedroom housing association flat in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

His parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, repeatedly complained about the mould. They have called for all of the board of RBH to resign.

Mr Gove was then taken to the Freehold Estate, where the family lived and he met a tenant who was pregnant and in tears.

She told the minister she has to sleep in the living room because of the damp and mould in her bedroom.

Mr Gove says, "I think we all know following Awaab's case a light is being shone on the conditions of so many homes and to be here in Rochdale and see that the situation still hasn't improved, shows we have to work even harder to crack this problem."

He admitted "the process of implementing the changes hasn't been as quick or as complete as it should be."

Mr Gove blocked £1 million in funding RBH was due to receive, to build new homes, and threatened "further action" unless it proves it is a responsible landlord.

After his talks with RBH in Rochdale, a Government source said: "The meeting with RBH 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 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."

"He will not hesitate to take further action if necessary."

Awaab Ishak died after prolonged exposure to mould at his housing association flat. Credit: ITV

Awaab's family lawyers said, "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.

"Awaab's law would significantly improve the experiences of those living with mould and damp in their properties, and is therefore crucial. We are pleased that the Secretary of State has provided his support for an Awaab's law."

Mr Gove will return to Rochdale to meet the family in six months' time, Mr Weaver said.

The Housing Secretary earlier vowed to strip other failing landlords of funding as he warned at least tens of thousands of homes are unsafe because of damp and mould.

"I fear it's the case that there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the state that they should be,".

Asked if tens of thousands is correct, he said: "Yes, at least."

"We know there are a significant number of properties, some of which were built in the '60s and '70s and are in poor conditions, but some of which have been poorly maintained that simply need to be properly repaired and properly maintained."

Former Chief Executive Gareth Swarbrick who was sacked by RBH 4 days after Awaab's inquest Credit: MEN

Gareth Swarbrick was removed as RBH's chief executive following the highly-critical inquest into Awaab's death.

Asked if the organisation should still be operating at all, Mr Gove said: "If the penny has dropped, if the organisation is ready to learn appropriate lessons to improve and there are signs they fully appreciate the need to improve, we will work with them, and indeed with Rochdale Council, in order to make improvements."

The Housing Secretary awarded a share of a £14 million pot for seven areas with high numbers of poor, privately rented homes to crack down on rogue landlords, including Greater Manchester, Leeds and Cornwall.

Mr Gove also confirmed protections for private renters will be in his much-delayed Renters' Reform Bill coming "in the next calendar year".

In a statement released Rochdale Boroughwide Housing said:

"We welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Secretary of State. We acknowledged again that we got things wrong and how deeply sorry we are for the loss of Awaab and that we know that our words would not take away the pain that is being felt by his family. 

"We explained to the Secretary of State that we welcomed the impartial scrutiny that the regulator will bring and we look forward to working more closely with all parties over the coming months."

"We are absolutely focussed on improving the quality of our existing homes and improving any operational areas where we have previously under performed."

"Our immediate priority is to maintain the stability of the organisation and to appoint a new interim chief executive which we are in the process of doing."

"The board is reflecting on the appropriate blend of skills and experience needed to lead the organisation going forward."

"The board will take the decision in dialogue with the regulator and RBH’s representative body to ensure that there is a well-managed succession plan for the future“

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