Father of toddler who died due to deadly mould in flat says he felt 'powerless'

Faisal reached out to RBH in autumn 2016 about the mould in the flat, a year after moving to the UK from Sudan. Credit: Family photograph

Awaab Ishak's father says he felt 'powerless' and believes he was not treated 'as a human being' when pleading for help to fix a flat riddled with deadly mould that his family was living in.

Awaab Ishak, aged 2, died in December 2020 from prolonged exposure to mould in his family's home in Rochdale on the Freehold estate.

In November 2022, his family's plight became the focus of a nation's fury after an inquest into the Awaab's death revealed the failure of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to act months before he died.

Faisal Abdullah, Awaab's father, said it was a 'good feeling' when he and his wife Aisha Amin were eventually heard.

The family were expected to 'get on' and deal with the mould infested house themselves.

Faisal, 31, said: "I didn't feel actually that they treated me as a human being. The way I felt and the message that I got, it was 'here we are, RBH, we gave him accommodation, just live in that accommodation and get on with it.. just accept it as it is'.

Speaking through an interpreter, he added: "I didn't feel as though we were being listened to, they didn't consider [us]."

On the steps of Rochdale Coroners' Court last year, the family urged RBH to 'stop being racist'.

Evidence uncovered that staff without asking about it, assumed the family carried out what workers called 'bucket bathing', based on their background or faith, as Sudanese Muslims.

After experiencing mould for the first time, Faisal reached out to RBH in autumn 2016 about the mould in the flat, a year after moving to the UK from Sudan.

Faisal was advised to 'paint over it', which did not work.

Awaab's Law passed this year, will force social housing landlords to fix damp and mould in a set time period. Credit: MEN Media

Awaab was born in December 2018, and in 2020, the family repeatedly contacted RBH for help.

Faisal 'couldn't pinpoint what type of discrimination' he faced initially as he first struggled to get his voice heard, but he had a 'feeling' something was not right.

By 2020, after continued attempts to get their issues resolved, Faisal was certain they were racially discriminated.

He said: "I think that was the time when I felt I could say, actually, racially discriminated, because it was an incessant number of times that I got in touch with RBH, requested that they found a solution to the mould problem, and nothing got done."

Awaab's inquest heard a health visitor had written to RBH raising concerns about mould, but it was not acted upon by the landlord.

The family lodged a disrepair claim in 2020 as they became more desperate for the issue to be resolved, while social workers and medics were also asked to intervene.

Faisal added: "When Awaab started feeling ill, that's when I started myself as well going beyond, not just RBH, and trying to reach out - the nursery, social services - to see if they could also have an input into trying to resolve the mould situation."

Awaab's parents heard difficult evidence throughout their son's inquest, in which Faisal said he was shocked to hear the ways his culture was referred to by staff. "It was horrible," he said.

"The way I was being treated - it was horrible that there was mould there in the flat, and nothing got done about it."

While it seemed Awaab's family had battled alone, Faisal said they did receive support from members of the Sudanese community in Greater Manchester.

But it wasn't until the inquest, and the campaign for Awaab's Law which received huge support, that the family finally felt they were being listened to.

Awaab's Law forces social housing landlords to fix mould within a set time period.

Before Awaab's Law was passed, a petition in June totalled 177,000 signatures.

It wasn't an easy experience for the family though, particularly Awaab's mum Aisha Amin, 30.

Awaab Ishak died in December 2020. Credit: Family Photograph

Faisal said it was not easy for the family, particularly Awaab's mum Aisha Amin, 30, seeing 'discussions about the death of her own son' in the news had a 'negative emotional impact'.

As the condition of other flats on the same estate came to light, Awaab's family began getting a 'good feeling' from the support the public.

Faisal said: "Everybody was by our side because they knew about the situation, how horrendous that was."

Faisal, Aisha and their two daughters have now resettled into a new home in Manchester.

Faisal said: "It was a great day, a great moment for us as a family, because being listened to, being considered, being respected."

He added: "We are very proud and very pleased that there is this law that is not just going to actually give us justice as a family, but it's also going to benefit others who might be in similar situations. It's a great resolution to the issue that we've had."

Awaab Ishak's father says he believes he was not treated 'as a human being'. Credit: MEN Media

Amanda Newton, the new chief executive at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing says the heartbreaking case caused by their failings should never happened.

"This is a heartbreaking case caused by failings at RBH that should never have happened. It is completely unacceptable that Awaab's parents felt discriminated against. I want to personally assure them that their heartfelt words are heard loud and clear - and we understand how they were treated and how we made them feel.

"At the inquest last year, a member of the RBH team made a promise to Awaab's family that we would do everything we could to learn the lessons, put things right and make sure this never happens again. We remain committed to this.

"Over the last year we've made lots of changes to both our culture and how we deliver services. We're installing new ventilation systems into every home in the Freehold neighbourhood where Awaab lived, have a Damp and Mould Taskforce in place to identify and remedy damp and mould problems in people's homes and are investing an extra £45m in RBH homes.

"Our customer facing colleagues are back out in the community with their own local areas so that they can get to know customers much better and be around when they need help. We've completely changed the way we deal with complaints, and we've been providing training and support to colleagues to understand the huge range of cultures and languages in RBH communities.

"We know there is still a lot of work to do, but our promise to Awaab's parents is that we will continue to listen and make the changes that are needed so this doesn't happen to another family."

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