Council calls for housing stock to be returned following mould exposure death

Rochdale council has called for housing stock to be returned to local authority control as the family of a two-year-old boy who died from exposure to mould say they are awaiting action.

Earlier this week, an inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak found he died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom housing association flat where he lived with his parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Awaab Ishak inquest
Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020 (Family handout/PA)

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), has refused to resign despite calls for him to stand down following the inquest conclusion.

On Friday, Rochdale Borough Council leader Cllr Neil Emmott, along with the Conservative group leader Cllr John Taylor and cabinet member for housing Cllr Daniel Meredith wrote to Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

In the letter, they proposed two measures to “radically transform” the services provided to residents in RBH homes.

They said: “The first is that the housing stock managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing is returned to the control of the local authority alongside the required funding.

“The second is that alongside the investigation being carried out by the Housing Ombudsman, in a similar way that commissioners are appointed to failing councils, you direct representatives of that body or the regulator Homes England to take temporary charge of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing until the organisation can regain the trust of its tenants, the council and government.

“As you may be aware, following your request for the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, Gareth Swarbrick, to resign he has refused to do so and now, to our great disappointment and surprise, been given the full backing of his board.”

In a statement released by their lawyers, Awaab’s family said: “Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said that the tragic death of our beautiful Awaab should be a ‘defining moment’ for the housing sector.

Awaab Ishak inquest
Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH/PA)

“At present, we see nothing to indicate that the death of our son will, in any way, serve as a defining moment.

“Accountability must be done and be seen to be done.

“RBH have an opportunity to demonstrate to society at large, their residents and not least us as a family that they understand the gravity of this situation.

“We await further action from RBH.”

Awaab’s inquest heard that concerns about the mould in the family’s flat had been raised with RBH a number of times, but no action had been taken.

Mr Swarbrick apologised to Awaab’s family on Thursday, but said: “The conversation around my position has begun to overshadow the most important part of all of this, which is that a family has lost their child.

“Having spoken to the board, I can confirm that I will not be resigning.

“They have given me their full backing and trust to continue to oversee the improvements and changes needed within RBH.”

Earlier this week, Mr Gove summoned Mr Swarbrick, who earned £170,000 in the year Awaab died, to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Mr Gove said: “Honestly, it beggars belief that this guy is still in office.”

The Housing Ombudsman is expediting three investigations into RBH and has asked for a meeting with Mr Swarbrick.