Family of boy who died from mould in flat call for housing board to resign

Photograph: Family handout/PA

The family of Awaab Ishak, the two-year-old who died as a result of mould in a social housing flat, have said they have no confidence in the board of the landlord body and called for their mass resignation.

In a statement on Thursday after a meeting in Rochdale with Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, they said: “While the current board remains, there is an ever present risk and danger to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing tenants.”

Last week the housing association board backed RBH’s £157,000-a-year chief executive, Gareth Swarbrick, despite a coroner finding that exposure to persistent black mould on the walls of the family’s rented home were a cause of the infant’s death in 2020 and that the landlord had repeatedly failed to fix it, blaming the mould on “family lifestyle”.

The board only sacked Swarbrick on Saturday after public and political outcry and a fresh demand from Awaab’s family for “accountability”. And RBH did not concede that it was wrong to make assumptions that the cause of the mould was down to “lifestyle” issues, until Tuesday this week – a week after the inquest verdict.

“The family are struggling to grapple with the fact that, while grieving the loss of their child, RBH were expressing confidence in their CEO,” the family said. “They also cannot understand why it took so long for RBH to, in any way, acknowledge that it was wrong for them to have made ‘assumptions’ about the lifestyle of Mr Abdullah and Ms Amin [Awaab’s parents] – particularly given the coroner’s findings.”

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They said: “RBH have immediate and urgent issues that need to be addressed to ensure the safety of their tenants. The family does not feel this board has the competence or credibility to do the job.”

They concluded that they “felt ignored by RBH, but feel warmed that the public are listening”.

Gove also met RBH’s leadership just hours after he cut off £1m in capital funding to the housing association and warned that other failing providers would not get capital funding in future either.

A source close to Gove described the meeting as “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 cooperation with the regulator. He will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.”

Asked about the family’s call for the board to quit, the RBH board said in a statement that it again acknowledged “that we got things wrong and how deeply sorry we are for the loss of Awaab”.

“We are absolutely focused on improving the quality of our existing homes and improving any operational areas where we have previously under performed,” it said. “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 [which includes tenant representatives] to ensure that there is a well-managed succession plan for the future.”

In conversations with them, Awaab’s family said, Gove had shown support for a proposed “Awaab’s law” which would require social landlords to repair homes rapidly if a medical professional warns there is a risk to residents’ health and require landlords to investigate reports of damp and mould within a fortnight. They said he also agreed to provide monthly public updates advising of his changes “so that a tragedy of this nature can never happen again” and that he would deal with the coroner’s recommendations for actions to prevent future deaths “in full”.

About 320,000 private renters in England are suffering with mould and condensation problems, on top of 116,000 in social housing like Awaab’s family, according to government figures.