Housing association admits it was ‘wrong’ to make assumptions after boy’s death

A housing organisation has accepted it was “wrong” to make “assumptions about lifestyle” after the death of a two-year-old boy who suffered prolonged exposure to mould.

Awaab Ishak 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.

On Saturday, Gareth Swarbrick was removed as chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which owned the flat.

Awaab’s parents, originally from Sudan, had repeatedly complained about the mould. They also believed their treatment was shaped by them not being from the UK.

In a statement on Tuesday, RBH said: “We did make assumptions about lifestyle and we accept that we got that wrong.

“We will be implementing further training across the whole organisation.

“We abhor racism in any shape or form and we know that we have a responsibility to all our communities.”

The housing association published the update on Twitter a week after a coroner called for Awaab’s inquest to be a “defining moment” and said it would “significantly accelerate” inspection of homes for damp and mould.

It said: “We want to start by saying again how sorry we are for the loss of Awaab.

“We know our words will not take away the pain felt by his family, nor will they immediately heal the hurt and the strength of feeling which is justifiably being felt in Rochdale and across the country.

“Our whole organisation, which is made up of caring and passionate colleagues, is completely focused on putting things right for our customers, the people of Rochdale and the wider community and sector.

“However, we know that we got things badly wrong.”

RBH said its priorities included bringing in an experienced interim chief executive as soon as possible, meeting urgently with key stakeholders and sharing what it had learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector.

Mr Swarbrick, who earnt £170,000 in the year of Awaab’s death, had initially refused to resign from his position at RBH.

He was removed by the board at the weekend, a day after Rochdale Borough Council called for housing stock to be returned to the local authority.