Landlord admits it made assumptions about family in mouldy Rochdale flat

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing says ‘we got that wrong’ after two-year-old killed by exposure to mould

The landlord of the flat lived in by a two-year-old boy who died because of long-term exposure to mould has admitted it made false assumptions about his family’s lifestyle when they raised complaints.

Awaab Ishak’s parents, who originally came from Sudan, last week accused Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) of racism over its handling of the damp and fungus they faced. The landlord failed to fix the mould or improve ventilation despite complaints and had suggested issues such as bathing habits and cooking techniques might be a cause when they were not.

A week after a coroner ruled the infant died of a severe respiratory disease caused by mould in the social housing flat, 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.”

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, said in parliament last week he agreed the family had “faced prejudice”. Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, a refugee from Sudan, had raised the problem of mould in the flat on the Freehold estate in Rochdale in 2017 before Awaab was born. He was told to paint over it, which he did on several occasions. With the problem persisting he asked for the family to be rehoused in 2018. In 2020 a health visitor raised concerns about the mould and a repair manager inspected but nothing was done. Awaab’s breathing deteriorated and he died in December 2020.

The admission of making false assumptions comes after the landlord fired its chief executive, Gareth Swarbrick, at the weekend after saying just days earlier RHB had given him its “full backing”.

In its latest apology, issued via a series of tweets, the landlord 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.”

It added: “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.”

It said it had started to take action and would significantly accelerate the inspection of every home its visits for damp and mould and take immediate action where needed.

The social housing regulator on Tuesday ordered all landlords with more than 1,000 homes to report their most recent assessment of the extent of damp and mould hazards, action they are taking to remedy them and to detail the process they have to identify and deal promptly with damp and mould cases when they are raised by tenants.

“The tragic case of Awaab Ishak has rightly focused attention on the responsibility of all registered providers to ensure that the homes they provide are well maintained and of a decent standard,” said Fiona MacGregor, the regulator’s chief executive. “The case demonstrates the serious effects that having damp and mould in homes can have on people’s health and highlighted once again the importance of providers listening to their tenants’ concerns, understanding their diverse needs, removing barriers to accessing services and responding promptly.”

• This article was amended on 23 November 2022 to correct some personal information.


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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