Tenants at Rochdale estate where toddler Awaab Ishak died may have been put at similar risk, watchdog finds

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Almost 80% of properties inspected on the estate in recent months have been found to have signs of damp and mould

Tenants on the housing estate where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died may have been put at similar risk as a result of failings by the housing association landlord, an investigation by the housing regulator has found.

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Inspections of properties on the estate found that almost 80% of tenants who have had their properties surveyed in recent months have signs of damp and mould which RBH was not previously aware of.

No assurances other tenants haven’t been put at similar risk

Hundreds of properties on the Freehold Estate in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, have signs of damp and mould, including several which constitute a category one Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) hazard, and more than a hundred which constitute a category two HHSRS hazard.

This has come to light after RBH began carrying out inspections of properties on the estate in summer this year, around 18 months after Awaab died, in December 2020. Several months earlier, in July 2020, a healthcare worker wrote to RBH expressing concern about the mould and its potential impact on the child’s health.

An investigation by the Regulator of Social Housing has found “widespread failings” at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing  An investigation by the Regulator of Social Housing has found “widespread failings” at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
An investigation by the Regulator of Social Housing has found “widespread failings” at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing | Photo: Kim Mogg/NationalWorld

The family had first reported issues with mould at the property in January 2017. This was addressed by RBH, but a coroner heard that no action was taken later when the mould returned in 2018 and 2019. RBH received a disrepair claim in July 2020 relating to the condition of the property.

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RBH has now acknowledged that it made assumptions about the family’s lifestyle which affected its decisions about how damp and mould at the property were dealt with. The regulator said it lacks assurances that the attitudes towards Awaab’s family are not a wider issue with the potential to affect other RBH tenants.

The housing watchdog found “widespread failings” at RBH, stating in its report that the Ishak family “have suffered the most serious harm as a result” of its failings, and that “we do not have assurance that other tenants have not been similarly put at risk as a result of these failings”.

Investigation finds ‘significant failures’

The regulator has confirmed that RBH is “putting in place a programme to rectify these failures” and that it will work “intensively” with the housing association “as it continues to address the issues which have led to this situation”.

Fiona MacGregor, the regulator’s chief executive, said: “Our investigation reveals significant failures in the way RBH manages damp and mould in its homes, resulting in harm to tenants. The tragic death of Awaab Ishak should have led to action to establish wider risks, but RBH failed to respond quickly or effectively. This is unacceptable. RBH needs to address the issues we have found and we will take further action if it fails to do so.

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“Our judgement sends a clear message to social landlords that they must deal with damp and mould as the serious hazards that they are, treat tenants with respect, and take their concerns seriously.”

RBH said its new damp and mould taskforce has significantly accelerated remedial work, new translation tools are improving communication with tenants and a £1.2 million programme is underway to improve ventilation.

A spokesman said: “Today’s announcement by the regulator recognises that failure and the mistakes we have made. We accept this judgement and we are already working closely alongside the regulator to address their concerns and meet their expectations.

“We now have a long road ahead of us to regain the trust and confidence of current and future tenants, Rochdale Council, the Rochdale community and the regulator.”

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He added: “There are hard lessons to learn: process must never get in the way of people; tenant voice must always be valued; maintenance and property renewal should be prioritised (and) tenant safety must always be the first and foremost consideration.”

The regulator wrote to all social landlords last month to highlight their responsibility to protect tenants from hazardous damp and mould. Landlords need to submit evidence to the regulator by 19 December to show they are dealing with damp and mould appropriately.

Condemned: Britain’s Housing Crisis

The NationalWorld team is investigating the housing crisis blighting Britain. The current plight is years in the making, from renters stuck in mouldy homes to families unable to afford cladding repairs to make their flats safe. You can read more of our stories on the housing crisis here and if you have a story to tell email [email protected].

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