Regulator reports ‘widespread failings’ at housing association linked to Awaab Ishak’s death

A watchdog has found “widespread failings” at the housing association that owned the flat where two-year-old Awaab Ishak was exposed to mould.

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) made “incorrect assumptions” about the cause of damp and mould in the toddler’s flat and did not treat his family with fairness and respect, the Regulator of Social Housing said.

The housing association waited nearly two years after Awaab’s death to inspect other properties on the estate, finding hundreds of flats with signs of damp and mould (almost 80% of inspected properties) and inadequate ventilation.

RBH said it is working closely with the regulator to address the concerns, acknowledging there is a “long road ahead” to regain trust and confidence.

Awaab (pictured) died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in a one-bedroom housing association flat in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

His parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, repeatedly complained about the mould.

The regulator’s investigation found that RBH gave it inadequate information about damp and mould shortly after Awaab’s death.

It also said vital information was missed due to weaknesses in RBH’s IT and internal communications.

Its repairs team were not aware of concerns raised by Awaab’s health worker which may have enabled them to identify the risks earlier, it said.

The regulator said RBH made assumptions about the family’s lifestyle which affected decisions about how damp and mould were dealt with.

It said it lacks assurance the attitude towards and assumptions about the family “are not a wider issue with the potential to affect other RBH tenants”.

It also is not assured that the issues identified in their flat, and other properties on the estate, are not present in other RBH properties.

The regulator has downgraded the housing association’s governance to the third lowest of four grades, meaning there are “issues of serious regulatory concern which the provider is working with us to address”.

Chief executive of the regulator, Fiona MacGregor, 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.

“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.”

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.”

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