Toddler’s death from mould described as a ‘defining moment’ for housing

Awaab Ishak

A two-year-old boy died due to black mould in his home that was “unfit for human habitation”, an inquest has found.

Awaab Ishak, who celebrated his second birthday just a week before he died from a respiratory condition in December 2020, lived in a one-bedroom flat with his parents Aisha Aminin and Faisal Abdullah.

The inquest heard that the parents previously complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about the mould.

Following six days of evidence at Rochdale Coroners’ Court, it was concluded that he “died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment”.

The youngster’s family said after the hearing: “We cannot tell you how many health professionals we’ve cried in front of and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing staff we have pleaded to, expressing concern for the conditions ourselves and Awaab have been living in.

“We shouted out as loudly as we could, but despite making all of those efforts, every night we would be coming back to the same problem.”

Coroner Joanne Kearsley said the toddler’s death should be a “defining moment” for the housing sector and the government described the circumstances in which the youngster died as ‘unacceptable’.

Kearsley told the court: “I’m sure I am not alone in asking how does this happen? How in the UK does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?

“The evidence from this inquest quite clearly showed that this issue is not simply a Rochdale problem. Nor is damp and mould simply a social housing problem.”

Kearsley did not find the actions of RBH or Northern Care Alliance, an NHS trust, were gross failures that could amount to “neglect”.

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of RBH, said the child’s death should be a “wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health”.

He added: “We have and will continue to learn hard lessons from this.

“We didn’t recognise the level of risk to a little boy’s health from the mould in the family’s home. We allowed a legal disrepair process, widely used in the housing sector, to get in the way of promptly tackling the mould.

“We must make sure this can never happen again.”

Following the tragedy, the government said it would “no longer stand for” landlords failing their tenants.

A government spokesperson said: “Clearly the circumstances in which he died are unacceptable, and we will no longer stand for unresponsive landlords failing in their responsibilities to tenants.”

She added: “More broadly, we also continue to deliver on our housing reforms. That will include forcing developers to pay to fix unsafe buildings, better protect the rights of tenants and the private rented sector, [and] ensure that social landlords do not put people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.”

 

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13 Comments

  1. Rob Hailstone

    A tragic story and I agree with Michael Gove, “it ‘beggars belief’ that the chief executive of RBH was still in a job.

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    1. AcornsRNuts

      Do you also agree with Mr Gove when he stated. “Mr Gove acknowledged that more than 10 per cent of social housing homes are below standard, but added that ‘the proportion of homes that are below standard in the private rented sector is even higher’.”

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  2. Burn red tape

    A tragic case, more so as it involved the death of a child. My sympathy is with his parents.
    In our portfolio we have had similar flats suffering mould, or in our case condensation.  In spite of sound advice the tenant refused to ventilate. They left complaining of a damp flat. A new tenant moved in and lives for years without suffering mould, due to properly ventilating the flat..

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    1. singingagent

      Totally agree.  We had a mould problem with a new tenant, due to lack of ventilation and drying clothes inside, when there was a clothes line in the garden.  The Environmental Health Officer who inspected the property said that “we could not tell the tenants how to live or use the property”.

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  3. Vanessa Warwick

    The tragic story of this little lad moved me to tears.

    It’s an absolute disgrace that a social housing provider allowed the family to remain in this unsuitable property.

    Damp and mould is a serious issue and unfortunately many rogue landlords – both social and private – do not instruct the tenant on correct ventilation and/or do not investigate the root cause of damp and mould arising and deal with it.

    I can only hope that this little lad’s death results in greater awareness of this problem and also greater enforcement against landlords providing sub-standard accommodation.

    I for one would like to see “Awaab’s Law” in remembrance of him and his short life that I pray might improve housing for others.

    I send the deepest condolences and compassionate thoughts to his family as well.

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  4. Woodentop

    A tragic story but who was at fault regarding mould, the Landlord or Tenant? It hasn’t gone un-noticed that this fact is not reported and jump to conclusions it was the landlord!

     

    98% of damp mould we see in properties is tenant created or as we put it caused by “Tenants lifestyle” and is not a failing of the landlord or property but behaviour of the occupiers. To coin a phrase If you can swipe it, it was never wiped! is very common fault.

     

     

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  5. Southie

    This isnt about whether its the tenant or landlords fault, this is about a social housing provider not bothering to investigate and getting to the bottom of the issue.  RBH seemed to assume that it was the tenants fault and did nothing, again the fact that the CEO is still in place is endemic of the problem of civil servants protecting themselves before outsiders.  Also its endemic of the problem that the government benefits from a much softer touch regulation then the private sector.

    There is no safe home standards for council/social housing like there is for the PRS and little or no redress until recently.

    Grenfell was caused by the same problem where poor people are not considered important and left with substandard service.

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    1. Burn red tape

      Dead right we are now a two tiered society, the public sector and private sector.

      I noted the enquiry into Grenfell is only examing the facts from the point of fire, not prior, protecting those at fault.

      In fairness when the NHS or other public body is at fault they do hold an enquiry learn lessons then move forward. No one is accountable or fined or goes to prison, unlike those in the private sector.

      sa

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    2. Vanessa Warwick

      Excellent and erudite comment Southie.

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    3. Woodentop

      Is this statement correct then?

       

      Kearsley did not find the actions of RBH or Northern Care Alliance, an NHS trust, were gross failures that could amount to “neglect”.

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    4. CountryLass

      I said similar when I read the story. If this had been a private rental then I would expect the agent and landlord would have been facing some form of criminal charges and jail time, but as this was social housing, i doubt there will be repercussions. The PRS are held to a higher standard, yet punished for the slightest misstep and dragged through the mud as blood-sucking soulless rogues, but the social side gets away with, not literally, murder.

      I did wonder when it said no ventilation in the kitchen or bathroom, are there no windows in either? Did they not have dehumidifiers? Not all damp is down to Landlords, I had one tenant who insisted that the property was damp, raised absolute Cain and got Environmental Health and the Council to visit the property. My Director at the time insisted on being there as well and wished he had filmed it when the EHO told the Tenant that they needed to open the windows. When she replied that she did, he told her that was rubbish as you couldn’t even reach the window to open the curtains for all the stuff piled in the way. They did a full assessment of the property, and we were told that we needed to fit a bannister inside and there was a wobbly slab on the patio.

      The fact that they have ruled it was a cause in the death of the poor boy, probably indicates that there was a failing by the housing group to fix an issue with the property rather than the tenant not ventilating and wiping surfaces with condensation on

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    5. AcornsRNuts

      But according to Gove: “Mr Gove acknowledged that more than 10 per cent of social housing homes are below standard, but added that ‘the proportion of homes that are below standard in the private rented sector is even higher’.”

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  6. KByfield04

    We have to get rid of the tiers of housing regulation & compliance based on sector. Why is a PRS Landlord legislated so much more heavily than social, affordable, emergency or short-term accommodation? Yet, it is often PRS Landlords that have the vitriol aimed at them for failings in other sectors.

    What did the local Environmental Health team do in this instance- isn’t this one of their core roles/responsibilities? The coroner does not directly blame the Landlord- but the government does- why?

    The causes of mould are so nuanced, there is no simple, blanket approach here. A smoke alarm works or it doesn’t- but the cause of mould can be caused by behaviours outside of the Landlords control. That could be the conduct of a tenant or the implications of a poor Freeholder/Block Management service. It recently took us 2 years of fighting to get Tower Hamlets to repair a leaking roof causing major water ingress and, yes, mould (we had the tenants vacate as soon as it became apparent the conditions could become a risk to their health and a fix was not coming any time soon). Less than a year later- the leak is back!

    Cases such as this MUST be learned from- but knee-jerk legislation, structured poorly (and poorly handled pending legislation already in the pipeline) can exacerbate things further.

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