Awaab Ishak: Housing ombudsman investigating more mould complaints after inquest into Rochdale toddler’s death

Awaab Ishak: Housing ombudsman investigating more mould complaints after inquest into Rochdale toddler's death

The housing ombudsman has said he will launch an investigation into more complaints about mould in homes in Rochdale after an inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak.

Richard Blakeway has written to Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, saying he had asked his team to “review open cases relating to the landlord, in particular damp and mould”.

Awaab died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom flat where he lived with his parents in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Politicians have said the death of the two-year-old should be a “catalyst for change in housing standards”.

Mr Blakeway told Mr Swarbrick that investigations into three complaints which have been assessed as high or medium risk will be expedited.

The inquest into Awaab’s death concluded that the property he lived in was exposed to “extensive” mould for “some considerable time”.

Mr Blakeway wrote that under paragraph 12 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, he was demanding RBH allow the ombudsman to interview the housing association’s staff, board or committee members, require a representative to attend any meetings convened by the ombudsman and provide information from third parties who may know about the complaint.

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The letter also noted: “Given the circumstances of complaint 202119072, I have agreed that we will be exercising our powers under paragraph 49 of our Scheme to conduct further investigation to establish if this complaint is indicative of wider failure within the landlord.”

Mr Blakeway concluded the letter writing that he would “welcome a meeting” with Mr Swarbrick, especially if he had any initial questions regarding their investigations.

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH). PIC: PA

In response to the letter, a spokesperson for RBH told ITV News: “We can confirm receipt of the housing ombudsman’s letter and will meet with Mr Blakeway or a member of his team at the earliest opportunity to discuss these three cases.”

On Wednesday, shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy told the Commons that the tragedy should mark a “real step change” in improving social housing stock.

Awaab Ishak's home
Mould in Awaab Ishak’s home

“It should also be a defining moment for us and a wake-up call that every single person in this house who has – in whatever limited form and to whatever extent – the power and the platform to make sure that this never, ever happens again,” she said.

“It should not take the death of a two-year-old boy in completely avoidable circumstances to get us to get together and act.”

She asked Housing Secretary Michael Gove what steps his department planned on taking to try and resolve this “systematic issue.”

Mr Gove told the Commons that at least 2.3 million social homes fall short of the decent homes standard, which has been setting the standards that social homes are required to meet since the early 2000s, and is currently under review.

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Michael Gove said it was “beggar’s belief” that Gareth Swarbrick was still in his job

He added that he hopes new regulations, put in place as a response to the consultation, could be brought forward “as early as possible… in the beginning of the new year”.