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Gove has no ‘confidence’ in housing association in wake of Awaab Ishak’s death

Housing Secretary Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)
Housing Secretary Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)

Michael Gove does not have “confidence” in the leadership of a housing association that owned the flat where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died after prolonged exposure to mould.

The Housing Secretary on Thursday had an “unsatisfactory” meeting with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which failed to explain how it would ensure tenants’ safety, a Government source said.

Mr Gove also committed to an “Awaab’s law” that would improve the experiences of those living with mould and damp in their properties, lawyers for the child’s family said.

Awaab 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.

Mr Gove blocked £1 million in funding RBH was due to receive to build new homes, and threatened “further action” unless it proves it is a responsible landlord.

After his talks with RBH in Rochdale, a Government source said: “The meeting with RBH was unsatisfactory.

“They yet again failed to answer basic questions about their operations and how they will ensure that tenants are safe in their homes.

“The Secretary of State does not have confidence in the leadership of RBH and will continue to pay very close attention to their work, in close co-operation with the regulator.

“He will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.”

Awaab Ishak inquest
Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020 (Family handout/PA)

The Cabinet minister also had a “productive” meeting with Awaab’s family, lawyers said.

“The family are pushing for the implementation of an Awaab’s law to ensure that no other family go through what they have been through,” lawyer Christian Weaver said.

“Awaab’s law would significantly improve the experiences of those living with mould and damp in their properties, and is therefore crucial. We are pleased that the Secretary of State has provided his support for an Awaab’s law.”

Mr Gove will return to Rochdale to meet the family in six months’ time, Mr Weaver said.

The family also said they had “no confidence” in the RBH leadership and called for the board’s resignation.

After the meeting with Mr Gove, the RBH board said: “We acknowledged again that we got things wrong and how deeply sorry we are for the loss of Awaab…

“We are absolutely focused on improving the quality of our existing homes and improving any operational areas where we have previously under performed.

“Our immediate priority is to maintain the stability of the organisation and to appoint a new interim chief executive.”

Gareth Swarbrick was removed as RBH’s chief executive following the highly-critical inquest into Awaab’s death.

The Housing Secretary earlier vowed to strip other failing landlords of funding as he warned at least tens of thousands of homes are unsafe because of damp and mould.

“I fear it’s the case that there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the state that they should be,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“We know there are a significant number of properties, some of which were built in the ’60s and ’70s and are in poor conditions, but some of which have been poorly maintained that simply need to be properly repaired and properly maintained.”

The Housing Secretary awarded a share of a £14 million pot for seven areas with high numbers of poor, privately rented homes to crack down on rogue landlords, including Greater Manchester, Leeds and Cornwall.

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that protections for private renters will be in his much-delayed Renters’ Reform Bill coming “in the next calendar year”.