Gove pulls plug on £1m cash for housing association after Awaab death

Michael Gove discusses death of toddler Awaab Ishak

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Michael Gove is pulling the plug on £1million in new funding for the housing organisation which managed the mould-ridden property in which two-year-old Awaab Ishak developed the respiratory condition which eventually killed him. The toddler, who lived with his parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, died in December 2020.

Coroner Joanna Kearsley issued stinging criticism of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RHB) at an inquest last month, saying: “I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought, ‘How does this happen?”

Chief Executive Gareth Swarbrick was initially backed by RHB’s board – but was fired 24 hours later, on Saturday.

Now the Government has confirmed it is withholding the cash from the housing association, and would not be giving any new contracts for new homes in accordance with the Affordable Homes Programme (AHP), until the Regulator of Social Housing has finished its investigation and RBH can prove it is a responsible landlord.

Mr Gove, the Housing Secretary, said: “RBH failed its tenants so it will not receive a penny of additional taxpayers’ money for new housing until it gets its act together and does right by tenants.

“Let this be a warning to other housing providers who are ignoring complaints and failing in their obligations to tenants. We will not hesitate to act.

“Everyone deserves the right to live in safe, decent home and this Government will always act to protect tenants.”

The Government will continue to monitor housing standards of RBH tenancies closely, working with the regulator and ombudsman, to ensure that tenants have appropriate housing, Mr Gove’s statement added.

As part of a wider crackdown on poor standards, Mr Gove will block any housing provider that breaches the regulator’s consumer standards from new AHP funding until they make improvements.

He will also consider stripping providers of existing AHP funding, unless construction has already started on site, his statement added.

Awaab’s parents, originally from Sudan, had repeatedly complained about the mould. They also believed their treatment was shaped by their not being from the UK.

In a statement on Tuesday, RBH said: “We did make assumptions about lifestyle and we accept that we got that wrong.

“We will be implementing further training across the whole organisation.

“We abhor racism in any shape or form and we know that we have a responsibility to all our communities.”

The housing association published the update on Twitter a week after a coroner called for Awaab’s inquest to be a “defining moment” and said it would “significantly accelerate” inspection of homes for dampness and mould.

It said: “We want to start by saying again how sorry we are for the loss of Awaab.

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“We know our words will not take away the pain felt by his family, nor will they immediately heal the hurt and the strength of feeling which is justifiably being felt in Rochdale and across the country.

“Our whole organisation, which is made up of caring and passionate colleagues, is completely focused on putting things right for our customers, the people of Rochdale and the wider community and sector.

“However, we know that we got things badly wrong.”

RBH said its priorities included bringing in an experienced interim chief executive as soon as possible, meeting key stakeholders and sharing what it had learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector.

Mr Swarbrick, on an annual salary of £185,000, had initially refused to resign, and was removed from his position the day after Rochdale Borough Council called for housing stock to be returned to the local authority.

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