Rochdale coroner Joanne Kearsley has concluded that the death of Awaab Ishak in December 2020 was the result of a severe respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to harmful mould in his family’s council home.
She described the child’s death as “a defining moment for the housing sector”.
The inquest heard from a surveyor that inadequate ventilation had rendered the home unfit for human habitation. But when Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, had complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing about the mould in 2017 he was just told to paint over it.
The coroner is writing to the relevant government ministers to recommend the Decent Homes Standard be strengthened. The call is being supported by the Housing Ombudsman Service.
The family’s lawyer, Kelly Darlington, read this statement on behalf of the family: “We still cannot get our head around the fact that despite all the complaints we made to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing… they did absolutely nothing to rectify the severe mould in our property. We cannot tell you how many health professionals we have cried in front of and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing staff we have pleaded to expressing our concerns at the conditions ourselves and Awaab had been living in. We shouted out as loud as we could. But despite making all those efforts, every night we would be coming back to the same problem.”
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing chief executive Gareth Swarbrick said: “I am truly devastated about Awaab’s death and the things we got wrong. We know that nothing we can say will bring Awaab back or be of any consolation to his family. We have and will continue to learn hard lessons from this.
“We didn’t recognise the level of risk to a little boy’s life from the mould in the family’s home. We allowed a legal disrepair process to get in the way of promptly tackling the mould.
“We must make sure this can never happen again. Awaab’s death needs to be a wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health.
“We will take responsibility for sharing what we have learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector and beyond.
“We support the coroner and Housing Ombudsman’s call for the government’s Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould, and the coroner’s decision to write to the ministers of housing and health on this.”
He added “The coroner recognised the changes we have made to our procedures, IT, communications and training. We note the coroner’s words that she was impressed with the learning RBH has taken and desire to share with others. As a result, she will not be issuing us with a Prevention of Future of Deaths Report.
“We agree with the coroner that the tragic death of Awaab will be and should be a defining moment for the housing sector.”