The inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak concluded on 15th November 2022. Awaab died when he was two-years-old after living in a flat with damp and mould present. HM Senior Coroner Ms Joanne Kearsley presided over the inquest and found that the ventilation in the bathroom was not effective, there was a lack of ventilation in the kitchen, and an overall lack of an effective ventilation system in the property; and that this was a direct contributing factor in the development of the mould. The senior coroner found that Awaab died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould within his home environment.
The senior coroner said that Awaab’s death should be a “defining moment” for the UK’s housing sector. Following the inquest, Ms Kearsley issued a four-page Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Minister for Housing and the Secretary of State for Health, to which they will have to respond with details of action taken or proposed to be taken. The report highlights the following matters of concern, which risk future deaths occurring unless action is taken:
The 2006 document, “A Decent Home: Definition and Guidance for Implementation” does not give any consideration to the issue of damp and mould. Nor does it provide any guidance as to the need for a property to be adequately ventilated.
The HHSRS data sheet relating to damp and mould, is used to calculate risks of the incident and the spread of harm is not reflective of the current known risks of damp and mould and harm to health.
There was no evidence that up-to-date relevant health information pertaining to the risks of the damp and mould was easily accessible to the housing sector.
The evidence highlighted a “policy” amongst the housing associations, in cases where a disrepair claim has been brought of waiting for agreement from the claimant (or their legal representative) before rectifying any recognised disrepair.
The private landlord sector does not have access to the Housing Ombudsman for their complaints to be investigated independently.
Awaab’s family were living in a flat managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH). The Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, spoke to the Chief Executive of RBH, Gareth Swarbrick, on 16th November 2022 and told Parliament that it was “clear … there are systemic problems in the governance and leadership” of RBH. Michael Gove has said that Awaab’s family were “victims of prejudice”. Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Michael Gove said that new legislation would hold landlords to account.
In a parliamentary debate about Awaab’s death, Chris Clarkson, MP for Middleton, revealed that constituents living in an RBH property this week sent him photographs of walls showing black mould. MPs representing constituents across the country advised they have received numerous complaints from constituents worried about persistent mould and whether this is impacting their children’s health.
Richard Blakeway, of the Housing Ombudsman for England, has discovered three other complaints about damp and mould in RBH’s homes which have been assessed as high or medium risk. He has invoked powers to allow inspectors to interview staff and board members at RBH and is investigating whether one of the complaints “is indicative of a wider failure within the landlord”. Richard Blakeway told Awaab’s inquest that he has seen a “significant increase” in casework involving damp and mould over the last 3 years. He told the inquest that the law needs to be reinforced to compel landlords to address damp and mould problems.
Following the inquest conclusion, the Manchester Evening News (MEN) and Shelter are campaigning for a change in the law that would compel housing associations not to allow any other child, or anyone else, to suffer in social housing where damp and mould is present.
The Social Housing Regulation Bill is currently going through Parliament and, if approved, it would bring back regulation on consumer standards for social housing. The MEN calls on all MPs and peers to support an ‘Awaab’s Law’, in addition to the Social Housing Regulation Bill.
Awaab’s Law would:
Require social landlords investigate the causes of damp and mould within 14 days of complaints being made and provide tenants with a report on the findings
Give social landlords 7 days to begin work to repair a property if a medical professional believes there is a risk to a tenant’s health
Ensure bids for new social housing properties are treated as a high priority if a medical professional has recommended a tenant moves home after identifying a risk to health at their existing property, and
Mandate social landlords to provide all tenants with information on their rights, how to make a complaint and what standards they can expect under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, provided in simple English or the language a tenant is most proficient in.
Awaab’s Law can be signed at: Petition · Awaab’s law – to prevent any more children dying from damp and mouldy social housing · Change.org