Housing boss will NOT quit £185,000 job after death of two-year-old boy in mouldy home
A housing boss has confirmed he will not resign over the death of a two-year-old boy in a mouldy home.
Awaab Ishak had celebrated his second birthday just a week before he died from a respiratory condition caused by black mould in December 2020.
He lived in a one-bedroom flat with his parents Aisha Aminin and Faisal Abdullah, who had previously complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about the mould.
On Tuesday, a coroner concluded that he “died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.”
Gareth Swarbrick, the chief executive of RBH, has since faced mounting calls to quit, including from Housing Secretary Michael Gove, who queried why he was still in the role following the inquest’s conclusion.
But in a statement on the housing association’s website, Mr Swarbrick confirmed he will not be stepping down, and finally apologised to Awaab’s family.
He said: “I want to start by saying how sorry I am to Awaab’s family for their loss – no apology will ever be enough.
“The conversation around my position has begun to overshadow the most important part of all of this, which is that a family has lost their child.
“Having spoken to the board, I can confirm that I will not be resigning. They have given me their full backing and trust to continue to oversee the improvements and changes needed within RBH.
“I have spoken to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up and Housing, Michael Gove, to discuss Awaab and the issues we face in social housing.
“We back the government’s commitment to strengthen the Decent Homes Standard and the importance of the tenant’s voice, which will be reinforced by the Social Housing Regulation Bill.”
A “raft of changes” has been made at the company following Awaab’s death, added Mr Swarbrick, including mandatory training, better connected IT systems and video interpreting technology.
Alison Tumilty, RBH Board Chair, said: “As an organisation, we would again like to extend our deepest sympathies and say sorry to Faisal and Aisha. We let them down.
“This is a tragedy of the highest order, and we are devastated that it happened in one of our homes. We have made mistakes and we are endeavouring to correct them.
“Having spoken to the Board, I can confirm that we have full confidence in Gareth’s leadership. He has the trust of the Board. He has extensive knowledge of the sector and the communities of Rochdale.
“Together, we will work to restore the trust of the people of Rochdale and demonstrate that we are a mutual landlord that cares, and cares deeply about our tenants.”
The statements come after Manchester Evening News revealed Mr Swarbrick saw his total pay package, including pension contributions, climb from £144,000 a year to £185,000 from the end of March 2019 to April 2021.
While tenants suffered, five members of RBH’s senior management team also received total pay packages of over £100,000, including salary and pension contribution.
Four of those executives remain at the housing association and benefitted from another pay hike the following financial year – coming into effect less than five months after Awaab’s death.
Those executives included Nadhia Khan, director of customer and community, who is in charge of the team responsible for repairs and engaging with tenants.
Her total pay package increased from £90,000 in 2019-20, to £107,000 the following year and £108,000 in 2021-22.
She was the most senior employee at the company to give evidence at Awaab’s inquest.
In her findings on Tuesday, Coroner Joanne Kearsley described Awaab as “an engaging, lively, endearing two-year-old”.
She said Mr Abdullah reported mould developing in the Tweedale Street flat to RBH in 2017 and was told to paint over it.
In June 2020, Mr Abdullah instructed solicitors and initiated a claim over the recurring issue but policy meant any repairs would not be done until an agreement had been reached, the inquest heard.
A health visitor also contacted RBH to raise the issue in July 2020 and an inspection that month found mould in the kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom cupboard needed treatment.
Ms Kearsley said the mould was due to “normal daily living activities” and a lack of effective ventilation.
She said: “I find as a matter of fact that no action was taken and, from July 2020 until December 2020, Awaab continued to have chronic exposure to harmful mould.”
The coroner gave a narrative conclusion for Awaab’s death, with a medical cause of acute airway oedema with severe granulomatous tracheobronchitis, due to environmental mould exposure.
Ms Kearsley said the toddler’s death should be a “defining moment” for the housing sector and No.10 blasted the circumstances in which the youngster died as “unacceptable”.
Awaab’s family said after the hearing: “We cannot tell you how many health professionals we’ve cried in front of and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing staff we have pleaded to, expressing concern for the conditions ourselves and Awaab have been living in.
“We shouted out as loudly as we could, but despite making all of those efforts, every night we would be coming back to the same problem.”
And addressing Awaab’s family as she gave her conclusion, Ms Kearsley said: “I hope we have been able to provide you with some of the answers to the questions that you had about your son’s death.
“But I do appreciate that nothing I say or do can bring Awaab back. More than anything, I hope you know that Awaab will – I am sure – make a difference for other people.”