Michael Gove strips £1m funding from landlord after boy’s death in mouldy flat

Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020  ((Family handout/PA))
Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020 ((Family handout/PA))

Michael Gove has cut off government funding from a housing association after a two-year-old boy died from prolonged exposure to hazardous mould in a flat that it owned.

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing has admitted it was “badly wrong” in its handling of complaints about the mould by the parents of Awaab Ishak, and its chief executive Gareth Swarbrick was removed after refusing to resign from his £170,000 job.

Mr Gove on Thursday announced the organisation will be stripped of an expected £1m in funding from the government’s affordable homes programme (AHP) and will not receive any further contracts until it can prove it is a responsible landlord.

The housing secretary also awarded a total of £14m to seven areas – including Rochdale - with high numbers of poor privately-rented homes to crack down on rogue landlords.

But Labour’s Lisa Nandy called on him to introduce legislation to beef up protections for tenants of private landlords, saying it would be “unconscionable” if it took the death of a child in private accommodation to prompt the government to bring their rights in line with social housing residents.

“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,” said Mr Gove.

“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.”

For as many as three years before Awaab’s death in 2020, his parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin repeatedly complained about the mould in the one-bedroom flat they rented from RBH. A coroner’s court heard that at one point they were told to paint over it.

The housing ombudsman Richard Blakeway is conducting an investigation into whether the issue was indicative of wider failings by the landlord.

Mr Gove said that his Department for Levelling Up will continue to monitor housing standards of RBH tenancies closely. And he said he is ready to block any housing provider which breaches consumer standards from new AHP funding until they make improvements.

The move comes after Mr Gove wrote to all councils and housing associations in the wake of Awaab’s inquest, saying they must raise the bar dramatically on standards and demanding urgent action when people complain about damp and mould.

Shadow levelling up secretary Ms Nandy said: “It’s right to stand up to failing social landlords but there is no excuse for not showing the same regard for millions of private rented tenants who live in squalid, unsafe conditions and are evicted if they dare to complain.

“After years of broken promises, the government has taken no action to strengthen rules to protect those families. There is a political consensus on this, so there is no excuse for more delay.

“Rules to protect tenants need to be enforced, but they also need to be strengthened. We could get a decent homes standard and stronger protections for renters onto the statute book today if the government had the will to do so. It would be unconscionable to wait until a child dies in a private rented property before we act.”