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Gove has no ‘trust’ in housing association following death of Awaab Ishak

Michael Gove doesn’t ‘trust’ the management of a housing association that owned the flat where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died after prolonged exposure to mould.

The Housing Secretary had an “unsatisfactory” meeting with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) on Thursday, which did not explain how it would keep tenants safe, a government source said.

Mr Gove has also pledged to enforce an “Awaab law” that would improve the experiences of those who live with mold and dampness in their properties, lawyers for the child’s family have said.

Awaab died in December 2020 of a respiratory illness caused by mold in a one-bedroom housing association flat in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Her parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, repeatedly complained about mold.

Mr Gove has blocked £1m funding RBH was due to receive to build new homes and threatened ‘further action’ unless he proves he is a responsible landlord.

Following his talks with RBH in Rochdale, a government source said: “The meeting with RBH was not satisfactory.

“They have once again failed to answer basic questions about their operations and how they will ensure tenants are safe in their homes.

“The Secretary of State has no confidence in the management of RBH and will continue to pay very close attention to their work, working closely with the regulator.

“He will not hesitate to take additional measures if necessary.”

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

The cabinet minister also had a “productive” meeting with Awaab’s family, lawyers said.

“The family is pushing for the enforcement of an Awaab law to ensure that no other family goes through what they went through,” said attorney Christian Weaver.

“Awaab Law would significantly improve the experiences of those who live with mold and dampness in their properties, and is therefore crucial. We are pleased that the Secretary of State has expressed his support for an Awaab Law.

Mr Gove will return to Rochdale to meet the family in six months, Mr Weaver said.

The family also said they had “no confidence” in RBH management and called for the board to resign.

After the meeting with Mr Gove, the RBH board said: “We have again acknowledged that we were wrong and how deeply sorry we are for the loss of Awaab…

“We are absolutely focused on improving the quality of our existing homes and improving all operational areas where we have previously underperformed.

“Our immediate priority is to maintain the stability of the organization and appoint a new interim CEO.”

Gareth Swarbrick has been removed from his role as RBH chief executive following the highly critical investigation into Awaab’s death.

The Housing Secretary earlier pledged to withhold funding from other defaulting homeowners, warning that at least tens of thousands of homes are unsafe due to dampness and mould.

‘I fear there are tens of thousands of properties that are not in the condition they should be,’ he told BBC Breakfast.

“We know there are a significant number of properties out there, some of which were built in the 60s and 70s and are in poor condition, but some of which have been poorly maintained and just need to be properly repaired and properly maintained.”

The Housing Secretary has allocated a share of a £14million pot to seven areas with large numbers of poor privately rented homes to crack down on rogue landlords, including Greater Manchester, Leeds and Cornwall.

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that protections for private tenants would feature in his much-delayed Tenant Reform Bill to come ‘within the next calendar year’.