The Greater Manchester community still fearing for their children three years on from toddler's death

This week, frustrated tenants of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) filled out the White Lion pub.
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When a toddler died in a damp Rochdale home promises were made. But three years later, people still living in similar properties across the town say they are dealing with just as much damp and mould inside their houses as they were back then.

This week, frustrated tenants of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) filled out the White Lion pub in Rochdale town centre to shine a light once again on the everyday problems they have to endure in their homes. It comes more than three years on from the moment two-year-old Awaab Ishak died due to exposure to damp and mould in an RBH home.

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020.Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020.
Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020.
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Bosses at the housing association promised change and said they would work to improve the quality of homes under their management. But, in a packed Rochdale pub, exasperated residents outlined the conditions they are still living in and they say the issues are now worse, not better. Those gathered in the back room of the White Lion all had similar stories of suffering at the hands of damp conditions in their own homes.

Lisa Smith, who helped to organise the event, spoke about her daughter’s battle to get mould problems in her own RBH home fixed.

She said: “My daughter and my granddaughter moved property in October and it was all freshly painted, but within a couple of weeks things started not looking right. Then she kept an eye on it and then when it came up (the mould), she reported it and reported it. She was saying this is really bad, is my baby going to die as well? We ended up having to take her to hospital as a result of the exposure and they didn’t do anything.

“I did a post on Facebook later on that went viral and then the next thing I know I had the RBH boss on the phone saying they need to do an inspection. They’ve emptied it and done more work than originally planned – so it must have been a right state.

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"They didn’t want to do anything until it went public. It’s been a nightmare, I’ve had my daughter on the phone crying and wondering if her baby is going to wake up. The housing conditions are not getting better, look at all the people here. I spoke to them saying ‘you’ve had one baby that died, how many more are you going to have to die’.”

The meeting of frustrated tenants of Rochdale Boroughwide HousingThe meeting of frustrated tenants of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
The meeting of frustrated tenants of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing

Lisa’s daughter is lucky to have only suffered for a few months, with some RBH tenants at the meeting stating how they have been struggling with damp and mould for years.

Amanda Newton, RBH chief executive, speaking about the case of Lisa’s daughter, said: “We are sorry that Ms Atherton has experienced these issues with her home, and we reiterate our apology to her. We are working hard to carry out the repairs needed as quickly as possible. Our number one priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our customers. Ms Atherton reported concerns about damp and mould to us on December 14 and we visited her home on December 19.

“We identified some areas which required treatment and booked this for January 8. On January 3, Ms Atherton reported that the issue had become worse and we attended the property that day. The condition of the property had deteriorated significantly since our visit two weeks before. We arranged for her and her family to move into alternative accommodation that evening, so we could identify the cause of the damp, treat it, and undertake all required remedial repair works as soon as possible. We’re working with Ms Atherton and her family to ensure that she’s supported while she is waiting for the work to her home to be completed and we will do all that we can to ensure that she is comfortable as that happens.”

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Billy Howarth, who works in the child protection sector and is a well-known community figure, organised the meeting after seeing more complaints about RBH. He is hoping the people of Rochdale can mount the pressure on housing providers alongside legislation and improve the quality of the homes they live in.

Billy Howarth at the RBH tenant meeting in the White Lion pub in Rochdale.Billy Howarth at the RBH tenant meeting in the White Lion pub in Rochdale.
Billy Howarth at the RBH tenant meeting in the White Lion pub in Rochdale.

Billy said: “I’m responding to the plea for help because so many people are being ignored. We are going to lose another child if we don’t do something. I don’t think any child should live in squalor in this day and age.

“It has been three years since Awaab died, and no I don’t think things have changed. I think it has gotten worse. We’ve seen recently that they can go into homes and get things done – so it is possible. But why does it take people going on social media or going to the newspapers to get things done? Am I here to cause trouble for RBH? Absolutely I am. Until someone is held to account, not just sacking a CEO, maybe financially, we will not stop.”

Residents at the meeting also heard from a surveying consultant who specialises in advising people in their very situation – a project close to his heart. Matthew Coulter told the tenants what they are entitled to and the best way to approach legal action against the housing association.

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Following the latest round of consultation for Awaab’s Law, named in honour of the late Awaab Ishak, new legal requirements for social landlords will be brought in, forcing inspections and repairs to damp and mould to be completed within strict timeframes. Awaab was aged two when he died in December 2020, as a direct result of exposure to mould in the social home his family rented from RBH. His parents raised concerns about their living conditions time and again. The landlord not only repeatedly failed to act, but shamefully blamed the family for causing the hazardous mould.

Under the Government’s current plans, hazards will be investigated within 14 days and repairs will begin within a further seven days. Emergency repairs would be made within 24 hours. The consultation for these proposals was launched last week. The timeframes will then be put forward as secondary legislation to the Social Housing Act, which was passed last summer.

Billy Howarth addresses the meeting Billy Howarth addresses the meeting
Billy Howarth addresses the meeting

The message was clear in the pool room of the White Lion – this problem is still here and they will not stop until it is sorted. RBH were invited to the meeting but did not attend – instead offering to meet the disgruntled residents at a later date to hear their issues.

Amanda Newton, RBH chief executive’s statement continued: “We are aware that a group of RBH customers were meeting this evening, and we are truly sorry to hear that they are experiencing issues with their homes. Our absolute priority is to address their concerns, and put things right as quickly as possible. Following a conversation with a member of the group this afternoon, we have offered to meet and speak with each of them either individually or together in the coming days to understand the issues they are having with their homes and develop a clear timeline for carrying out any repairs that are needed.

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“Our Damp and Mould Taskforce has been in place since December 2022 and we’re working hard to identify and resolve issues around damp, mould and condensation at the earliest opportunity. So far we’ve committed to investing £45 million in people’s homes over the next five years and we will keep this under review. We encourage all of our customers to contact us about any concerns they have with damp and mould or other issues in their homes so we can investigate and resolve them.”

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