Southdown Responds To Coroner’s Verdict On Death Of Child From Mould In Social Housing
Posted on 14 December 2022
In the wake of the very sad case of Awaab Ishak’s death from respiratory problems caused by the mould in his social housing flat, our Director of Housing and Business Services, Jim Aspdin, shares what Southdown are doing to ensure this couldn’t happen to any of our tenants:
“I’m sure that many of you will have seen the coroners’ verdict in the very sad case of Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020.
“Awaab was a two year old boy who died from respiratory problems caused by the mould in his social housing flat. Awaab’s death was entirely avoidable – his family had repeatedly complained about the mould to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing and attempted to escalate their concerns through RBH’s complaints process and later the use of disrepair solicitors. RBH failed to address the root cause of the mould or recognise the lack of an adequate ventilation system being a major factor in the persistent mould growth.
“I’m sure colleagues, tenants, and family members will be wondering whether this could be happening in any of Southdown’s properties (including those circa 120 we currently lease from other providers).
“Whilst I’m confident that the same combination of factors could not happen to a tenant of Southdown, I’m also not complacent. As the combined energy and cost of living crises continue to bite – with many of our tenants also on higher-tariff pre-payment meters – we know tenants are going to be reducing the amount they have their heating on and, in colder months, the extent to which they ventilate their homes.
“Having just completed a round of stock condition surveys we are confident we have a good recent first-hand knowledge of our own stock – we are also confident that these surveys will have identified any similar repair issues and we will have raised works orders as soon as they were identified. The one advantage of having a diverse portfolio of properties also means we need to visit all of our properties when we carry out condition surveys- with cloning the exception rather than the rule.
“Our Property Services department routinely circulate information on damp and mould. When reported, our Housing Assistants seek to have a dialogue with tenants about damp and condensation issues rather than establish blame – we know from experience that it can be complex to establish the causes of damp, condensation and mould and that the only true resolution is when the tenant is no longer experiencing these issues.
“We continue to carry out annual tenant visits – our Housing Assistants try to inspect every property every year, and directly address property repair issues and track reports of mould and damp raised with them – even in cases where Southdown are not the head landlord. Indeed, the greatest area of risk for us/our tenants in issues of damp and mould growth is where we are at the mercy of other organisations’ approaches to repairs and maintenance.
“In the wake of the sad case of Awaab we will be putting out targeted communications to tenants to ensure that they are reporting cases of damp and mould directly to us – whoever the landlord ultimately responsible for resolving the issue.
“We are reviewing our workflows to ensure these issues continue to be tracked to resolution and don’t get ‘stuck’ or lost due to no-access etc.
“Our Housing & Property Services Senior Manager and I personally review every complaint that is raised with the Housing Division, as well as the responses of our Team Managers, to try and ensure we are giving the benefit of the doubt where we can and acknowledging instances where we are at fault.
“We have previously dealt with the same disrepair solicitors as in the sad case of Awaab (this was for a property we sublease I might add). We know that sometimes the presence of a disrepair solicitor insisting they approve any works can wrong-foot housing staff and create the danger of shifting the focus of activities to winning the legal argument rather than retaining the focus upon resolving the disrepair issue. We have already altered our disrepair policy and procedure to make this focus upon resolution of the issue rather than ‘winning’ the legal argument clearer.
“We continue to evolve our approach to improve the energy efficiency of our properties – where possible working to PAS2035 guidance to ensure our measures do not introduce new property issues as a side-effect.
“We have identified shared training with other local providers to ensure that we are correctly identifying and responding to damp and mould issues when they inevitably arise. In the New Year we will be undertaking tenant involvement activities to carry out a targeted follow-up on more recently reported cases of damp and mould to ensure our approach is as supportive as we aspire to be and to see if there are any further insights our tenants can provide that might help us in resolving these issues when they arise.
“I hope that this provides you with some reassurance of the situation for Southdown tenants, our approach to tenants and the additional steps we are taking.”
– Jim Aspdin, Director of Housing and Business Services