Mould in Social Housing Causes Death of Toddler

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Mould in Social Housing
LPC & GDL Matthew Shiels
Legally reviewed by: LPC & GDL Matthew Shiels In: Housing Disrepair

Following the heart-breaking case of Awawb Ishak, more cases of landlord negligence have been surfacing over the media, bringing exposure to a UK-wide issue of mould in social housing.

Official figures show there are problems with condensation and mould, in an estimated 120,000 houses. That is three times the proportion of privately owned homes. Around 176,000 privately rented homes are also living with mould. With the rising energy prices, more residents are likely to turn their heating off this winter, as well as close windows and doors. However, this is only going to worsen the UK-wide issue.

Read more about dealing with housing disrepair in the colder months. 

The Health Impact of Mould Exposure

The NHS advises that mould can produce allergens, irritants, and toxic substances. In addition, exposure to mould can trigger asthma attacks.

Certain individuals can be more susceptible to mould such as:

Read further about how damp and mould can cause asthma. 

Category One Hazards

Having mould in your home can lead to it being classed by the government as a category one hazard. A category one hazard is where the most serious harm outcome has been identified.

A category one hazard could cause:

  • death
  • permanent paralysis
  • permanent loss of consciousness
  • loss of a limb
  • serious fractures

Category one hazards are not uncommon. In 2020 9% of all of England’s housing stock was labelled category one.

Surveys carried out by Shelter have additionally revealed that 42% of private renters have experienced mould issues in their current property in the last year.

Awwab Ishak’s Story

In December 2020, Awaab Ishak, died at just two years of age. An inquest led by coroner Joanne Kearsley found Awaab died “as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment and action to treat and prevent the mould was not taken.”

Awaab’s father has repeatedly raised the issue with Rochdale Borough Housing (RHB) which owned the property in Greater Manchester.

Awaab’s family, who are from Sudan, have accused the housing association of racism. They state they have no doubt they were treated with neglect because they are not from the UK.

Tristan Calvert’s Story

Nicola Calvert and her five-year-old, Tristan, have lived with damp for three years. The mould has spread across the flat’s walls and ceilings. Additionally, weevils that feed from the moist plaster, fall into their beds.

Nicola informs the Guardian in an interview, that there are also rats, but the dampness is what concerns her as it worsens her son’s asthma.

She adds, “At night-time, he has coughed and been sick in his bedroom where the damp is the worst.” Her GP believes that the mould is what is making her son sick. When something is put onto the bedroom floor it gets green mould on it.

Tenants are finding that their struggles are falling on deaf ears as landlords are failing to address the issues. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is encouraging doctors to ask about a family’s living situation when reviewing a child with a respiratory condition “as this is now a crucial issue for child health”.

This story comes only days after the heart-breaking case of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy who lived in a house with his parents owned by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH). Just like Nicola’s flat, the flat Awaab and his parents lived in was riddled with mould.

Complaints Falling On Deaf Ears

His family complained multiple times but issues were never addressed. Eventually, Awaab’s family brought forward a housing disrepair case in June 2020 against RBH.

On the 19th of December 2020, Awaab was rushed to the hospital for difficulties with his breathing. Despite being released from the hospital the same day, Awaab was shortly rushed in again, suffering from a cardiac arrest due to respiratory failure. Awaab died on the 21st of December 2020 following the cardiac arrest.

The Coroner (Joanne Kearsley) found that Awaab “died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.”

Significantly, the Coroner also added: “action to treat and prevent the mould was not taken”.

Shortage of Social Housing

Landlords have been unable to move their tenants out of unsafe homes due to a shortage of safer homes.

Over 1.2 million households are on the social housing waiting list in England alone. Despite this figure, only 6,051 new homes were built last year.

MP Clive Betts, chair of the Commons levelling up, housing and communities committee claims that cuts to the social housing funding and the cost of dealing with safety works after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire have squeezed budgets.

However, squeezed budgets cannot be the sole blame.

The housing ombudsman is claiming that many landlords are not resolving the issues fast enough.

When examining the handling of 410 mould and damp complaints they found maladministration in more than half of the cases. Tenants said they “were not being heard or that their landlords were not taking their repair reports or complaints seriously”.

Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said in the 2021 report: “You can see the distress, disruption, even embarrassment, felt by the resident. You can see the evident concern about their health and wellbeing, especially mental health; the impact on any children.”

Government Actions to Protect Social Housing Tenants

Following the harrowing death of Awaab Ishak, Lisa Nandy spoke in the Commons stating the tragedy should mark a “real step change” towards improving the social housing stock.

“It should also be a defining moment for us and a wake-up call that every single person in this house who has – in whatever limited form and to whatever extent – the power and the platform to make sure that this never, ever happens again,” she said.

“It should not take the death of a two-year-old boy in completely avoidable circumstances to get us to get together and act.”

However, there have been delays in the plans to tighten the regulation of social housing. A bill initiated after the Grenfell fire is still being passed through parliament. The bill’s purpose is to allow for social housing regulators to proactively inspect housing, act on less serious cases and levy larger fines.

“For too long, too many social housing tenants have been forced to live in dangerous conditions in homes riddled with mould, with their complaints going unheard and unanswered,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter. “The government promised it would bring in reforms and make sure social landlords are properly held to account. The long overdue social housing regulation bill is a vital opportunity to make sure tenants are listened to, their homes are fit to live in and a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Will I Get Mould If I Don’t Turn My Heating On?

The top reason for mould in homes in the UK is under-heating. This can occur when you do not keep your home warm and ventilated, therefore causing a build-up of moisture in the air.

  • Minimise the amount of moisture in your home
  • Improve air circulation, especially around areas that are prone to mould
  • Reduce the amount of cold surface
  • Wipe away areas of dampness before they turn to mould
  • Treat bad outbreaks of mould

Read more about how to keep your home damp and mould-free this winter.

No Win, No Fee Legal Support for Damp and Mould Issues in Social Housing

If your social landlord hasn’t addressed the mould and damp problem in your home, you should seek tailored advice from our housing disrepair solicitors.

Our expert solicitors have extensive experience with these types of cases. They can help you assess your situation and ensure that any damp and mould problems in your rented home are properly addressed.

They will also be able to establish if you could be entitled to compensation for any damage and health problems caused by the dampness and mould in your home. For example, if you’ve developed asthma or mould, such as black mould, has ruined furniture which you own.

You have a right to live in a safe home, so if you’re being denied that right we want to help you make a  claim to have your landlord ensure all disrepair, mould and damp issues are resolved. We want to help you be able to live comfortably in your home without having to worry about damp and mould issues causing your health to decline.

Get in touch to find out if you are owed compensation for mould and damp.

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