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The tragic death of Awaab Ishak made national news on the 15th of November. We feel, as a company whose primary service is the treatment of the conditions that led to Awaab’s death, that it’s appropriate to add our voice to the discussion his tragic death has provoked. First and foremost we’d like to offer our condolences to Awaab’s family. We can’t begin to imagine their incredible pain and frustration at losing their beloved two-year old son.
Awaab Ishak died in 2020 but it was the results of the coroner's inquest that were released in November 2022. Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley found that:
“Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.”
We unequivocally echo the sentiments of those in positions of power, whether politically or medically, who have condemned the circumstances that precipitated the tragedy. Michael Gove, the Housing and Communities Secretary described the tragedy as 'unacceptable'.
Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley, in her findings, stated;
“I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought: how does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home? The tragic death of Awaab will, and should, be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould.”
Lawyers representing the Ishak family read a statement representing Awaab’s parents' views;
“We cannot tell you how many health professionals we have cried in front of and Rochdale borough housing staff we have pleaded to expressing concern … We shouted out as loudly as we could”.
Enough is known about the risks posed by mould and dampness in the home. The World Health Organisation and the UK government have recognised mould as an incredibly serious threat. The former has published a large study that outlines both the epidemiological and clinical data linking exposure to mould to a vast array of illnesses and adverse health conditions. The latter has created legislation, whose effectiveness is probably worth discussing separately, recognising mould as a threat to human health to the same extent as asbestos (both Category 1 health hazards) and whose presence when detected in rented or government accommodation renders the dwelling ‘not fit for human habitation’. We echo the findings of the senior coroner, how has this happened?
Clearly there are some deep-rooted systemic failures that have led to a breakdown in communication and a severe lack of awareness at the level of governmental agents or agencies dealing directly with the Ishak family. Perhaps, too, gross negligence at an individual level - thought that’s not for us to say. It is appropriate for us to stress how absolutely avoidable Awaab’s tragic death was. No individual or family should have to endure the deplorable and life-threatening conditions that existed in Awaab’s home preceding his death.
The Landlord and Tenant Act (1985), Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act (2018) and Housing Health and Safety Rating System give individuals and families in private or social accommodation power to enforce remedial works. Landlords and social housing organisations are very much responsible for assessing damp and mouldy conditions and addressing them if the cause is structural or due to disrepair or the inadequate provision of proper ventilation and extraction.
Even if the conditions have been solely caused by the inhabitants of a dwelling, they are still absolutely addressable. In a structurally intact dwelling, with adequate ventilation and extraction, there are some simple lifestyle adjustments that can be made to stem the cause of the mould growth.
If professional mould remediation is not a financially viable option, there are still some cheap and easy means of removing mould growth once the lifestyle adjustments have been made that will see significant improvements to the living conditions within the home.
The tragedy of Awaab’s death is compounded by two factors. Firstly, if the health professionals and/ or Rochdale borough housing association had the correct information and, by extension, had acted decisively to address the conditions, Awaab may still be alive. Secondly, even if the relevant authorities lacked the key information and empowered recourse which should fundamentally be at their disposal, if the Ishak’s had access to any and all relevant information regarding mould, its causes, behavioural changes that can mitigate dampness and condensation and cheap and safe measures they themselves could enact, they might - though aren’t party to all the facts of the case - have avoided the tragedy. Certainly the latter point is true generally when the cause of the conditions are distributed between both property owner and inhabitant.
Therefore, we call upon the UK government to re-examine its legislation. Is it fit for purpose? Even if current legislation is deemed fit for purpose, action is needed to swiftly and decisively address systemic breakdowns in the flow of knowledge between central and local government and a culture needs to be fostered which empowers local agencies to act.
Secondly, we will be launching a series of articles which will furnish renters and homeowners alike with the knowledge regarding the causes of mould, how to make simple behavioural adjustments to mitigate its growth, how to cheaply and safely remove mould growth if professional remediation is not financially viable and an understanding of the existing legislation and the remedial powers to which they have access.