Michael Gove is to cut £1m funding to Rochdale housing association where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from long-term exposure to black mould, saying failing providers would not get future funding.
The Equalization Secretary said Rochdale Boroughwide Housing would not receive additional government assistance from the Affordable Home Program or receive new contracts. Gove has been sharply critical of the association, whose chief executive refused to step down until he was sacked five days after a coroner’s report.
Gove has pledged to also block new funding for other housing providers found to be failing tenants and allocated a new £14 million to enforcement teams to inspect private landlords.
“RBH failed its tenants so it will not receive a penny of extra taxpayers’ money for new homes until it gets its act together and does right by the tenants,” Gove said.
“Let this be a warning to other housing providers who ignore complaints and fail in their obligations to tenants. We will not hesitate to act. Everyone deserves the right to live in a safe, decent home and this Government will always act to protect tenants.”
Awaab Ishak died in 2020eight days after his second birthday, as a direct result of black mold in the apartment he lived in. His father first reported the mold to RBH in 2017. The coroner determined that he had died as a result of a serious respiratory disorder caused by prolonged exposure for mold in his home.
His father, Faisal Abdullah, was told to paint over it, which he did several times, and a public health nurse also wrote to RBH twice in 2020 expressing concern about the mold and the negative health effects it could have.
On Wednesday, Gove said Homes England will be instructed to withhold £1m from Rochdale Borough Housing allocated in future AHP funding.
Gove has said he will also continue to closely monitor housing standards for RBH tenancies to ensure tenants have suitable accommodation, and will launch a wider crackdown on poor standards.
He said the government would block any housing provider that breaks the regulator’s consumer standards from new AHP funding until they make improvements, and would consider stripping providers of existing AHP funding unless construction has already started.
Gove has written to six housing providers – Clarion, Southern Housing Group, Onward Homes, Catalyst Housing, PA Housing and Johnnie Johnson Housing – who have received recent findings of serious maladministration against them by England’s Housing Ombudsman for various problems related to cold, damp, mould, leaks and antisocial behaviour.
But on Wednesday he said he accepted the issue was not just a problem in the social housing sector and said £14 million would be set aside for enforcement in the private rented sector.
The areas receiving the extra enforcement cash include £2.3 million for Greater Manchester – including Rochdale and surrounding boroughs – to increase the use of fines where a landlord is found to have committed an offence.
Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, the housing secretary told MPs that too many landlords had shown “defensive behaviour” when receiving complaints about poor conditions in their properties, but also admitted that the scale of dangerous conditions was so great that there may be need more funding, solve the problem.
The shadow levels up and the housing secretary, Lisa Nandy, said the government needed to move forward with regulation, not just enforcement. “After years of broken promises, the government has not taken steps to strengthen the rules to protect these families. There is political consensus on this, so there is no excuse for more delay,” she said.
“Rules to protect tenants must be enforced, but they must also be strengthened. We could get decent housing standards and stronger protections for tenants on the law today if the government had the will to do it. It would be unreasonable to wait until a child dies in a private rented home before we act.”