Michael Gove is to cut off £1m funding to the Rochdale housing association where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from prolonged exposure to black mould, saying failing providers would not get future funding.
The levelling up secretary said Rochdale Boroughwide Housing would get no further government funding from the Affordable Home Programme or receive any new contracts. Gove has been sharply critical of the association, whose chief executive refused to resign until being sacked five days after a coroner’s report.
Gove has pledged to also block new funding to other housing providers found to be failing tenants and awarded a new £14m for enforcement teams to inspect private landlords.
“RBH failed its tenants so it will not receive a penny of additional taxpayers’ money for new housing until it gets its act together and does right by tenants,” Gove said.
“Let this be a warning to other housing providers who are ignoring complaints and failing in their obligations to tenants. We will not hesitate to act. Everyone deserves the right to live in safe, decent home and this government will always act to protect tenants.”
Awaab Ishak died in 2020, eight days after his second birthday, as a direct result of black mould in the flat he lived in. His father first reported the mould to RBH in 2017. The coroner found he had died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home.
His father, Faisal Abdullah, was told to paint over it, which he did several times, and a health visitor also wrote, twice, to RBH in 2020, expressing concern about the mould 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 monitor housing standards of RBH tenancies closely to ensure that tenants have appropriate housing, and will launch a wider crackdown on poor standards.
He said the government would block any housing provider that breaches 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 – that have had recent findings of severe maladministration made against them by England’s housing ombudsman for varying problems related to cold, damp, mould, leaks and antisocial behaviour.
But on Wednesday he said he accepted that the issue was not only a problem in the social housing sector and said £14m would be allocated for enforcement in the private rental sector.
The areas receiving the extra enforcement cash to increase the use of fines where a landlord is found to have committed an offence include £2.3m for Greater Manchester – including Rochdale and surrounding councils.
Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, the housing secretary told MPs too many landlords had shown “defensive behaviour” when receiving complaints about poor conditions in their properties, but also admitted the extent of dangerous conditions was so great that more funding may be needed fix the problem.
The shadow levelling up and housing secretary, Lisa Nandy, said the government had to go further on regulation, not just enforcement. “After years of broken promises, the government has taken no action to strengthen rules to protect those families. There is a political consensus on this, so there is no excuse for more delay,” she said.
“Rules to protect tenants need to be enforced, but they also need to be strengthened. We could get a decent homes standard and stronger protections for renters on to the statute book today if the government had the will to do so. It would be unconscionable to wait until a child dies in a private rented property before we act.”