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Landlord slammed by Ombudsman over damp and mould failures

The Housing Ombudsman has released its special investigation into Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the social housing provider which supplied accommodation to Awaab Ishak.

It is a damning report which found that a culture of ‘othering’ of the residents lies at the heart of the issues at the landlord. This involves a pattern of exclusion and marginalisation based on identities perceived as ‘different’.

The Ombudsman’s wider investigation was prompted by the inquest into Awaab Ishak’s death from prolonged exposure to mould and its review of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s complaints brought to the Ombudsman.


The report examines the initial lessons identified by the landlord following Awaab’s death, and actions since the inquest, to make more than 20 recommendations for improved practice including disrepair, resident engagement and organisational learning.

The Ombudsman reviewed complaints determined in the previous four financial years to the start of 2023. The Ombudsman also made 15 findings in several cases investigated since the inquest and found maladministration for 10 of them – a maladministration rate of 67 per cent including three findings of severe maladministration.

This includes a resident reporting concern after her young son developed chest problems which she believes is because of severe damp and mould in her home.

A statement from the social housing Ombudsman says: “The landlord has proactively engaged with the Ombudsman during the investigation, including meeting with the Ombudsman to discuss the themes identified and actions being undertaken.”

The Ombudsman identified seven key themes and set out a series of recommendations.

Finding its silence - The landlord did not go far enough to find where residents were not reporting damp and mould issues. This included flawed reviews that did not uncover the damp and mould that was present on various estates. This further highlights the risk for other landlords of relying on one method and one-off exercises to identify the extent of problems – finding the silence is not easy and requires a range of methods, using skilled professionals, to be effective.

The Ombudsman’s recommendations include formal hazards assessments being introduced for damp and mould inspections. Action should also be taken when reletting homes and consideration taken of when residents should be moved to another property.

Treat residents fairly - As part of the investigation, the Ombudsman looked at the responses the landlord gave to our call for evidence as part of the Spotlight report shortly after the death of Awaab Ishak. Much of the language used was tenant blaming, using lifestyle and cultural barriers as key reasons for the issues.

The Ombudsman’s investigations found that the dismissive and discriminatory attitude towards residents was not restricted to Awaab Ishak’s family, nor complaints about damp and mould – with issues arising in cases involving general repairs, the ending of tenancies and anti-social behaviour.

This strongly indicates that unsympathetic, inappropriate, or even heavy-handed behaviour towards residents is present throughout the landlord’s interactions. While all staff were provided with ‘Respect’ training at induction there is no evidence this is repeated.

Proactive communication strategy - Communications by the landlord about damp and mould are at times scant. Website information does not cover how the landlord will tackle the issue, instead addressing what the resident should do.

The Ombudsman recommends the landlord further engage residents from across its diverse population in the co-design of new information to ensure it is accessible, impactful and effective.

Record keeping - This is a key theme running through Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s complaints, including missing repairs records, different systems holding different information, repairs information logged against the wrong address and key details being stored on individual staff computers.

The Ombudsman also found that the landlord lost most of its email data in 2020 and there was evidence of a lack of synchronisation between multiple databases.

Damp and mould strategy - The landlord aims to have a dedicated damp and mould strategy in place by April 2023, in line with the recommendation of the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report, and is deploying technology to monitor humidity in their homes.

The landlord has introduced a priority system for assessing how long a mould repair could take but the Ombudsman feels it did not sufficiently recognise the severity of the mould or whether the location is critical, only how relatively widespread it is.

While the landlord created a damp and mould taskforce last year, the Ombudsman has concerns about its training, which seems to concentrate on the technical requirements on a landlord and whether it needs to concede liability when a disrepair claim has been submitted.

Empower staff - The landlord’s staff did not have the sufficient training to explore reports of damp and mould, make the right decisions on how to handle damp and mould reports nor the empowerment to challenge appropriately if they felt the response inadequate.

The Ombudsman says: “It is also clear some staff did not feel comfortable raising their issues through the whistleblowing process in place within the landlord, opting instead to talk directly to the Housing Ombudsman.”

Organisational learning - Until the inquest, the landlord did not show a strong ability to learn from its mistakes or take opportunities to improve from them. There were several issues with the landlord’s complaints policy from 2022, which did not include an emphasis around equality – which is particularly concerning as many of the issues the Ombudsman identified in its investigation concern the fair treatment of residents, particularly those with protected characteristics.

The Ombudsman has recommended the landlord update its complaints policy and self-assess against the Code.

A statement from Rochdale Boroughwide Housing says: “We would like to thank the Ombudsman service for its very thorough and balanced report. The findings in the report are sobering but not unexpected. There has been significant learning from the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, which highlighted key areas of concern within RBH.

“We have recognised that too often damp and mould was not seen as a serious issue and was attributed to a resident’s lifestyle.

“At RBH we have taken significant steps since December 2022 to tackle this across our homes. But it is fair to say that this work should have started much sooner and that the scale of the issue in our homes means it will take us time to complete.

“The report also highlights concerns with the way in which residents were treated.  Our residents have the right to be treated with respect and listened to and too often this wasn’t happening. We will put this right and have begun a culture shift programme across the organisation.

“There are wider lessons that we need to act upon, around the investment in our existing homes, and how this is balanced against the desperate need for more homes.

“Issues of overcrowding in homes have a detrimental effect in a lot of areas and is a significant issue within Rochdale but also across the country, with insufficient family homes to move people into. However, this should not excuse us from trying to find solutions, investigating the root cause of the damp and mould and taking action to treat it.”

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  • icon

    What a load of rubbish the silence must be deafening and they are going to impose an Ombudsman like this on us.
    They are all on-line and Computer recording information mad, everyone knows about mould and the causes usually the Residents, in practice either is make the Residents responsible if they are the cause or report it to the landlord in a timely manner to deal with it. It’s no use letting it linger like this ridiculous extreme situation and then turn around and blame the landlords who have his work cut out when people don’t know how to live.
    Did the Ombudsman how many times did the occupants wash it down or make any effort to deal with it.
    I like suggestion that the landlord should move them to another property to create more mould there while he deals with the previous problem they created.
    Its a dreadful situation and I am aggrieved that this ever happened unfortunately.
    It seems to me that inept irresponsible Occupants & Parents should be prosecuted instead of pussyfooting around them making landlords scapegoats, otherwise don’t expect anything to improve, I call a spade a spade.


    They talk about discrimination and cultural differences but THEY EXIST. They way my Nigerians go about things are different to other people (me) that causes conflict.

    Another landlord I know became aware of my mould problem with the Nigerians. He houses the same and has had handles broken. I have had 4 window handles and 3 internal door handles broken since 3nd of 2021. Snap.

    They complain at just about anything. Even condensation on the single glazed window. There is black mould on it. They don't get off of their bottom to remove it regularly in over 3 years. Too much for them to do living in there on Universal Credit. We should bring back the Workhouses for these people and make them earn their keep.

    Builders don't want to work there. One example of a floor replacing. They say everything needs to be moved. They know that when they get there these people won't have done a thing and it will be up to them, or they just quote very high or walk away. But they know how to complain and play the race card. They don't work with you or listen.

    I work in construction. A government building kept having toilet seats mysteriously broke. It was discovered that in some other cultutures (Arab or something) they can't / won't sit on the seat. So they stand on it and do their business. No thought for them braking the seats at all. They just carry on.

  • Reaper Cushions

    The death of Awaab Ishak is dreadful and tragic and should never have happened but if mould is caused by condensation because of a lack of ventilation and / or heating, other than trying to advise and educate our tenants, what does the ombudsman expect landlords to do?
    “Website information does not cover how the landlord will tackle the issue, instead addressing what the resident should do.“
    Are WE now expected to open the tenant’s curtains and windows for ventilation and put the heating on? Shall we also make them a nice cup of tea while we’re there?

    FedUp Landlordy

    Sadly, guilty until proving guilty for all landlords with regards to mould &/or damp issues with most cases being created by habits of who dwell there.

    Prime example is with our 1st rental - were we happily lived for well over a decade, and without issues, or shoukd I say just the normal/usual wipe away of any double glazed window condensation you can get now and then.

    We decided to rent after work change, refurbished property to high standard inc future proofing: lovely cladding in bathroom and what is great for condensation, altho to reiterate we never had issues, mainly as bathroom has lovely big windows that now included a brand new (silent) extractor fan - we soon found was switched off at mains.

    After 1st inspection there was already signs of mould, we explained how it is created and passed on all the easy tricks and tips, we even sent links to websites and literature thro door explaining - wasn't even looked at!

    Then only couple weeks later - gas engineer was at property, he soon phoned apologising saying not prepared to do the work; because of drying washing on ALL radiators, worse being couple clothes horses in room he need to work in - he said he couldn't move for drying washin!!

    Knowing we'd messaged 3 days & day before to say he needs access and this means xyz - 1 being all washing off all rads & boiler clear to access etc. d@mn lazy s0ds didn't lift a finger - probably expected gas man to remove all their tinys - so how can this be the fault of any landlord?

    Yes, we know some cases are genuine, but it's certainly goner fun proving our innocence:-(

  • icon

    It would help change the negative anti-Landlord narrative if our own media headlines were..
    " Housing Association slammed by Ombudsman over damp and mould failures"
    Editor please take note.


    I couldn't agree more. We should complain on any headlines or text where the generic term "Landlord" could be misleading if they mean Housing Association or similar non-PRS landlord.

  • icon
    • B L
    • 29 March 2023 11:54 AM

    Each council managing social housing should have government targets with detailed check list to complete every quarter. Council staff should review this and report in the result. an independent audit
    department should review the targets achieved. Each department needs to be assessed twice a year to begin with then annually. Performance should be linked to salary increase or not, salary increase should be earned by good performance. The government audit department needs to be more active in auditing and reporting result in public, making council accountable. Then, living condition in social housing will improve. Media and government have to differentiate Social Housing to the PRS. We would like to see more policies on social housing as clearly they are not following the housing act but PRS takes the blame.

  • icon

    Reaper how right you are if they are Adults its not too much to expect for them to be reared.


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