Housing boss refuses to resign from £185k job after Awaab Ishak death

Awaab Ishak: RBH Chief Executive issues statement

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Gareth Swarbrick, boss of the housing association which managed the mould-riddled flat where two-year-old Awaab Ishak lived prior to dying from a related respiratory condition, is clinging to his £185,000 per annum job despite widespread calls for him to quit. The tragedy was highlighted on Wednesday by Manchester North coroner Joanna Kearsley as she delivered her verdict – and pointed the finger at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.

Having spoken to the Board, I can confirm that I will not be resigning

Gareth Swarbrick

Housing minister Michael Gove subsequently called on Mr Swarbrick to resign – but as yesterday, the chief executive, who has been in post since 2008, and who has worked for RBH since 2002, was digging his heels in.

In a lengthy statement accompanied by a video, he said: “I want to start by saying how sorry I am to Awaab’s family for their loss – no apology will ever be enough.

“The conversation around my position has begun to overshadow the most important part of all of this, which is that a family has lost their child.”

However, he continued: “Having spoken to the Board, I can confirm that I will not be resigning. They have given me their full backing and trust to continue to oversee the improvements and changes needed within RBH.”

Mr Swarbrick confirmed he had discussed the situation with Mr Gove, without specifying any details.

 He added: “We back the government’s commitment to strengthen the Decent Homes Standard and the importance of the tenant’s voice, which will be reinforced by the Social Housing Regulation Bill. 

“We have made a raft of changes following the death of Awaab, which have been noted by the coroner. We have made a fundamental change to our disrepair policy, so that work to tenants’ homes will not be held up by a legal process.

“Other improvements include better connected IT systems and mandatory training on damp and mould for all colleagues.”

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Mr Swarbrick said RBH was also introducing real-time video interpreting technology for employees in a bid to improve communication with tenants “where English is not the first language”.

He continued: “We all have a duty to call out prejudice, wherever we see it. Equity is at the heart of what we do as a mutual housing society and we will continue to strive for greater inclusion and equality.

“We agree with the coroner that the tragic death of Awaab will be, and should be, a defining moment for the whole housing sector.

“I will continue our work in Rochdale and collaborate with the social housing sector and beyond to make sure this can never happen again.”

Referring to Awaab’s parents, Alison Tumilty, RBH Board Chair, added: “As an organisation, we would again like to extend our deepest sympathies and say sorry to Faisal and Aisha. We let them down.

“This is a tragedy of the highest order, and we are devastated that it happened in one of our homes. We have made mistakes and we are endeavouring to correct them.

“Having spoken to the Board, I can confirm that we have full confidence in Gareth’s leadership. He has the trust of the Board. He has extensive knowledge of the sector and the communities of Rochdale.

“Together, we will work to restore the trust of the people of Rochdale and demonstrate that we are a mutual landlord that cares, and cares deeply about our tenants. 

“We will continue conversations with Michael Gove and the Housing Ombudsman to discuss what happened to Awaab, and the issues we face in social housing across the sector that need to be dealt with to prevent future deaths.

“Rochdale Boroughwide Housing is committed to do better and we will do better.”

The inquest was told Awaab’s father had contacted RBH about the problems at his flat on numerous occasions, and several pictures showed the mould-covered walls which contributed to the toddler’s death.

Prior to the issuing of the statement, Councillor Daniel Meredith, cabinet member for highways and housing at Rochdale Council, wrote to Mr Swarbrick urging him to step down.

He wrote: “Over several years the council has raised multiple concerns about delayed repairs, housing standards and a culture of unconcern that has now been exposed by the ruling of the coroner in this case.

“As the lead member for housing in our borough, I feel I am left with little option but to ask you to reflect on your position.”

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Tony Lloyd, Rochdale’s Labour MP have also called on Mr Swarbrick to resign. has contacted both, plus Mr Gove via the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for comment.

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