Culture of othering found at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing

Mon,3 April 2023
News Housing

The Housing Ombudsman's investigation into the death of the toddler Awaab Ishak has found that staff at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) had a culture of "othering" which saw staff hold prejudices and "lazy assumptions" about asylum seekers and refugees.

The investigation uncovered that the landlords of a property where toddler Awaab Ishak died due to horrific mould saw refugees as 'lucky' to have a home. It said there was a pattern of "exclusion and marginalisation" based on different identities.

Residents were treated in dismissive, inappropriate or unsympathetic ways. They were also sometimes subjected to derogatory language, the report said. A former staff member at RBH told the ombudsman residents had complained about mould, but a manager had said it was "ok and acceptable".


The report said: "We also received a report from former staff that 'residents complained about mold [sic] and living conditions... regularly... raised it with her manager... was told it's ok and acceptable. Most of the residents were refugees and she was told they are lucky they have [a] Roof over head'."

Referring to the treatment of Awaab's family, the ombudsman's report said a 2021 review had found that staff made comments about "lifestyle choices" including "ritual bathing", the "style of cooking by boiling food" and "bucket bathing".

The ombudsman's report also found that the dismissal of residents' concerns was "further exacerbated by a poor standard of customer service,  with databases that did not share information, extremely poor record keeping and the use of incorrect methods (email) to manage the service response".

Among the more than 20 recommendations, the ombudsman said staff should be re-educated on courtesy and respect with regular refresher sessions and have an education programme about asylum seekers and refugees with regular refresher sessions.

Other recommendations in the Ombudsman report include RBH creating a dedicated strategy for handling dampness and mould and specific guidance to residents about accessing the complaints system.

Mikey Erhardt, from Disability Rights UK, said: "Awaab's death was not a tragic accident. It is the result of a housing system that others, ignores and discriminates against marginalised groups, including Disabled people. 

It is appalling that a small child has had to lose their life for the Government to finally step up and act on the rampant mismanagement, poor conditions, and exploitation of tenants rife across the social and private rented sectors. 

We need real action to tackle our housing emergency. More and more of our homes are becoming health hazards, as government both nationally and locally refuse to take concrete action to freeze rents for all and retrofit our houses so they are safe and accessible."