Receive our Behind the Headlines email and we’ll post a free copy of Byline Times
A mother is afraid her child may become the next Awaab Ishak, the toddler killed by toxic mould in his home, after years of chronic mould have gone unaddressed by her council and landlord in London.
Grace Oppong’s daughter is currently having to live in a friend’s home after repeated trips to the hospital, that Grace says are a result of the mould and damp in the home.
The family first moved into their place in Wembley in 2019, after an 11-month stint in temporary accommodation in Brent. By their first winter, however, mould and damp began to spread through the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.
When they complained to their landlord, the most that was done, Grace claims, was putting a new coat of paint on the walls. But because the mould itself was never properly treated, it kept coming back, year on year.
As the mould grew worse, Grace says her 14-year-old daughter became sicker with a growing list of respiratory conditions that eventually left her in the ICU at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
When she was discharged, Grace and her doctors decided that it would be safer for her daughter to stay in the mould-free home of a family friend.
When she returned to the family home for a visit a few days after leaving hospital, she started to have serious breathing problems after just a few minutes and had to return to hospital, Grace told Byline Times.
“My children are not happy in this house,” she said. “They are scared that something will happen to them. My friend is asking me to take my child back but my daughter cannot come here. I’m so depressed. I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to do. I call myself a British citizen so why am I struggling so much for help?
“It has gotten to the point where I will take my children to 10 Downing Street and lay out a bed and sleep there. I don’t mind if they take me to jail if it saves my child.”
But despite the evidence and multiple letters from doctors and hospital support teams urging the council to urgently rehouse the family, Grace has been refused priority housing by Brent Council.
In an inspection in May, one of its inspectors said minor mould and damp was being caused by incidental ‘condensation’ – something Grace has taken to mean lifestyle choices, like cooking indoors.
During this newspaper’s visit to the property, it documented bedrooms riddled with mould, with the black spores snaking around kitchen walls, all over the bathroom ceiling, and even worming their way into the woodwork of cupboards. It had even spread to the fridge.
After being shown pictures of the inside of Grace’s home by Byline Times, Brent Council admitted that the problems in the home had “got much worse” and vowed to reopen her case.
Sadly, the case has stark similarities to the tragic death of toddler Awaab Ishak, who died as a result of exposure to mould in his Rochdale home, and whose case led to a public outcry and growing concerns nationwide about the safety of UK homes.
Since then, the Housing Ombudsman has seen complaints by tenants about conditions skyrocket 64% year on year, to a record 26,771 in 2021/2022.
In the Ishak case, the family’s housing association landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, repeatedly and falsely claimed that the mould in the home was a result of the family’s ‘lifestyle’.
A spokesperson for Brent Council told Byline Times: “The images shared with us of Ms Oppong’s home are shocking and we continue to stand ready to support the family to resolve these issues.
“In 2020, we ordered the landlord to install proper ventilation in the kitchen and bathrooms and have carried out two inspections of this property this year. While the latest inspection in May did not find any damp in the house, the pictures show the problem has clearly got much worse.
“We will urgently contact Ms Oppong to arrange another inspection and ensure the landlord is taking appropriate steps to prevent further damp and mould and protect the family’s welfare.
“We will chase rogue landlords all the way to the courts if they are found to be putting the health of residents at risk or allowing them to live in inexcusable conditions such as these.”