The Death of Awaab Ishak – Could Mandatory Mediation Help?
BY ALEX CHRISTIAN
Did you read about Awaab Ishak, a young boy who tragically died due to a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in the family home? Alex Christian from Wensum Mediation reflects on the case and suggests that fixed costs and mandatory mediation could be a way to help. With faster resolutions similar situations could be prevented in the future, he says. Do you agree?
Many people will have seen the news this week about Awaab Ishak a young boy who tragically died due to a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in the family home. For those who missed the story, The Manchester Evening News did an excellent in depth article detailing all the ways the family were let down which you can find here. Giles Peaker from Nearly Legal did another typically superb piece, passionately explaining the legal failings leading up to the child’s death, you can find that here.
Since the Today programme covered the story Wednesday morning and again on Thursday morning, I’ve been reading the social media posts and commentary from all quarters, laying blame at various doors and making suggestions for preventing such incidents in the future.
Wensum Mediation carries out a lot of mediations involving housing disrepair. In fact, we regularly conduct mediations for many large social landlords and for specialist disrepair solicitors including Antony Hodari Solicitors, the solicitor’s firm who initially represented the family in this case on a conditional fee agreement (no win no fee) basis.
Now here is where I am going to break the cardinal rule of mediators and offer an opinion. The housing disrepair legal sector working on conditional fee agreements is a huge force for good in the housing sector. Every year it allows thousands of individuals and families, who aren’t able to afford upfront legal costs, to bring claims against their landlords for disrepair. What is often forgotten, or misrepresented in the press, is that is housing disrepair claims are as much about getting the disrepair rectified, as they are about financial compensation.
Currently these specialist housing disrepair firms charge standard rates for the work they carry out in line with government guidelines, but this might be about to change with the proposed introduction of fixed fees. I believe fixed fees in disrepair cases to be a huge mistake and that it will lead to a vast number of claims not being economically viable for firms to run. It appears that the case in point was dropped as the specific performance (the works that needed to be carried out) were estimated to be below the £1k necessary to bring a claim using the fast track and therefore the firm would have been unable to claim their costs. Whilst the work such firms do is important in providing access to justice, they aren’t charitable organisations and as in the case in topic, they simply can’t pursue cases which are not financially viable. If these firms won’t take on such cases, where can the tenant’s turn?