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Ombudsman makes four severe maladministration findings

‘Horrific’ and ‘intolerable’ conditions described by Peabody residents as Ombudsman makes four severe maladministration findings.
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The Housing Ombudsman has made four findings of severe maladministration for Peabody in four different cases, with residents describing the conditions they were forced to live in as “horrific” and “intolerable”.

The cases include complaint handling, adaptations and overdue repairs.

With the important role that social housing has to play in giving safe and secure housing to millions, the learning in these reports should help landlords provide effective services that protect this aspiration.

In Case A the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for how the landlord handled a complaint about cladding, which meant a response to a Worthing resident’s initial reports were only formally responded to 211 working days later.

After the resident first raised her dissatisfaction with the landlord, it took 9 months for it to be escalated to a stage 1 complaint, and only after 24 repeated emails from the resident, an intervention by the resident’s MP, and a direct email to the landlord’s chief executive office.

When it did issue a formal response, it largely was the same as the informal response it originally gave and did not cover her concerns.

After it was escalated to stage 2, the landlord was unable to inform the resident what it was going to consider, causing further confusion and distress.

It also originally said due to the issues being outside of its control it would not offer compensation, before awarding the full amount under its policy. Unfortunately following this the resident said poor communication from the landlord continued.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord’s chief executive to apologise for the failing and to pay an extra £500 in compensation on top of the previously offered amount.

In Case B the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord took 14 months to repair a roof and a further 12 months to install insulation, which ended up leaving a Hackney family living in cold, damp and mouldy conditions for two years causing significant distress and inconvenience to the residents.

Whilst it offered compensation due to the delay, this was not proportionate to the time taken to fix the roof or the distress caused. There was a six month delay in obtaining the asbestos reports and then a further six months delay in having the roof replaced.

There was no evidence the landlord took any steps to mitigate the three further leaks that occurred whilst waiting for the roof to be replaced, leading to damp and mould in three rooms and the wet room being unusable for the disabled household member.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £3,768 in compensation, for a senior leader to apologise to the resident and provide a report on how it has developed its approach to thoroughly inspecting properties when leaks, damp and mould are identified, especially where there are vulnerabilities recorded,

In Case C the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after delays and lack of urgency shown when co-ordinating adaptations works led to the required works never being delivered.

It meant the Brixton resident, whose daughter has severe disabilities, had to carry her up and down stairs due to the property not having been adapted to meet her needs.

This was despite its commitment to monitor the works through to completion. There was a failure to assess the impact of the process on the resident, who described his conditions as “intolerable”, or offer any adjustments – as well as poor communication throughout.

Although there were some times in which third parties delayed the works, the landlord’s responsibility to coordinate this was sometimes unacceptable. Whilst works were due to be ongoing, the residents would have needed a decant but this was not secured.

As such, advice in its stage 2 response that works would be underway soon was misleading and shows no attempt to manage expectations.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £1,750 in compensation, arrange for a decant for the resident and his family, and keep him regularly updated about how works are progressing.

In Case D the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord did not to investigate its handling of a Greenwich resident’s repairs earlier, and the subsequent compensation at the time of its final response. This was despite the landlord saying the home was “in a very dangerous state” during one inspection.

Whilst the resident wanted the landlord to look at a complaint that originated 8 years before raising it, the landlord said it could only look at cases raised with it within 6 months. However, it did not mention there was discretion there.

The Ombudsman found that whilst 8 years may have been inappropriate, it should have looked back 4 years previous to the complaint in which a leak was not resolved satisfactorily.

In the following years, there is evidence of many more complaints and inspections but ultimately no formal action to resolve the issue. The resident has described her living conditions as “horrible” and explained that living with damp and mould had destroyed several personal items including food, furniture, and sentimental belongings.

The compensation offered to the resident by the landlord was £700. The Ombudsman therefore ordered the landlord to pay £5,053 in compensation, a review of its repairs record keeping, and an apology from a senior member of the organisation.

In its learning from these cases, the landlord says it has formed a specialist, centralised complaints handling team who make sure any issues are handled promptly and also improve its record keeping.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: ““The language used by these residents to describe their living conditions is stark.

“I know the senior leadership is committed to improving its services, and these cases provide further evidence of where change is needed. There are a significant number of cases being escalated to the Ombudsman concerning the landlord, which indicates further learning and action may be required.

“Throughout all of these cases there are examples of a lack of urgency or delays, giving residents the impression that the landlord has not treated their concerns with the importance it should have done.

“There are vulnerabilities within these reports that should have led to a more urgent response. However, the landlord repeatedly missed these opportunities and warning signs, continuing to prolong the distress for residents.

“Landlords should make sure that if works cannot proceed, or there are issues outside of its control, it needs to be communicating effectively and regularly to seek out what support it can provide residents and what arrangements and adjustments can be made in the meantime.”

In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.

Peabody learning statement

We are very sorry we let our residents down. The overall handing of these complaints fell below the standard residents should expect from us. In all these cases, we have apologised and paid compensation. We have completed the adaptations and repairs in these homes where they needed to be done.

Since these complaints were made, learning from the specific cases and ombudsman best practice, we have made considerable and wide-ranging improvements to our complaint handling and record keeping as well as the way we do adaptations and repairs for residents.

We have formed specialist, centralised complaints and record handling teams who make sure that any issues are handled promptly. We have set up a separate group that specifically monitors and manages damp and mould cases to give them the specialist focus they need.

All colleagues in complaints have completed the ombudsman’s complaint handling code training, and we thoroughly review the ombudsman’s spotlight reports and conduct self-assessments against them, encouraging a culture of continual learning and improvement.

We have reviewed our vulnerabilities policy and are looking at how we can adapt the way we work to provide the right support when someone may need adjustments or has additional needs. During our recent training on vulnerabilities, we used previous ombudsman reports to highlight where we can do better, ensuring every colleague learns from where we went wrong. Expert colleagues from our wellbeing teams have run sessions with our complaints team to help them understand what practical support is already available to help residents and meet their individual needs.

We remain committed to using every opportunity to continue to learn from our mistakes and improve. It’s clear we needed to do better in all these cases.

 

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