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Ombudsman orders compensation after council fails in three cases

The Housing Ombudsman has made three findings of severe maladministration in three cases involving Waltham Forest Council.

The cases include poor handling of a damp and mould case involving a vulnerable resident and another resident experiencing ASB for 5 years.

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 damp and mould repair, in particular its planning and project management in relation to works to resolve the issue.

After the resident first reported the problem, the landlord closed the case without doing any repairs or letting the resident know it had done this. Records do not indicate why this happened.

It took 11 months for the landlord to arrange an inspection of the home and another month for any works to be planned in. The resident and her family, which included an autistic son, asked about moving whilst works were ongoing but did not receive a reply. Whilst she tried to stay during this time, they all eventually moved out into a caravan due to the conditions.

It is clear the landlord did not take into account the needs of the resident and her family during this time, as works can impact different people in different ways. It failed to consider the resident’s disability and the vulnerabilities of her son and husband. It therefore failed to have due regard to its duties set out in the Equality Act 2010.

During the works the resident also raised concerns about the condition of her furniture which had been impacted during the repairs. Contractors moved some of these items upstairs but the landlord did not address the concerns about whether there was enough room to live if both bedrooms were full of possessions from the living room.

The quality of the works were also called into question several times and eventually the landlord replaced the team of contractors. After much chasing, the landlord also appointed a manager to personally oversee the case.

The landlord failed to proactively communicate with the resident throughout, which had a significant detrimental emotional and physical impact on the resident.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident £2,737 in compensation, a senior member of the organisation to apologise, and for refresher training for all staff in complaint handling, especially around timescales in the Complaint Handling Code.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has introduced a damp and mould taskforce as well as working with its contractors to ensure repairs are done effectively.

In Case B the Ombudsman made a finding of severe maladministration for how the landlord responded to the succession application following the death of the resident’s mother.

The landlord left the administration of the non-succession of the resident’s tenancy for 7 years – an unacceptable length of time. During this time the landlord accepted rent payments from the resident and adjusted rent levels as standard. It was only during a fraud check did they take any action.

In addition to this the landlord, part of a wider local authority, also contacted the resident regarding council tax, housing benefit and a carer’s bill for his mother at the property address, in writing, using his name. They offered their condolences in one instance.

The local authority as a whole were therefore aware the resident was living at the property following his mother’s death. The death would have been noted and council tax and housing benefit accounts adjusted accordingly.

This impact on the resident was significant and could have been avoided had it acted in accordance with its own policies and considered the exercise of reasonable discretion in the handling after its error and delay. The failings were compounded by the landlord’s poor responses and incorrect notices.

The landlord also ignored the statutory provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020, as it issued the notice to quit with just over a month’s notice period. The Act stated at this time that a minimum of 4 months’ notice would be required.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £4,750 in compensation, review how it communicates internally and to revise its ‘actions following death of tenants’ process to prevent further serious delays.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has improved policies and processes so that officers know how to action information from the ‘Tell us Once’ service, in an aim to reduce the administrative burden on grieving families.

In Case C (201900229) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration in how the landlord failed to adequately deal with a resident’s reports of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and gang behaviour over a five-year period. It also failed to effectively respond to her subsequent request for a move.

The resident endured years of feeling unsafe in her own home, scared of what might happen to her or her young children. She suffered a significant decline in her mental wellbeing, as was evident by medical reports.

Further, she suffered the upheaval of having to stay away from her home, sofa surfing and in temporary accommodation for genuine fears for her own safety.

The allegations about feeling unsafe in her home were serious, and required an urgent response in accordance with the landlord’s ASB policy.

However, the landlord did not demonstrate that it took ownership of the case, referring the resident continually back to the police whilst failing itself to identify the risks presented to her through a risk assessment or agree an effective action plan.

There were failures within its partnership working, both with its own specialist teams and the police, causing delays and culminating in an inappropriate management move. The failures caused the resident significant distress over a prolonged period of approximately five years.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £11,300 in compensation, for the chief executive to provide a written apology to the resident and for the council to review a number of policies in relation to ASB, including its training to staff on its ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the RAM and action plans.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has developed a new ASB procedure which includes training around risk assessments and providing residents with clear action plans.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “I recognise the challenges the housing crisis and resources are presenting to landlords. However, this context cannot excuse some of the failings in these cases, which led to significant impact on residents who were, in different ways, vulnerable.

“Running throughout these cases were missed opportunities by the landlord to put things right for the resident and rebuild the relationship.

“Instead, a lack of clarity around responsibilities and actions taken, or outstanding, alongside delays or poor communication compounded the issues and resulted in considerable distress to the residents.

“Our recent Spotlight report on attitudes, respect and rights highlighted the need for landlords to adhere to their duties under the Equality Act 2010. One of these cases in particular shows the human impact of not doing so for landlords.

“I’d urge all landlords to take in those recommendations from the report and implement them to improve services and responses to residents.”

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

Waltham Forest Council learning statement

Ensuring that our residents are safe, comfortable, and secure in their homes is a top priority for the Waltham Forest Council. We appreciate that in these three cases we did not meet our own high standards, and we apologise unreservedly to the residents who were affected.

We fully accept the Housing Ombudsman’s findings. A significant service transformation programme has been underway for the past year. The learnings from these cases have been used to make sure we are listening to our residents’ voices and have informed the improvement to services that we have made.

We have reviewed all three cases at a senior level and action plans have been put in place to address the failures highlighted. Key improvements include:

  • Developing a new Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) procedure. This includes training for Housing Officers around risk assessments and providing residents with clear action plans that outline what we and partner agencies are doing to address ASB.
  • Training our staff on complaints handling.
  • Reinvigorating our Tenancy Checks programme and digitising forms so residents’ data is updated straight into our systems.
  • Ensuring our Housing teams receive and know how to action information from the Tell us Once service, reducing the administrative burden on grieving families.
  • Working with our contractors to ensure that they effectively and efficiently resolve repairs within resident’s homes.
  •  Establishing a Damp and Mould Taskforce to tackle this vital issue.

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