The Housing Ombudsman has made six findings of severe maladministration for Lambeth Council across three different cases. A recurring theme throughout is the unacceptable time taken to remedy outstanding repairs, some of which were left for five 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 made three findings of severe maladministration for repairs, record keeping and complaint handling after the landlord took 197 weeks to fix a broken pipe and complete the associated replastering and redecorating.
It also took 196 days to register the complaint and failed to show how it had investigated the complaint and explain its findings. It also failed to address the complaint points made by the resident or offer an explanation about the compensation offered.
Despite being chased by the resident, the landlord never offered an explanation as to why the repairs took nearly four years to complete.
The landlord failed to provide its records in relation to its correspondence with the resident, repair reports from inspections or records of works ordered.
The landlord stated it does not hold any records of telephone conversations between residents and its contact centre, that the surveyor managing the works related to this complaint had since left the council and it was unable to locate any correspondence that may have been sent from that persons inbox and that a check of its historical communications database did not yield any positive results.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £6,400 in compensation, apologise to the resident and undertake any remaining repairs related to the complaint.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has made additional repairs to the residents’ home after the case, has set out ten new repairs and maintenance contracts and increased the training it gives to those handling complaints.
In Case B the Ombudsman made two findings of severe maladministration for how the landlord dealt with window replacement and how it dealt with the leak that led to the windows needing to be replaced.
It took eight months for the landlord to respond to the resident’s concerns about the window when it was reported it had a massive crack in it. Once a surveyor had attended to approve the replacing of the windows, the repair should have been carried out within 90 days. It took the landlord 1,315 days.
During the complaint the landlord also marked the repair as complete when works had not yet started. It also put scaffolding up for a year and half but conducted no works in this time before removing it and not needing it at all for the replacement.
The resident had to chase the landlord on numerous occasions during this time, sometimes spending over 90 minutes on a call. The contractors carrying out the works gave the resident various reasons for not carrying out the works such as the windows being broken or stolen in transit.
The leak had still not been repaired at the point the Ombudsman investigated, four years after it was first reported.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to conduct a survey to complete the outstanding repair, apologise to the resident and pay them £1,400 in compensation.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has completed the repairs to the home and fixed any associated damage, as well as introducing dedicated complaints officers with wide housing experience.
In Case C the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for how the landlord responded to a vulnerable resident’s outstanding repairs related to damp and mould, damaged door and blocked drains, which it did not rectify for five years.
During this time the resident raised a legal claim against the landlord which was dropped when it agreed to do the works. However, those works then never happened.
The landlord failed to find proactive solutions for the repairs and did not consider the resident’s vulnerability when proposing a decant. The resident had clearly stated a number of times that she did not wish to be decanted due to her mobility issues and her concerns that she would not be able to return.
The surveyor had also said that the works could be carried out without the need for one. The landlord’s lack of movement on this issue unreasonably delayed the repair being completed.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to inspect the property and carry out all necessary work to the home, pay £5,200 in compensation to the resident and to review its housing management complaints policy against the Complaint Handling Code and its self-assessment.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has arranged for the resident to move out whilst it carries out the works needed and will provide a full decoration for her before moving her back in. It has also introduced a Damp Charter, home MOTs, Estate Action Days with a damp/mould focus, and a rapid response mould removal and treatment service.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “These latest findings show three residents having to go to extraordinary lengths to get the landlord to resolve serious problems with the condition of their homes.
“In each case, the delays to repairs being completed after first being reported was unreasonable and caused huge distress to all households.
“There are different moments in all three of the cases where the landlord could have put things right. Instead, it either let the problem worsen or did not act quickly enough to get a handle on the situation. In all of the cases, the complaint responses were inadequate and only served to provide more frustration for those residents.
“The intervention of the Ombudsman has led to the landlord taking important actions to improve the living conditions for each resident and provide redress for the service failings they experienced. The landlord has accepted the service failures and, as an important provider of housing and one whose services are under significant pressure, it is critical to learn from each case to improve its services,.
“We will continue to engage with the landlord on its complaint handling using the powers that we have, and will publish our report next year following our use of section 11 of our Scheme, setting out the action the landlord has taken in response to our decisions.”
In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.
Lambeth Council learning statement
Lambeth has more than 33,000 council homes, and we are determined that every one of our tenants and leaseholders receive the high-quality service they deserve from us.
We are therefore extremely sorry that our service in these cases did not meet the high standards expected. Lambeth has apologised to each tenant for the distress and inconvenience they have experienced because of these failings; we have paid compensation and resolved the problems reported at each property, to each tenant’s satisfaction.
In [Case C / 202014249], we have arranged for the tenant to move into another property while we carry out the required repairs, and we will carry out full decoration work before she moves back into her home. We have completed all the work required in [Case B / 202124484], including making good any damage identified. In [Case A 202119227], Lambeth has completed all the repairs identified, together with extensive works to bathroom, which had not been included in the original complaint.
We will learn from these cases, and ensure we provide the best possible service to all our tenants and leaseholders. Lambeth is committed to tackling all problems quickly and fairly, and we have worked intensively with the Housing Ombudsman Service and with residents to improve the way we respond to complaints.
Despite continuing reductions in Government funding, Lambeth has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in improving our council homes and estates in recent years. We have also awarded 10 repair and maintenance contracts to new providers as part of our drive to improve standards and services for council tenants.
We have also implemented a number of improvements aimed at all staff responsible for handling complaints, which include: dedicated complaints officers with wide experience of across Housing Services; extra training for complaint handlers, to improve the quality and timeliness of responses; increased monitoring of remedies; and retrospective case reviews.
In addition, we have introduced a range of initiatives to tackle the problems of damp and mould, including a Damp Charter, home MOTs, Estate Action Days with a damp/mould focus, and a rapid response mould removal and treatment service.
These wide-ranging changes will bring the lasting improvements required, and it’s clear they are already having an impact. Through continuing to work closely with the Housing Ombudsman Service, and listening to our residents, we believe the service we offer to everyone will continue to improve.