Whilst the landlord has since developed an action plan in response to the report, the Ombudsman remains cautious, with a similar flurry of new policies having little to no impact on resident’s lived experienced and service delivery.
In the report, the Ombudsman made 103 determinations involving L&Q in the months from January to June 2023, spanning 30 local authority areas. Overall, the Ombudsman found a severe maladministration rate of 13%, more than double the national average of 6%, for disrepair, poor repair services, mishandling of charges for leaseholders and failures supporting residents experiencing anti-social behaviour.
In one case investigated by the Ombudsman, internal emails show staff reacting to failed repairs by suggesting the landlord send a supervisor instead of a surveyor, because “at least he looks like the surveyor”.
In another case said they needed to take action so not to “appear on ITV News again.” The landlord also told another resident it would pay compensation only if they agreed to a confidentiality clause in their tenancy agreement.
The Ombudsman set out nearly 500 remedies for the landlord to put things, including apologising to residents and repairs.
The Ombudsman also awarded £141,860 in compensation for residents – 14% of all compensation ordered by the Ombudsman in those six months on only 6% of all decisions.
Running throughout the complaints looked at was a lack of listening to residents by the landlord and repeated failure to respond fairly to vulnerable residents, especially where the resident had a disability or mental health problems.
The Ombudsman identified six key themes and set out a series of recommendations:
- Complaints handling – Whilst the landlord has self-assessed against the Complaint Handling Code, there is a disconnect between policy and practice. Complaint responses demonstrated little empathy and in some cases being overtly dismissive, heavy-handed and lacking respect. The Ombudsman has recommended the organisation design monitoring criteria to track performance and implement quality assurance checks. It also recommended the landlord review the equalities information held on casework to inform an objective assessment of whether the diverse communities it serves are being appropriately served.
- Compensation – Although the landlord has a standalone Compensation Policy, there were repeated examples of the landlord not awarding compensation in a fair, reasonable or consistent way. It is critical landlords consider reasonable awards for time taken as well as distress.
- Vulnerabilities – The landlord failed to embed its Vulnerable Residents Policy in its daily dealings with residents and did not accurately record when a resident was vulnerable or needed additional support. As a result, it did not adapt its approach to residents who most needed help. The Ombudsman has recommended training for all staff on service adjustment needs and review staff objectives and recruitment on customer focus and values. This includes mechanisms for possible disciplinary action where courtesy and respect is found to be at fault.
- Repairs – In 2022-23, 73% of all complaints made to the landlord were about repairs and maintenance. The landlord repeatedly failed in the cases investigated to meet obligations under the Landlord and Tenant Act and was slow to identify and respond to hazards. The Ombudsman has recommended designing monitoring criteria to track the progress of its Repairs Change Project and make improvements to its record keeping.
- Damp and mould – The landlord failed to consistently identify damp and mould as the root cause of many of its disrepair cases, leading to reports of damp and mould treated in isolation, with repeat visits and an overall failure to consider the presence and seriousness of damp and mould.
- Anti-social behaviour – The landlord did not follow its own ASB policy. The policy says the landlord will take account of vulnerabilities, carry out a risk assessment and set out a plan of action. In reality, reports were not acted on and vulnerable residents were exposed to ASB for a prolonged period of time.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “While the landlord makes a significant contribution to housing and has many committed staff, the scale of the findings in this report are indicative of a period of significant failure in its services.
“Resident concerns were repeatedly dismissed or poorly handled, without the respect they or their issues deserved. Crucially, the needs of vulnerable residents were not always identified, and too often this caused serious detriment and risk to them.
“The landlord consistently failed to take sufficient action on its own monitoring and warning signs that were evident in its complaints and independent reviews – leading to a prolonged period of decline, especially in areas like repairs and complaints handling.
“Rather than address the core issues, the landlord continued to firefight individual issues. This resulted in new policies, initiatives and reports, which failed to resolve its cultural failures in areas like repairs and complaints, resulting in these activities having little impact on service delivery.
“This has led to a decline in professionalism, with dedicated and committed staff being let down by the poor culture and professionalism of others.
“We welcome the steps the landlord is taking in response to our investigation but it needs to go further. This time it must embed change. It must not let the illusion of activity distract from real change. Its residents deserve better; they are impatient to see change.
“We’ve seen when landlords go through organisational change such as a merger that problems with complaints and systems occur. There is a need to ensure that growth is compatible and sustainable with decent resident services. Other landlords whose operations are expanding should consider what lessons this report could offer them.”
When the Ombudsman issues a special report, it invites the landlord to share what it has and will continue to learn from it.
L&Q have not yet provided a statement.