The Housing Ombudsman has made two findings of severe maladministration for how Metropolitan Thames Valley responded to a vulnerable Lambeth resident’s pest infestation and the associated complaint handling. The investigation revealed a prolonged and distressing experience for the resident.
This case is the second severe maladministration finding the Ombudsman has made into the landlord’s response to pests, following an investigation into its handling of silverfish published last year.
The resident initially complained about a leak in their property, and the landlord failed to respond at stage one and escalated the complaint to stage two without providing a stage one response.
By the time the landlord issued its stage three and final response, a total of 20 months had elapsed since the complaint was escalated. This delay caused significant distress and inconvenience to the affected resident. This was also a missed opportunity for the landlord to work with the resident and put things right.
The landlord also failed to adequately respond to the resident’s reports of an infestation of mice and damage caused by the pests. This led to a lengthy period of distress for the resident, who had to cut the bottom of her sofa as the mice kept nesting in it. The resident also explained that some of her damaged personal items had belonged to her late daughter.
Even after a year of contractors attending and making inspections, the infestation was still occurring. The landlord did not show any urgency or empathy for the delays to the works for the resident and cited Covid-19 as an issue, which does not explain some of the delays.
Despite the resident’s known vulnerabilities and the significant distress caused by handling these issues, the landlord showed a lack of empathy and urgency in completing the necessary work.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident, fix all the necessary repairs and pay £3,650 in compensation. The landlord was also ordered to review the case and strengthen its Pest Infestations Policy.
Following the investigation, the landlord has proposed steps to address its failures and its overall approach to how it responds to the needs of its vulnerable residents to ensure that they receive timely and adequate responses to their complaints.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The Ombudsman often sees significant distress in cases involving pest problems, as happened to this family.
“There was also a concerning lack of empathy shown for the distress caused to the resident by the damage to items belonging to her late daughter.
“Despite repeated complaints and requests for action, the landlord failed to take any meaningful steps to improve the living conditions of their residents.
“No one should have to suffer from stress and anxiety over the condition of their home.
“This case serves as a reminder to all landlords to take the necessary steps to provide decent homes for their residents and handle repairs with care and consideration of their vulnerabilities”.
The Ombudsman also found maladministration in how the landlord responded to repairs in the kitchen and a leak, as well as how it handled the residents’ vulnerability.
In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.
Metropolitan Thames Valley learning statement:
There are few things as upsetting as the presence of rodents around your home and we have every sympathy with the resident. We have worked hard to attempt to resolve these issues, with frequent visits to the resident’s home which have taken account of their requirements. However, we are left knowing that they remain dissatisfied with the service we provided, and that we haven’t met their expectations.
We regret the significant distress the resident has experienced and believe we could have done more to take account of their additional needs. As a result of this case, we have reviewed both our pest control policy and complaints handling process.
We now ensure greater priority is placed on helping residents understand what to expect from our pest control service at the outset, and we have made the identification of, and response to, additional needs a key part of the process.
In this case the resident was at various stages provided with multiple points of contact in the organisation, leading to confusion and frustration. Following this case, we have amended our complaints handling process to provide a single point of contact for cases such as this.