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Ombudsman orders over £9,000 compensation after Abri left residents in damp and disrepair for years

The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration in two separate cases for Abri Group, with one resident left with faulty windows for nearly five years and another vulnerable resident left in damp and mould for three years.

In Case A (202107780), the landlord left a Reading resident with faulty windows for nearly five years, only appearing to try and resolve the problem when chased multiple times by the resident.

On one occasion in 2019, it blamed Covid-19 for the delays despite it being a year before the national lockdown. Sometimes there were year-long gaps between correspondence which was always initiated by the resident.

Two years into the complaint a repair was done on the window, but it made little difference. Over the next three years the resident chased the landlord on 12 separate occasions.

She explained that the living room was cold, and she had to use an additional heater, that water was getting into the property and in the summer she had insects in the property. The problems got so bad that she left the property due to the ongoing issues.

The landlord also did not appropriately follow up the repair with the builder during the warranty period, when it knew there was an outstanding repair. It also did not seem to have sufficient oversight as to when the defects and warranty periods expired, only considering this two years after the expiration date.

In its compensation order for this failing, the Ombudsman has taken into account the rent paid over the period. It ordered £4,466 in compensation, an apology to the resident and for the landlord to review its approach to monitoring repairs, keeping residents updated during works and time it can take to respond to complaints.

In Case B (202105835), the landlord failed to deal with a damp and mould problem for years and repeatedly carried out the same inadequate repairs.

The Yeovil resident has a heart condition and is registered blind. She lives with her guide dog and her adult son, who acts as her carer.

When the resident first reported the issue, an inspection said the bedroom walls were “very damp/wet to touch” but there was no repairs evidence to suggest works had taken place. The following month, damp was treated in the kitchen but once again it made no mention of the bedroom.

Whilst there was no record of any works taking place the following year, the resident noted that there was need for a “third” appointment.

The landlord undertook the same anti-mould treatment year on year at the property despite it not being effective. The landlord should have taken robust action at an early stage to identify the cause of the damp and mould.

The works that did take place were so delayed they left the resident in poor conditions for far too long. A PIV unit was installed over two years after it was initially recommended and a new extractor fan in the kitchen to help with the conditions in there took nearly three years.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £4,588 in compensation, which took in account rent paid during this period, as well as implementing a damp and mould strategy and improving its record keeping.

In its learning from these cases, the landlord says it has introduced a quality assurance team to look over damp and mould cases and has revised its customer relations team structure so it is better able to respond and handle complaints effectively.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “In both cases the landlord failed to act in a timely manner to repair works over several years.

“Various fundamental issues with its repairs service are on show in these cases, including extensive delays, haphazard record keeping, inadequate actions despite expert advice and poor communication.

“Particularly concerning is that one resident has vulnerabilities, and these were not considered or treated with appropriate urgency to put things right.

“The case of Awaab Ishak and the volume of casework coming to us where residents are presenting with health concerns as a result of their living conditions should be a wake up call to all landlords that this cannot be treated with anything except the urgency it deserves.

“I welcome the landlord’s learning from this case and actions it has taken to strengthen its approach on damp and mould.”

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

Abri Group learning statement

We are very sorry for the distress and inconvenience experienced by our customers in these two cases. On both occasions, our response to completing work in an acceptable timescale, and the handling of the complaints, was not good enough.

We acknowledged this at the time with the customers and have subsequently accepted the Housing Ombudsman’s determinations. We have carried out all orders and recommendations made.

Regarding the first case, we have reinforced the importance of accurate and complete record keeping and reminded colleagues of the importance of keeping customers up to date on new build defects.

We’ve also revised our Customer Relations team structure to better assess complaints and to carry out improvements in complaint handling, including speeding up our response times and empowering more customer-facing teams to resolve enquiries locally at source.

We completed all repairs to the property in October 2022 and we’re very sorry for how long this took and the obvious distress and inconvenience this caused our customers.

In the two years since the second case, we have overhauled our approach, processes and policies regarding damp and mould. This includes putting a robust Quality Assurance team in place.

We’ve also trained and empowered our colleagues to recognise and address the signs of damp and mould by working with our customers. We have apologised to our customer for the time it took to fully resolve the issue and the impact this had on them. We have taken action to address the root cause of the problem and a recent independent survey confirms that the property is now free of mould. We have also met our customer’s request to move to another property.

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