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Ombudsman uncovers ‘culture of apathy’ at London landlord after special investigation report

The Housing Ombudsman has released its special report into the London Borough of Haringey, uncovering a ‘culture of apathy’ at the landlord that has led to a distinct lack of ownership, accountability, and intrinsic motivation when handling complaints.
Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway

Where shortfalls are identified, there was no evidence of learning to prevent failings reoccurring, and little evidence of contrition or a resolution-focused approach to complaints handling.

The investigation was initiated by concerns about the landlord’s approach to leaks, damp and mould where more than three-quarters of cases were upheld determined since 1 April 2021 where leaks, damp and mould formed part of the investigation. The landlord also featured in the Ombudsman’s 2021 report Spotlight on damp and mould: It’s not lifestyle.

The special report also followed the Ombudsman issuing a Complaint Handling Failure Order to the landlord in December 2022 regarding its approach to compensation, compliance with Ombudsman orders, and handling of complaints.

The special report is formed of 32 individual investigations and engagement with the landlord over the last six months. The Ombudsman made 77 findings across the cases, 18 of which involved severe maladministration, mostly for major repairs, damp and mould and complaint handling. The overall uphold rate was 82%.

Among the cases investigated by the Ombudsman, the landlord withdrew all services from a resident for a period of 12 months after reports of unacceptable behaviour. The resident disputed this, and the landlord could not provide supporting evidence, yet it continued to withdraw all services including not carry out repairs works.

The Ombudsman identified eight key themes and set out a series of recommendations:

Leaseholders – The handling of leaseholder complaints involving repair issues has been extremely poor. It has also been slow to support residents with insurance claims and placed undue onus on the resident to facilitate these, resulting in financial detriment to leaseholders. The Ombudsman has recommended a new policy for leaseholder complaints to encourage improved redress.

Disrepair – There were unreasonable delays in the landlord’s response to reports of disrepair. It would delay before inspecting a property after the resident reported a problem, then delay in carrying out necessary repairs, and would be unable to adequately explain the reasons for these.

Damp and mould – Despite featuring in the Ombudsman’s 2021 damp and mould report, the landlord did not introduce a new policy until April 2023. Whilst this new policy adheres to the report’s recommendations, internal guidance is still lacking in many areas and the Ombudsman has recommended the landlord reviews this guidance to ensure it is consistent with its policy.

Vulnerabilities – The landlord does not always adhere to its own Vulnerable Residents Policy. Despite being mentioned in the policy, there was no evidence of either enhanced support or repair service for vulnerable residents, or indeed any consideration at all of vulnerability within repairs or associated complaints handling. The Ombudsman recommended a review of policies in these areas and to produce vulnerability and safeguarding procedures for housing management and staff.

Unreasonable behaviour policy – Aims to deal with customers fairly, proportionately, impartially and in an open manner is not reflected on the ground. The Ombudsman recommends a new policy is created for this and a new monitoring process introduced to track progress.

Knowledge and Information Management – There was a concerning lack of key documents, jobs being raised and then left open, and a lack of learning. Underpinning the landlord’s handling of information, data and records, was a cultural acceptance of poor practice. This includes a lack of ownership, professional pride and accountability. The Ombudsman has recommended the landlord self-assess against the Spotlight report on Knowledge and Information Management.

Complaint handling – The landlord’s complaint handling exposes residents to delay, confusion, uncertainty, and unfair treatment. Additionally, its complaints handling is not in line with the Complaint Handling Code. The landlord does not keep records of complaints at stage 3, which undermines learning. The Ombudsman has recommended it updates its complaints policy, including the removal of ‘stage 0’ and a review of stage 3.

Compensation – The landlord is routinely not offering compensation as part of its complaints handling, despite clear evidence of service failure and the associated time, trouble, distress and inconvenience. The Ombudsman has recommended a creation of a new compensation policy that is in line with the Complaint Handling Code and related guidance.

The landlord has expressed a willingness to use this report as a further mechanism to help drive its improvement and transformation agenda.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The findings in this report are stark, with failings across a range of areas which need prompt action.

“The landlord recognises the current approach is not working for residents, services or its teams, and that the whole organisation needs to change its approach. There was frequently a loss of focus on achieving the right outcome for residents.

“The senior leadership is to be commended for the focus it is bringing to improving housing management and starting to put in place the resources and structures to deliver change. We look forward to working with the landlord on these changes.

“This report also offers salient lessons for other landlords, particularly councils.

“This includes those planning to bring ALMOs back in house or where leaseholders form a significant part of its responsibilities. Too often leaseholders can be failed, with a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities between landlord and leaseholder. These poor outcomes need to end.”

Where the Ombudsman issues a special report, it invites the landlord to provide a short statement on the lessons learnt and its progress in addressing them.

London Borough of Haringey learning statement

We recognise that residents in Haringey deserve the best possible housing services and that is why we brought the ALMO back in-house last summer, as it became clear that we were not managing or maintaining our homes as well as we should have been.

We take the Ombudsman report very seriously and we are determined to learn from the findings to improve the services we provide to the residents of Haringey.

Among the steps we will take to deliver on the Ombudsman recommendations, we will:

  • Update our vulnerability, safeguarding and unreasonable behaviour policies
  • Strengthen our approach to leaseholder complaints
  • Improve management of disrepair, damp and mould
  • Improve Knowledge and Information management
  • Update our complaints handling process and compensation policy
  • Publish our resident experience improvement plan.

After the ALMO was brought in house, the Council established a Housing Improvement Board, to provide oversight for improvement across the landlord function, chaired by our Chief Executive, and including senior politicians from across the political landscape.

We have made an additional investment of approximately 5 million into our front-line housing services including 2.8 million to increase capacity in our Repairs Service so that tenants do not wait long periods for issues to be resolved.

We are reviewing our complaints handling process to refine our policies, introduce a case management system, upskill our staff and ensure we adopt a culture of learning from complaints.

We are determined that this work will provide our tenants and leaseholders with high quality services and safe and secure homes.

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