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Ombudsman’s latest cases show landlords ‘still have learning to do’ in dealing with cladding and fire safety complaints

The Housing Ombudsman has published casework relating to cladding and associated fire safety complaints as it looks to share lessons with the wider sector.
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The Housing Ombudsman has published casework relating to cladding and associated fire safety complaints as it looks to share lessons  with the wider sector.

It comes two years after the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on dealing with cladding cases in which it highlighted three key lessons for the sector, including providing a clear roadmap of landlord actions for all residents, effective communication and addressing individual circumstances.

Since that report, responses from landlords on cladding cases has improved but common themes, such as communications with residents, remain problematic. The Ombudsman has also seen that landlords are not always effective in providing residents with information and explanation of their priorities in this area, with poorer communications in buildings classed as low risk, and continuing issues with sales.

The Ombudsman’s online casebook, published every two weeks, now totals more than 3,100 decisions and show the range of issues it can consider as well as the type of outcomes following an investigation. The landlord in each case is identified.

Among the decisions published featuring a cladding issue are:

  • How One Housing Group (ref 202105381) responded effectively to an EWS1 form request. The landlord gave the resident accurate and reasonable advice about its prioritisation of the residents’ block for remediation works, progress to secure funding for these works and the potential impact of not being able to provide an EWS1 form in the meantime.
  • A maladministration finding for L&Q (ref 202105951) in which a risk-based approach to fire safety meant the landlord did not consider the impact of its prioritisation policy on residents. The landlord’s strict adherence to the policy meant the resident was likely unable to sell the property for a significant period of time.
  • A service failure by Poplar HARCA (ref 202107982) for both its fire safety communication and its response to the residents’ request to reimburse costs for an unsuccessful re-mortgage. The landlord missed opportunities to effectively communicate and did not appropriately directly inform the resident about remedial works that had been identified which would impact provision of an EWS1 form and mortgages, and delayed doing so for several months. This wasted time and incurred unnecessary costs for the resident.
  • A case where communications around fire safety works meant a maladministration finding for Riverside Group (ref 202115892). The landlord repeatedly failed to update residents following an intrusive inspection and in the months that followed. There was also no evidence of a policy around buying back shared ownership properties, and no details on its website concerning its position on reverse staircasing and buying back properties. This further left the resident in limbo through no fault of his own.
  • A maladministration case involving L&Q (ref 202112117) involving a resident asking the landlord to buy back the property. While the decision not to buy the property back was appropriate, its handling of the request was not. Communication about, and record keeping of, the panel hearing relating to the decision was unreasonable. Despite being told it was not a viable option, the landlord continued to suggest subletting as a solution – showing the landlord did not address the resident’s individual circumstances.
  • How Thames Valley Housing Association (ref 202108291) provided reasonable redress after a complaint about fire safety concerns and associated impact on selling. Fire safety and delay in providing an EWS1 was of serious concern for the resident and made the sales progress frustrating. However, there was no lasting impact on the resident. The landlord recognised its failings and offered reasonable compensation.
  • A maladministration case involving a request for an EWS1 form from Hyde Housing (ref 202001828). Although the landlord advised the resident of practical difficulties with the process and provided general information, it delayed unreasonably for over a year in offering the resident an explanation as to how his block had been prioritised and a likely timescale on when this would occur.
  • A case involving Newlon Housing Trust (ref 202100887) where the Ombudsman recouped all the costs the resident incurred in relation to the sale of the property, which she may not have had to if the landlord had correctly informed her of the government guidance. There were missed opportunities by the landlord to help the resident and the lack of communication impacted the residents’ ability to make an informed decision regarding the sale of the property, which is unsatisfactory.

Spotlight on… Dealing with cladding complaints: Three key lessons for social landlords

“This has been an exceptionally challenging period for both residents and landlords. While landlords will understandably feel swept up in a national crisis, the personal crisis this has created for residents effected, through no fault of their own, is profound and reflected across our casework.

“Landlords have handled cases best where the communication has been clear and crisp.  This requires openness with residents, accurate information, and empathy. Too often, as in other complaint areas, poor communication has compounded other failings.

“Notably, poor communication can hamper sales processes, and undermine the ability of residents to make informed decisions during what has been, and still is, a stressful and complex situation.

“These cases reflect the changes some landlords have made over the past two years, where the scale of the challenge has been acute for some, but they also show in some areas landlords still have learning to do.

“I am pleased some of the learning from previous orders we have delivered are making a difference too, including one landlord introducing a reverse staircasing policy following our decision and then further strengthening that same policy when it was raised in a later investigation.

“I urge landlords to revisit the key learning from our Spotlight report last year and combine that with a renewed focus on the importance of proactive communication, effective knowledge and information management, and a real focus on individual resident concerns.”

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman

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