The Housing Ombudsman has made two findings of severe maladministration after Torus failed to respond to mould reports and also poorly handled the associated complaint, resulting in resident distress and reports of physical and mental health deteriorating.
With the important role that social housing has to play in giving safe and secure housing to millions, the learning in these reports should help landlords provide effective services that protect this aspiration.
The investigation found excessive delays in the landlord progressing the works to remedy the damp and mould issue. Specifically, works did not start until nearly nine months after the issue was first reported. When damp progressed through the property, the landlord failed to replace the resident’s bed quickly, leading to the resident sleeping on the floor for at least three months.
The landlord claimed it cancelled the order for repair works after three failed attempts to gain access to the property, but there is not enough evidence to support this claim.
Also, the landlord did not record any consideration of decanting the resident from their home, despite the evident distress and inconvenience for the resident.
Communication was poor throughout, and the landlord frequently failed to communicate its plans with the resident and left him to call to obtain updates.
The landlord also did not apply its complaints process in line with its policy or the Complaint Handling Code. It treated the resident’s initial complaint as being at an informal stage, causing further delays in responding to the complaints and failing to acknowledge the landlord’s failings.
There were also delays in responding to his stage one and two complaints and those responses did not fully acknowledge the landlord’s failings in addressing the issues raised repeatedly by the resident.
The response to enquiries made by the resident’s MP also failed to fully acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and the landlord further wrongly instructed the resident that he would have to wait for eight weeks before he could take his complaint to this Ombudsman when changes to the law meant that restriction no longer applied.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident a total of £2,900 in compensation and provide an apology to the resident from the Chief Executive. A senior management review of the case was also ordered, with a particular emphasis on how the landlord responds to decant requests. In its learning, the landlord says it has created a specialist complaints team and a 24-point plan that culture and behaviour, housing management and communication to improve services for residents.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “We have been clear that landlords should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould. Effective diagnosis is critical, and the response to reports of damp and mould should be timely and reflect the urgency of the issue.
“Overall, the landlord’s actions fell short of what we expect. Despite early reports of the issue, it took too long for the landlord to act, and delays could not be justified by Covid-related impacts or access issues, with all repairs not confirmed as completed until this time last year.
“Additionally, the landlord failed to act quickly to replace the resident’s bed, which had been destroyed by damp, leaving him sleeping on the floor.
“Landlords should be empathetic with their residents and investigate and resolve complaints in a timely and effective way. Residents must not be left living in substandard conditions for months before a decant is considered, and any vulnerabilities of the resident must be considered.
“Our Complaint Handling Code will soon become statutory, and it is concerning that landlords are still not getting response times right or treating complaints in an informal way. Under the new powers we have received from the Social Housing Regulation Act, we will be able to proactively monitor compliance with the Code which should help landlords put in practice policies that improve local complaint handling.”
Torus learning statement:
This case occurred almost two years ago and has provided Torus with many lessons on how to ensure that the shortcomings are not repeated. We have been proactive and robust in our response and the changes we needed to make.
In response to the recommendations, we have:
- Strengthened our approach to complaints by creating a large specialist team to improve complaints handling, learning and the Tenant Voice.
- Ensured tenants are now offered alternative accommodation (decants) at an early stage in the process to ensure they are not left living in unsatisfactory conditions, particularly if there is a requirement for significant and intrusive works.
- Introduced regular briefings and Learning Circle events improving responsibility and accountability and driving service improvement.
- Recruited a new team and updated our approach to the management of Disrepair and Damp and Mould ensuring all cases are now monitored daily and that responses are tracked.
A comprehensive 24-point action plan spanning Culture and Behaviour, Assets Practice, Communication, Systems and Processes, Complaints Handling, Contract Management and Housing Practice is overseen by Torus’s Landlord Operations Committee and the Board. All actions are either delivered or on track.
This work will provide our tenants and leaseholders with the high-quality services and safe and secure homes they expect and deserve.