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Resident with cancer left in damp and mould for almost two years

The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration in two Wandle Housing Association cases, concerning its response to damp and mould.

In one case, a resident was receiving cancer treatment and in another, the household contained a child that was registered disabled.

With the important role that social housing has to play in providing safe and secure housing to millions, the learning in these reports should help landlords provide effective services that protect this aspiration.

In Case A, not enough was done by the landlord to alleviate poor conditions, which included cracked walls and significant damp and mould, for a resident who was receiving cancer treatment. Instead, it was more focused on whether it would dispose of the building or not.

The landlord should have taken action when it became aware of the poor state of the internal ceilings, walls and windows to ensure they were kept in a reasonable state of repair whilst awaiting either the major works or the decision to dispose of the building.

Evidence shows that the Streatham resident and her family lived with cracked walls for over four years, and with damp and mould in most rooms for two years. Whilst there is evidence the landlord tried to fix the windows in the home, there is little to suggest it did anything about the cracking or the damp and mould.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £5,480 in compensation, which takes into account some of the rent paid in this period and to meet with the resident to discuss its next steps and how it can best facilitate that for her.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has completed the Ombudsman’s damp and mould self-assessment to ensure its response to damp and mould is in line with the regulatory approach, introducing a triage process and dedicated oversight for damp and mould cases.

However, the Ombudsman did have to issue a Complaint Handling Failure Order to ensure the orders in this case were complied with.

In Case B, the landlord failed to repair the heating system, ventilation system and to address damp and mould persisting in a home containing a resident with chronic asthma and a registered disabled child.

The Wimbledon resident and her child suffered significant distress and inconvenience as a result, living in the property without fully functioning heating and while the property was affected by damp and mould. Two years after it first being reported, the landlord was still unable to provide any evidence of addressing the concerns.

The home had been affected by mould, particularly in the bathroom, for nearly two years. The heating system had not been in full working order for at least 16 months and the ventilation system not in full working order for nearly two years. Some windows were defective for 14 months. There was very little detail as to the outcome of appointments and the completion dates listed in the records are not all accurate. This is of concern to the Ombudsman.

The landlord took some appropriate action in that it inspected the property, agreed to arrange repairs, and offered some compensation for the previous delays.

However, the landlord has not evidenced that it has followed through and completed those repairs therefore it has not put right its failings. Neither has it indicated any learning in terms of identifying what went wrong and how it would prevent a reoccurrence.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident £6,620 in compensation and to appoint specialist contractors and surveyors to confirm any outstanding works and undertake them.

In both cases the Ombudsman ordered the chief executive to make a direct apology to the residents concerned and to self-assess against the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report into damp and mould.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has reviewed its handling of repairs and record keeping practices in respect of repairs by commissioning mandatory training for all staff.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Social housing can be vital for residents with vulnerabilities and these cases provide important learning for landlords to ensure it does so effectively.

“These entirely separate cases are united by vulnerable residents living in poor conditions and damp and mould being allowed to persist.

“The central failings in each case speak strongly to different recommendations we made in our Spotlight report on damp and mould.

“There’s a huge amount of learning that landlords can take from these cases, especially centering on regeneration and decanting. I’d urge landlords to look past the headlines and to delve into the detail of the cases for that added learning, and where the sector can drive improvements to its services.

“For those landlords looking to go one step further than the reports, our CPD-accredited Centre for Learning contains e-learning on various aspects of housing management, including damp and mould.”

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

Wandle learning statement

We’re deeply sorry that our service to these residents didn’t meet the standard we strive to deliver and thank the Housing Ombudsman for allowing us to learn from both cases.

When we received the determinations in April and August 2023 respectively, we apologised unreservedly to both our residents in writing and in person, fully complied with the orders, and reviewed policies and procedures to prevent something like this from happening again, including:

  • Reviewing our complaint handling process, and moving staff roles into the Customer Resolution team, to better manage response times and satisfaction.
  • Improving training for all staff who handle complaints.
  • Reviewing our handling of repairs and our record keeping practices in respect of repairs by commissioning mandatory training for all staff on our customer relationship management system.
  • Completing the Ombudsman damp and mould self-assessment to ensure our response to damp and mould is in line with the regulatory approach, introducing a triage process and dedicated oversight for damp and mould cases.
  • Introducing regular meetings to review decant requests and major works.

These, and all our learnings from feedback from residents, have been reflected in our repairs policy review.

We value our relationship with the Housing Ombudsman service, and always use feedback and findings to continually improve service, constantly striving to deliver outcomes for customers that make us proud.

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