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Sanctuary review nearly 4,000 cases as part of Ombudsman order

Sanctuary has undertaken a review of nearly 4,000 homes following a wider order from the Housing Ombudsman.
Richard Blakeway (002)

The order for an independent review of policy and practice was made after the Ombudsman made two severe maladministration findings for similar issues handling leaks, damp and mould.

The landlord commissioned a high-level review, independent of its repairs or complaints teams and the Ombudsman, which focused on repairs, record keeping and responding to vulnerabilities. The Ombudsman’s ability to make these wider orders under 54(f) of its Scheme was introduced following the Social Housing (Regulation) Act.

The review into the 4,000 cases found that there were potentially 236 impacted homes “where there is limited evidence that roofing works were carried out in an efficient and timely manner”.

Where there was limited evidence that the repairs were completed, those residents were contacted by the landlord to see if there are any outstanding issues. If works have not been completed, they are being progressed as a matter of urgency. The landlord will also apologise to any resident where works have not been completed as they should have been.

The landlord also conducted workshops with residents to seek improvements and work on the feedback given. In the two cases that led to this wider order, the residents faced significant distress and inconvenience chasing and waiting for their roof repairs to be resolved, with communication issues rife throughout.

Repairs

The independent review found that repairs were not always completed within timescales, there were multiple repeated contacts and follow up repairs, and lower levels of satisfaction when contractors were used.

The landlord has changed its approach to contractor management, providing closer oversight of the quality of repairs and value for money delivered. This has resulted in a full review of the cancellation and rebooking process, repairs surveys and inspection process.

Residents told the landlord it wanted faster repairs, better communication, more ‘right first time’ jobs completed, and clarity around which repairs were landlord and which repairs were resident responsibility.

To improve repairs delays and escalations the landlord says it will introduce a root cause analysis process to better underpin service improvement plans, roll out predictive analytics to identify more proactively homes at risk of damp and mould and enhance data management and reporting to deliver improved end-to-end repairs journey.

Record keeping

The cases showed there is a risk that repairs are closed without being completed and the use of off-line systems increased the risk of data gaps. In some cases there was also over-reliance on spreadsheets, which has now been eradicated with the introduction of new systems to record and manage major repairs.

For damp and mould cases specifically, the landlord has introduced a damp and mould performance dashboard to give visibility of open repairs and complaints. The landlord’s Executive Committee receives a weekly report of cases and the Group Board receive a report at every meeting.

It is also using data to identify ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ properties, resulting in visits to proactively engage with customers who have reported multiple issues, or visits where the landlord has not heard from a customer for two years.

To improve its overall complaint handling, the independent review recommended the landlord improve learning from complaints through live complaints information, equip leaders more to listen and act on resident voice, broaden guidance in relation to reasonable adjustments and to strengthen its application of the compensation procedure.

To improve record keeping, the landlord says it will roll out a new technology transformation system, delivering enhanced data management, analysis and reporting. It will also move information on damp and mould onto an integrated online system and continue rolling out its ‘customer census’ to increase the coverage, range, and quality of data held.

Vulnerabilities

The independent review looked at whether repairs and escalations considered the resident’s vulnerabilities. It also examined how resident vulnerabilities are recorded.

The landlord identified various risk factors on several themes such as health and wellbeing and tenancy, looking at short term health conditions, care leavers and those who have fled domestic abuse.

The review found that the inspections team are not provided with adequate training to sufficiently understand wellbeing, vulnerability, and empathy. This has potentially led to wellbeing or vulnerability concerns not being identified when carrying out an inspection.

It also found that the new complaints team structure has meant that training has not matched the skills these specialists need, meaning there is a skills gap. Additionally, there appears to be a lack of consistent training received by frontline staff which enables them to confidently discuss initial complaints and respond appropriately.

To improve on capturing individual circumstances, the landlord says it will develop and implement of revised vulnerability policy, expand its ‘Think Customer’ and vulnerability training programme across the organisation and implement a new Customer Relationship Management system.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Repairs, record keeping and vulnerabilities are three of the key themes that we see across our casework.

“It is encouraging to see the landlord tackle this head on and attempt to resolve some of the issues that have caused them problems when dealing with these complaints. The landlord’s approach to this review, and embracing the opportunity to learn, has been evident throughout and is commendable.

“Some of the actions and initiatives will need time to bed in and the landlord will be aware that what sounds good on paper has to be translated into effective action in practice. Having robust policies in place is a strong foundation but sustained focus and monitoring of outcomes is what will lead to resident’s experiencing improved outcomes..

“Within the report following this wider order, there is learning for all landlords to take forward on these three common causes for service failings and we would encourage all to engage positively with it to improve complaint handling and extend fairness across the sector.”

In all severe maladministration cases, the Ombudsman provides the landlord with an opportunity to share a learning statement.

Sanctuary Housing learning statement

Sanctuary Chief Executive, Craig Moule:

“Every Sanctuary customer has the right to live in a safe, well-maintained home, and for issues to be resolved without undue delay. We apologised to the customers in these cases – acknowledging we had let them down and that we needed to make changes to enable every Sanctuary customer to receive the level of service they deserve.

“We welcomed the opportunity to work with the Housing Ombudsman, our customers and our Board to conduct this review through a detailed investigation, which highlights the hard work being done to learn from historic cases and improve our services for everyone.

“We can’t and won’t fix everything overnight, but we are determined to learn from our mistakes.”

The severe maladministration cases linked to the wider order are:

Case 202224898 – The Ombudsman found severe maladministration in the landlord’s handling of a roof leak, in particular due to the length of time that the situation has been ongoing, recognition of the resident’s vulnerabilities, and the cumulative impact on the resident as a result of the series of service failures identified. The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £1,150 in compensation and an apology from a senior leader, on top of the wider review order mentioned in this release.

Case 202216547 – Severe maladministration was found in this case for both the roof leak response, as well as the complaint handling. The roof leak was still outstanding when the complaint came to the Ombudsman, despite a year and a half notice from the resident. The landlord’s response was subject to significant and unreasonable delay, contrary to its own policy, procedures and legal obligations. The landlord poorly handled its communications with the resident, whose proactivity drove its updates and progress despite challenges she faced as a person living with communication difficulties. The landlord had little regard to the detrimental impact to health reported or the resident’s vulnerabilities, inconsistent with its legal obligations and policy commitments. On its complaint handling, it failed to treat a number of clear expressions of dissatisfaction as complaints contrary to its policy and the Code. Its responses at both stages of the complaint process were delayed and it failed to appropriately communicate delay to the resident. It was only after the intervention of this Service at both stages 1 and 2 of its complaint process that the landlord provided its required formal responses.

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