These failings in cases determined over a three month period, alongside an upheld complaint rate of 76% as well as nine open cases assessed as high or medium risk, has led the Ombudsman to use its powers under paragraph 49 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme to launch a special investigation into the landlord.
In Case A (202204859), the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord failed to deal effectively with a pest infestation, leaving the problem to be present for several years.
Following reports of a rat infestation, the landlord inspected a drain pipe, which was found to be in good condition, and wanted to inspect the empty roof space above, which needed a new hatch installed. The operative that came did not want to do the hatch installation due to the size of the roof space and potential fire safety implications. This was eight months after the resident reported the issue.
The Chippenham resident had to chase after not hearing anything from the landlord for another four months, in which it said it would arrange an inspection. It never did and it took the resident to make contact again another four months later.
When the landlord did inspect the home a month later, it did not know how to address the issue and therefore said it would come back to the resident.
This was when she got in contact with the Ombudsman after hearing nothing back from her stage one complaint or queries from the local authorities environmental health team. It was unreasonable that the landlord did not follow up on the environmental health team’s recommendations for how to treat the issue.
When the resident came to the Ombudsman for investigation, the landlord had fitted the hatch in the ceiling but no works to deal with the infestation had taken place and works remained outstanding 31 months after they were first reported.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to carry out the works and rid the home of rat infestation, apologise to the resident, pay £1,250 in compensation and review its staff’s training needs in respect of their application of its responsive repairs policy’s timescales in relation to pest infestations.
In Case B (202101087) the Ombudsman made three findings of severe maladministration for how it handled a noise nuisance case, the associated complaint handling and its record keeping.
After the Birmingham resident reported the noise to the landlord, it initially responded appropriately. But on the second reporting, despite the resident saying she knew it was not deliberate and simply seeking some soundproofing works, the landlord opened an ASB case.
The landlord did not conduct a risk assessment or start an action plan, and despite the resident’s vulnerabilities, it was not proactive in offering support and monitoring the situation.
The resident often had to chase the landlord for any updates and it took seven months after the initial reporting for the landlord to comment on the outcomes of the noise app recordings she had taken, only for it to tell her it did not meet ASB thresholds.
During the complaint, the landlord’s correspondence towards the resident was often heavy-handed and unsympathetic. It failed to take a victim-centred approach which contributed to a breakdown of trust between the resident and her housing officer.
The Ombudsman also found severe maladministration how the landlord handled the complaint, including delays throughout and not issuing a stage two response. Added to this, the same mistakes were repeated causing more distress and time suffering for the resident.
The severe maladministration finding for record keeping was due to the landlord failing to record the resident’s vulnerabilities and also failing to demonstrate all its interactions with the resident and put the onus on her to keep a written record of her contact.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord’s Chief Executive to apologise to the resident, to pay £1,700 in compensation and carry out a full review of its training to staff on its ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of risk assessments and action plans.
In Case C (202202664) there was a double severe maladministration finding for how the landlord handled repairs during the void stage and then how it handled its repairs obligations once the resident had moved in.
There was little evidence of a proper inspection of the home being carried out, as repairs such as the boiler not working sufficiently, issues in the wet room and a broken toilet cistern among the works needed when the resident moved in.
The landlord had noted a need for roof repairs, but no evidence about when these would be fixed or communication with the resident about it.
This was particularly concerning for the Corsham resident due to her vulnerabilities, which included mobility issues.
The landlord also failed to address repair issues reported by the resident, and in some cases wrongly categorised them.
There were many issues with the boiler not working and whilst some repairs appointments were attended within timescales, providing temporary heaters when it stopped working was outside of the 24-hour window.
Records show that the new control box and motor that was needed for the boiler were not ordered promptly and therefore the resident had to be shown how to manually restart the boiler from the garden. Due to her vulnerability, this was inappropriate to expect the resident to have to routinely go into the garden to use the boiler.
Additionally, the resident had to lay flooring in the kitchen at her own expense when the landlord did not do this during the void period and other repairs that were required were all scheduled outside the timescales set out in its repairs policy.
Given these should have been completed during the void period, these repairs were excessively delayed and was an unreasonable response from the landlord in the circumstances.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to provide a written apology from the Chief Executive, pay almost £3,000 in compensation and review its procedures for the handling of void period repairs, general repairs and tenancy changes.
In its learning from these cases, the landlord says it has improved policies and procedures following these cases and has developed a more robust complaints handling system.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “In all three of these cases, the landlord failed to fulfil some of its basic responsibilities which resulted in evident detriment to its residents.
“There are common failings across these cases. On multiple occasions, there were excessive delays and communication often poor, with resident reports being ignored or them left in the dark about the actions the landlord would be taking. The landlord failed to follow its own policies or handle complaints effectively and in line with our Code, and, in one case, inadequate record keeping.
“A number of these issues arose following its merger between two substantial housing associations – a wider issue for the sector we highlighted in our Spotlight report on Knowledge and Information Management.
“I welcome the landlord’s actions following our decisions. It has multiple open cases which we have identified as high or medium risk.
“Therefore, we have decided that we will be opening a special investigation into the landlord. We will present the findings of that report following an in-depth look at some of the issues the landlord is facing and I welcome its ongoing engagement with this process.”
In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.
GreenSquareAccord learning statement
Ruth Cooke, Chief Executive of GreenSquareAccord:
We take complaints very seriously and we are sorry the customers involved in these cases did not receive the level of service they should have.
We have fully complied with the Housing Ombudsman’s orders in each case and taken learnings from them forward. This includes apologising to the customers, compensating them, completing any follow-up work required, and updating our policies and procedures.
Most of the cases the Housing Ombudsman has dealt with reflect the ongoing challenges we faced following our merger in April 2021, when we were still agreeing a single process for handling complaints and bringing together a complex set of policies and procedures across our operational services.
We now have a much more robust complaints handling process and many of the challenges identified in these cases are now either resolved or are in the process of being resolved.
We recently conducted an internal investigation into all cases handled by the Housing Ombudsman with a fresh pair of eyes to review what we would do differently today and test whether the changes we have made go far enough.
We continually review and learn from complaints, and we now run regular sessions to share detailed learnings from all complaints with colleagues to help to avoid cases like this in the future.
We welcome the opportunity to share with the Housing Ombudsman the progress we have made to address the issues highlighted in these cases and the wider progress we have made since our merger.
We also look forward to sharing further actions we are taking to drive improvements to our services and our approach to complaint handling as part of our long-term strategy.
We will work closely with the Housing Ombudsman during its investigation, and we are committed to taking any further learnings forward.