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Vulnerable family forced to eat Christmas dinner on the floor

A vulnerable resident and family were forced to eat Christmas dinner on the floor after landlord inaction on property condition.
Richard Blakeway (002)

The Housing Ombudsman has ordered Yorkshire Housing to pay £3,780 after it found three findings of severe maladministration for how it handled reports of a leak, damp, and mould, complaint handling and considering the resident’s welfare.

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 landlord was aware of the resident’s poor mental health and the two young children living within the household but failed to take appropriate action to support the resident during their move to temporary accommodation because of the condition of their property following a leak.

The Ombudsman found the landlord neglected to follow its own decant policy and its repairs policy for vulnerable residents was also not adequately implemented, failing to consider the needs of the resident and provide the necessary support.

The resident, who had two young children under six years old at the time, faced significant challenges due to the emergency decant. The lack of communication and support from the landlord further exacerbated the resident’s anxiety, distress, and feeling of being forgotten about.

In addition to these failures, the resident’s initial complaint was ignored, and a stage two complaint remained unanswered, leading to the perception that the resident was unimportant and that the landlord did not care.

This highlights the importance of following the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code, with the statutory code published this week that will be effective from 1 April 2024 .

The landlords’ contractors were often depending on the resident to return to their property before they could complete necessary repairs. As a result, the resident experienced frequent disruptions and distress, especially since they were working from home during the national lockdowns.

The resident had repeatedly informed the landlord about the negative impact on her mental health caused by the events, lack of communication, and support. She reported that because of the temporary accommodation the household was moved to she was “eating their Christmas dinner on the floor” and “sleeping on mattresses for months”. This should have prompted the landlord to consider additional support for the vulnerable resident, but no such action was taken.

The landlord’s poor communication, oversight, and heavy-handed approach was particularly detrimental to a resident with mental health vulnerabilities, especially during a pandemic and national lockdowns.

The landlord’s complaint handling was poor, with significant delays in response times.

The Ombudsman ordered a senior member of staff from the landlord to apologise to the resident, complete all remaining repairs in the permanent address within six weeks and £3,780 in compensation.

In its learning from this case, the landlord has provided the resident with a single named contact if they need to move out of their home whilst they carry out repairs and formed a new Complaints Team.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman said: “This is a distressing case where a landlord failed to provide adequate support for a resident with young children and mental health, despite being aware of their condition for over a decade.

“The landlord’s neglect of its own decant and repairs policies, as well as its failure to provide a named officer for the resident, was both avoidable and unacceptable. The heavy-handed approach taken  at times only exacerbated the adverse effect on a vulnerable individual and their young children.

“While I absolutely recognise the challenges facing social landlords because of the housing crisis, these issues relate firmly to the landlords management responsibilities and policy commitments to residents.

“This case echoes the systemic issues we found in our recent Spotlight report entitled ‘Relationship of Equals’. Too often residents’ vulnerabilities are missed or the response is inappropriate. Disrepair in homes, poor communication and dismissive attitudes can exacerbate vulnerabilities.

“Where services have fallen short, the statutory Complaint Handling Code published this week will be crucial for them to put things right, act fairly and learn from complaints. It is vital all landlords prepare for the statutory Code which comes into effect this April.”

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

Yorkshire Housing learning statement:

We fully accept the Housing Ombudsman’s findings that our handling of this case fell well below the standards our customers rightly expect from us.

We are genuinely sorry for the distress and upset this has caused and we have been liaising directly with our customer to make sure that their home is now up to the standard we would expect.

This has included our Chief Executive speaking at length to the family to personally apologise and hearing first-hand what changes we needed to make to prevent cases like this from happening again.

In the two and half years since this case we have completed a thorough, independent review and made several changes to make sure this doesn’t happen again. These include:

  • Working closely with our Customer Complaints and Review Committee to improve how we deliver our services and handle complaints when things go wrong.
  • Providing customers with a single named point of contact to support them if they need to move out of their home whilst we carry out repairs.
  • Reducing our dependency on subcontractors and continuing to increase the amount of work being delivered by our in-house maintenance team.
  • Transforming how we handle complaints, investing in our multi skilled Complaints Team while rolling out additional training to ensure we take responsibility and always put the customer first.
  • Bringing our teams closer together to review cases where we get things wrong to ensure that lessons are learned and that all complaints are viewed through the customer’s lens.

We fully accept the judgement in this case and remain committed to listening to our customers to make sure we deliver the high standards that they expect and we work hard to achieve.

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