The Housing Ombudsman has issued a Special Report on the London Borough of Lambeth following the volume and frequency of complaint handling failure orders issued and a series of formal investigations. The Ombudsman used its new power under the Housing Ombudsman Scheme to consider the landlord’s complaint handling based on those individual investigations.
The aim of the report is to provide insight to help the landlord strengthen its complaint handling and address some of the substantive issues giving rise to complaints. It will also help other landlords identify potential learning to improve their own services.
Complaint handling failure orders are issued to landlords where they fail to progress complaints through their procedures or to provide information to the Ombudsman. We issued five such orders to the landlord between January and September 2021, three of which it did not comply with, so contacted the landlord to explore the issues impacting on its complaint handling. We agreed an action plan with the landlord and held regular meetings to help progress the complaints.
In November 2021 we issued nine formal decisions to the landlord which were progressed together in order to identify any systemic learning. Poor record keeping, significant delays or failing to respond to complaints, and failings in responding to repairs were the three themes identified across the cases. As a result of the investigations, we proposed the landlord undertake reviews in each of the three areas. These are areas the Ombudsman often identifies failings, and therefore the report may offer learning for all social landlords.
A lack of record keeping had significantly contributed to six complaints with findings of maladministration so we proposed the landlord should ensure that accurate and accessible records are kept and maintained. In three cases, we ordered the landlord to review the redesign of its repair and maintenance services to ensure that it applied to planned works and works that fell outside day-to-day repairs. The landlord was also ordered to consider its complaint handling procedures in three cases to ensure itself that the failures could not happen again.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “We welcome the landlord’s constructive engagement with this work. As well as giving the landlord insight into their complaint handling on these cases, their actions will also help extend fairness to other residents and help prevent complaints in future.
“It is part of our wider work to promote learning from complaints, monitor landlord performance and extend investigations under the new powers in our Scheme. To date this work has covered sector wide issues through our thematic reports. This is the first concerning an individual landlord where we had seen multiple indicators of service failings.
“The themes identified in these cases highlight the importance of landlords maintaining appropriate and easily accessible records, and of operating complaint handling services which align with the principles of effective dispute resolution. These are recognising what has gone wrong, seeking to put things right, and learning from outcomes. These principles are central to our Complaint Handling Code.”
Comment from Lambeth
A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “Lambeth has been working intensively with the Housing Ombudsman over several months to resolve the issues he has raised with us. We will continue to positively engage with the Ombudsman and we are committed to tackling any issues raised to ensure that we provide the best possible service for all our tenants.
“By focusing on the themes and insights raised by the ombudsman we ensure we are continually listening to our customers and ensuring we learn valuable lessons along the way.
“Lambeth has more than 33,000 council homes and our priority is ensuring all of these are safe and well-maintained for our tenants. We have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in improving our council homes and estates in recent years, in line with the Lambeth Housing Standard (LHS).
“We have instituted additional training for staff and contractors and introduced a dynamic appointment system that gives full visibility and real-time updating of repair appointments. Additionally, we have invested in a dedicated housing portal that now allows residents to report their repairs online and upload photographs to aid diagnosis. We also have a dedicated housing database that ensures housing repair and maintenance information is securely held against uniquely-referenced properties and tenancies. This has now been expanded to include planned maintenance projects so all work information – individual repairs and larger maintenance projects – is held on one system to allow for efficient management and property specific information retrieval.
“But we have also concentrated on making improvements to the day-to-day delivery of repairs and maintenance work. Over the last two years we have procured a wide range of new contracts, as part of our transformation of our repairs service. Last summer, new contractors – along with the council’s own in-house repairs team – took over responsibility for repairs and maintenance at council properties, as part of Lambeth’s drive to improve standards and services for our residents. This has included additional technology to manage the day to day service to ensure an improved customer journey.
“This year, we are commencing a programme of detailed stock condition surveys across our housing stock that will ensure we have up-to-date information on the condition of all residents’ homes. This will inform a long-term investment plan to proactively keep residents’ homes in good condition and reduce demand for individual repairs.”