The Housing Ombudsman has made two severe maladministration findings for the London Borough of Lambeth’s significant failings in dealing with a long-standing complaint about damp and mould caused by leaks. The resident had suffered extreme stress over several years that impacted on the family’s wellbeing.
The resident had been dealing with water coming into her property and causing damp and mould since 2015. The Ombudsman had previously investigated a complaint from the resident about repairing leaks at the property and ordered the landlord to carry out a range of works to resolve the issue. The landlord confirmed that works had either been completed or were planned.
In 2020 the resident complained to the landlord and asked for proof of the works ordered having been completed, and she contacted the Ombudsman. She said the problem had been extremely stressful and had a huge negative impact on her and her family’s wellbeing, as well as their use and enjoyment of their home.
In responding to our request for information to assist with our investigation, including evidence that the previous works ordered had been completed, the landlord submitted a large number of emails, many duplicated many times, in a file containing hundreds of pages. In relation to the ongoing reports of leaks, it meant the cause was unclear, as well as who was responsible for remedying the issue and what action had been taken to try and resolve it. There was also no indication of the landlord’s final position on the matter.
We found severe maladministration for the landlord’s failings in dealing with the leaks and associated damp and mould at the property. It failed to demonstrate that it had taken reasonable and appropriate steps to investigate and resolve the issues. It had caused ongoing detriment to the resident for several years.
There were also a severe maladministration finding for the landlord’s handling of the complaint with long delays and failure to address the complaint in any meaningful way. These failings further compounded the detriment caused to the resident by the way the landlord dealt with the works needed. In addition, we made a finding of maladministration for the landlord’s poor record keeping.
The investigation formed part of nine individual complaints the Ombudsman considered as part of a special report concerning the landlord, using our new powers under paragraph 50 of the Scheme where systemic issues may be presenting.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “This case was highlighted in our special report about the landlord published last month following the volume and frequency of complaint handling failure orders issued and a series of formal investigations. It provided a collective view of the landlord’s service provision and identified dealing with repairs, complaint handling and record keeping as key themes. All of those issues feature in this case.
“The aim of that report was to provide insight for the landlord and is part of our wider work to promote learning from complaints, monitor landlord performance and extend investigations under paragraph 50 of our Scheme.
“The landlord’s ongoing service improvements may mitigate some of the failings identified in this individual case. We need reassurance that they will not happen again.”
We ordered the landlord to pay £2,150 in compensation to the resident plus a series of orders to put things right for the resident including confirmation of all works completed, that it had implemented the service improvements following the investigation and using the learning from outcomes to avoid the failings happening again.
In cases of severe maladministration, we invite the landlord to provide a short statement on the lessons it has learned following the decision.
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 updated and 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, 10 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. Procuring new repair contracts and setting up an in-house team during the COVID pandemic presented a number of challenges but they are now well resourced and working hard to complete all outstanding work.
“Repairs are now being carried out promptly in the vast majority of cases. There are however some instances where we do not provide the standard of service that our tenants expect, and we apologise for these and working hard to ensure that any issues are tackled quickly. It is clear that the service we provided on aspects of this case did fall below our usual standards and we’re sorry for any distress caused to the residents as a result. We will apologise to this resident and will of course fully comply with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. We will pay compensation and are actively resolving the problems reported at the property.
“All of the new contracts, new in-house team, new appointment system, housing database update, resident portal and training have all happened in the last nine months. The in-house team and most of the contracts have settled in well, the improved ICT systems are working as planned and the council now has real-time visibility of the process. Whilst we saw improvements in 2021, the real improvement will be seen this year when the new delivery arrangements have fully embedded. Adding the effect of a detailed stock condition survey and informed long term investment, the council is confident residents are going to experience a much better repairs and maintenance service going forward.”