We found severe maladministration for Stafford and Rural Homes (now Housing Plus Group) when dealing with a resident’s complaint about delayed repairs and a bedbug infestation. There were unacceptable delays in the landlord’s response to the complaint at all stages without apology or explanation to the resident. When it did respond, there was no evidence of the issue having been investigated or understanding of the impact on the resident.
The resident complained about several repairs required at her property, which she said the landlord had not remedied, despite her contacting it over the years on numerous occasions, including by telephone, email and three previous complaints. She listed issues including a leaking roof, mould and infestation with bedbugs.
When the resident asked for her complaint to be escalated, the landlord said she would need to specify the reasons and suggested she use a library or fast-food restaurant to email as she had no data on her phone. The Ombudsman found this was an unreasonable and insensitive suggestion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The landlord later inappropriately refused to escalate the complaint to stage three of its complaints process relying on a change in policy which took place many months after it was due to provide a response to the complaint.
We also found maladministration for the landlord’s response to the resident’s report of repairs and infestation. It took too long to carry out repairs it was responsible for and in respect of the infestation. The landlord did not respond to the issues in accordance with its own timescales for repairs. It did not keep the resident updated, explain delays or manage expectations in any way, and there was no evidence that the landlord carried out repairs it had agreed to complete at stage zero of its complaint process.
The Ombudsman recognises the landlord’s learning from this case and welcomes its actions including improved processes for dealing with damp and mould and ensuring that complaints are dealt with efficiently.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “This troubling case shows the impact of an inaccessible and unresponsive complaints procedure. The complaints process should provide an opportunity for a landlord to demonstrate that it has heard and understood the concerns, taken them seriously in investigating them thoroughly and provide a chance to put things right. In this case the landlord missed opportunities to do those things.
“The complaints process should be accessible but the landlord did not facilitate this, by declining to take the escalation reasons over the telephone in circumstances where the resident was unable to access the internet. The length of time the landlord took at all stages was completely unacceptable and without apology, explanation or empathy into the impact this had on the resident. It stated that it had been unable to make contact with the resident but did not explain when or how it tried to make contact nor evidence it.
“Following our decision, I welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning this case offers for their own services.”
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay compensation of £1,000 and to contact the resident to arrange for a date for the infestation fumigation works it agreed to do and carry out the repairs it is responsible for.
In cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a short statement on the lessons it has learned following the decision.
A Housing Plus Group spokesperson said:
“This was a wholly unacceptable situation that was compounded by a poor response from the landlord and failure to communicate with the customer properly. We have apologised unreservedly to the resident and have dealt with all of the issues that gave rise to the complaint. Stafford and Rural Homes became part of the Housing Plus Group in October 2019 and since that point working practices and policies have been reviewed taking account of the lessons we have learned from this experience.
“Processes for dealing with damp and mould have been improved, with surveyors conducting inspections and given the authority to immediately action any necessary repairs. Pest control working practices have also been updated.
“We have also introduced a new procedure to ensure that customer complaints are dealt with efficiently and there is appropriate oversight of all complaints by an Executive Director.”