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Multiple severe maladministration for Spitalfields Housing’s inadequate response to flooding and its unsatisfactory complaint handling

26 January 2023

The Housing Ombudsman made two findings of severe maladministration and had to issue two separate failure orders for Spitalfields Housing Association’s failures over responding to a leak which led to flooding and the subsequent complaint handling.

The Housing Ombudsman found severe maladministration against Spitalfields Housing Association after it failed to evidence that it took the necessary steps following the report of an extensive leak, which the resident said endangered family members, caused stress, inconvenience and personal damage.

A second count of severe maladministration was found for the landlord’s subsequent complaint handling, which also required the Ombudsman to issue two Complaint Handling Failure Orders for failing to issue a formal stage one response to its resident and after multiple unsatisfactory responses after requests for information from the Ombudsman during its investigation.

The East London resident first contacted the landlord to raise concerns about a leak into her flat causing flooding. The landlord arranged a contractor to visit and clean blocked gutter pipes. Two months later, the resident experienced further heavy floods and leaks, and a lightbulb ‘busted’ near an individual, to which the landlord’s contractor recleaned the guttering and left a dehumidifier.

The resident noted that there was damage to fixtures, fittings, and belongings; and that the leaks and consequent damp had resulted in inconvenience, overcrowding, and impacted mental and physical health. She also noted that belongings had to be moved and crammed into bedrooms, the living room and the boiler room; issues with a boiler had not been reported as the room was not accessible for repairs; and the ‘emergency water’ was having to be left on.

The resident raised concern that leaks and floods continued to be experienced and that each time it rained, belongings and furniture had to be moved to prevent further damage. She said this was not an ideal living situation as this resulted in there barely being space to move, and said the situation caused concern and anxiety.

A request for a plan of action, the builder’s warranty provider and details of the data protection team met with no response from the landlord and subsequently the resident made a complaint through the landlord’s online form, again no response was received. The resident contacted the Housing Ombudsman, and following three separate contact attempts, the landlord responded.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that repair details held by the landlord were vague and inconclusive. It failed to demonstrate that it took any of the multiple opportunities presented to seek clarification.

The landlord did not demonstrate that it took the opportunity to appropriately review the claim that there may have been a failure in its service. Nor had it handled matters in line with the Complaint Handling Code’s principles and respond in a timely manner.

We ordered the landlord to pay the resident £1,000 in compensation and take steps to review its complaint handling and provision of information to the Ombudsman.

Read the report

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The landlord has not demonstrated that it acknowledges any failings or intends to take any steps to improve future service for its residents when dealing with repairs or complaints.

“Regardless of an organisations size, there is a reasonable expectation that the landlord should be able to demonstrate an evidence-based position in respect to issues raised. It is also essential for the complaints process to put things right if they have gone wrong and learn from outcomes.

“The landlord does not demonstrate that it sought to appropriately investigate and respond to the concerns at any point, and it inappropriately redefined the complaint as being about reported repairs that contractors were being denied access for, and ‘falsely claimed’ health and safety issues.

“The landlord’s failure to demonstrate that it appropriately addressed all issues raised by its resident significantly undermines whether it investigated the complaint and arrived at an appropriate conclusion and resolution.”

 

In cases of severe maladministration, we invite the landlord to provide a short statement on the lessons learned following the decision.

Spitalfields Housing Association learning statement

This complaint and decision of “severe maladministration” has arisen following the lack of access to an airing cupboard.  For the avoidance of doubt, an airing cupboard is a cupboard that houses damp towels to be dried.

The subject matter of this complaint and subsequent investigation by the Housing Ombudsman is with respect to the airing cupboard (damage approximately 30cm wide), related boxing and the ceiling below that; which we believe, had no impact on the physical living conditions of the residents or the dry-ability of these towels.

The airing cupboard/boxing required partial painting on one side which is approximately 30cm wide. It is our firm understanding that the ability to dry towels in this airing cupboard would not have been compromised following the fix of the leak.  Access to painting the airing cupboard was not provided following the resident’s request and our refusal to re-model her bathroom.

Spitalfields HA had acted to address the cause of the leak to the airing cupboard and allowed the airing cupboard to dry, prior to then expecting to paint the 30cm wide bit of damage inside the airing cupboard/boxing. The painting of the 30cm wide area in the airing cupboard/boxing could not take place due to lack of access for our contractors, and this was halted after our refusal to re-model the resident’s bathroom.  Compensation under the Right to Repair could not be calculated as the repair was not completed due to the lack of access to this airing cupboard.

At no time, throughout this complaint period, did Spitalfields HA refuse to undertake the paint work on the airing cupboard/boxing and we are of the firm understanding that throughout the period of no access, the resident would have retained the ability to dry the towels in this cupboard.

The painting of the approximately 30cm wide airing cupboard/boxing was finally completed on 23 August 2022 at a cost of an immaterial amount after access to the airing cupboard for damp towels was finally provided; this was only after the determination of “severe maladministration” from the Housing Ombudsman Service.  We are unclear why the Housing Ombudsman Service, on this occasion, was unable to act as an effective dispute resolution agent to SHA to obtain access to the property.

Prior to the Housing Ombudsman Services’ decision of severe maladministration, no access was provided to the airing cupboard to enable us to paint the 30cm wide boxing in the airing cupboard.  It is our understanding that no towels were compromised throughout this complaint and investigation period.

Spitalfields HA notified the Housing Ombudsman on 27 May 2021 that access had not been provided and therefore work could not take place.  This would ordinarily be considered a simple matter for dispute resolution for an independent agency such as the Housing Ombudsman Service.

We are aware that the resident had contacted Citizen Advice Bureau and other legal advice, however, those agencies, acting independently, did not progress correspondence with Spitalfields HA.  It is our assumption that these independent agencies were aware that lack of access meant that we could not paint the airing cupboard/boxing or calculate compensation.

The main/principle learning from this case for SHA is that request for insurance claims need to be separated from matters related to no-access, staff are now aware that the two points are not linked and need to be responded to separately to insurance claims requests.

SHA has discussed its complaints handling process with front line staff and confirmed they understand the process fully. Any suggestions of dissatisfaction raised by tenants are to be logged as a formal complaint.

Response to complaints following the investigation to be sent to the tenants in accordance with the SHA’s complaints handling policy. The responses to clearly state what stage the complaint was heard and what the next steps are for tenants if they do not agree with the decision.”