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Ombudsman orders L&Q to pay £142,000 in compensation after finding ‘prolonged period of decline’ in special investigation

27 July 2023

The Ombudsman has released its special report into L&Q, finding that the landlord failed to address core issues and cultural failures which therefore led to a prolonged period of decline in services.

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The Housing Ombudsman has released its special investigation report into L&Q, with the landlord having “consistently failed” to resolve vital issues it has been facing.

Whilst the landlord has since developed an action plan in response to the report, the Ombudsman remains cautious, with a similar flurry of new policies having little to no impact on resident’s lived experienced and service delivery.

In the report, the Ombudsman made 103 determinations involving L&Q in the months from January to June 2023, spanning 30 local authority areas. Overall, the Ombudsman found a severe maladministration rate of 13%, more than double the national average of 6%, for disrepair, poor repair services, mishandling of charges for leaseholders and failures supporting residents experiencing anti-social behaviour.

In one case investigated by the Ombudsman, internal emails show staff reacting to failed repairs by suggesting the landlord send a supervisor instead of a surveyor, because “at least he looks like the surveyor”.

In another case said they needed to take action so not to “appear on ITV News again.” The landlord also told another resident it would pay compensation only if they agreed to a confidentiality clause in their tenancy agreement.

The Ombudsman set out nearly 500 remedies for the landlord to put things, including apologising to residents and repairs.

The Ombudsman also awarded £141,860 in compensation for residents – 14% of all compensation ordered by the Ombudsman in those six months on only 6% of all decisions.

Running throughout the complaints looked at was a lack of listening to residents by the landlord and repeated failure to respond fairly to vulnerable residents, especially where the resident had a disability or mental health problems.

The Ombudsman identified six key themes and set out a series of recommendations:

  • Complaints handling – Whilst the landlord has self-assessed against the Complaint Handling Code, there is a disconnect between policy and practice. Complaint responses demonstrated little empathy and in some cases being overtly dismissive, heavy-handed and lacking respect. The Ombudsman has recommended the organisation design monitoring criteria to track performance and implement quality assurance checks. It also recommended the landlord review the equalities information held on casework to inform an objective assessment of whether the diverse communities it serves are being appropriately served.
  • Compensation – Although the landlord has a standalone Compensation Policy, there were repeated examples of the landlord not awarding compensation in a fair, reasonable or consistent way. It is critical landlords consider reasonable awards for time taken as well as distress.
  • Vulnerabilities – The landlord failed to embed its Vulnerable Residents Policy in its daily dealings with residents and did not accurately record when a resident was vulnerable or needed additional support. As a result, it did not adapt its approach to residents who most needed help. The Ombudsman has recommended training for all staff on service adjustment needs and review staff objectives and recruitment on customer focus and values. This includes mechanisms for possible disciplinary action where courtesy and respect is found to be at fault.
  • Repairs – In 2022-23, 73% of all complaints made to the landlord were about repairs and maintenance. The landlord repeatedly failed in the cases investigated to meet obligations under the Landlord and Tenant Act and was slow to identify and respond to hazards. The Ombudsman has recommended designing monitoring criteria to track the progress of its Repairs Change Project and make improvements to its record keeping.
  • Damp and mould – The landlord failed to consistently identify damp and mould as the root cause of many of its disrepair cases, leading to reports of damp and mould treated in isolation, with repeat visits and an overall failure to consider the presence and seriousness of damp and mould.
  • Anti-social behaviour – The landlord did not follow its own ASB policy. The policy says the landlord will take account of vulnerabilities, carry out a risk assessment and set out a plan of action. In reality, reports were not acted on and vulnerable residents were exposed to ASB for a prolonged period of time.

Read the report

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “While the landlord makes a significant contribution to housing and has many committed staff, the scale of the findings in this report are indicative of a period of significant failure in its services.

“Resident concerns were repeatedly dismissed or poorly handled, without the respect they or their issues deserved. Crucially, the needs of vulnerable residents were not always identified, and too often this caused serious detriment and risk to them.

“The landlord consistently failed to take sufficient action on its own monitoring and warning signs that were evident in its complaints and independent reviews – leading to a prolonged period of decline, especially in areas like repairs and complaints handling.

“Rather than address the core issues, the landlord continued to firefight individual issues. This resulted in new policies, initiatives and reports, which failed to resolve its cultural failures in areas like repairs and complaints, resulting in these activities having little impact on service delivery.

“This has led to a decline in professionalism, with dedicated and committed staff being let down by the poor culture and professionalism of others.

“We welcome the steps the landlord is taking in response to our investigation but it needs to go further. This time it must embed change. It must not let the illusion of activity distract from real change. Its residents deserve better; they are impatient to see change.

“We’ve seen when landlords go through organisational change such as a merger that problems with complaints and systems occur. There is a need to ensure that growth is compatible and sustainable with decent resident services. Other landlords whose operations are expanding should consider what lessons this report could offer them.”

When the Ombudsman issues a special report, it invites the landlord to share what it has and will continue to learn from it.

L&Q’s Group Chief Executive, Fiona Fletcher-Smith

We recognise that we’ve got things wrong, and we welcome this extremely valuable learning process.

My senior leadership colleagues and I are personally contacting the residents whose complaints the Ombudsman judged to have involved service failure or maladministration on our part. We have apologised for the completely unacceptable service they have received. L&Q has let them down, and I’m truly sorry for that.

What really matters to us is putting things right for residents and using the report’s learnings to correct historic failings, continue building a resident-centred culture, and ensure we deliver a quality service every time.

The Ombudsman’s investigation draws conclusions from complaints made between March 2019 and October 2022 – a period when our services were severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. As the Ombudsman has recognised, when I became Chief Executive in 2021, the Board and I put in place a new five-year improvement and investment strategy to tackle the problems that had emerged. This was developed through listening to residents, and resolutely focused on the safety and quality of existing homes and services.

I’m pleased the Ombudsman has endorsed these plans, and I welcome both residents’ and the Ombudsman’s input on how we can further strengthen, accelerate and embed the positive changes we’re making.

Central to our approach is putting residents at the heart of our decision-making, and I wholeheartedly agree with the Ombudsman about the importance of the resident voice. We published a report in May 2023 setting out how we will embed resident involvement at every level of L&Q and put residents in control of the decisions that affect them. This builds on what we’ve already done to place residents at the top of our governance through our resident-led Resident Services Board, regional committees, and 600-strong body of involved residents.

We’ve also made significant progress to address the operational issues highlighted in this report, and these are already delivering improvements:

Our £3 billion, 15-year major works investment programme, launched last year, is making sure every resident’s home is safe, decent and more energy-efficient, and will also drive down repairs. In 2022/23 alone we installed over 1,500 new bathrooms, 1,400 new kitchens, and almost 2,800 new windows. Every resident will experience improvements to their home or building, and when completed we will have fitted 42,000 new kitchens and 50,000 new bathrooms through our programme.

We deliver 400,000 repairs each year, and we’re transforming the quality and responsiveness of this service so we can deliver more repairs each day, and a first-time-fix whenever possible – this has already increased by 20% across day-to-day repairs. We’re also progressing further improvements to tackle damp and mould through our Healthy Homes Project, which has already carried out 20,000 home visits and installed 14,000 humidity sensors.

The new, localised housing management approach we implemented last year is putting 30% more front-line colleagues in local neighbourhoods where they’re better placed to proactively support residents and communities and be more responsive to the needs of vulnerable residents. We’ve also established an extensive training programme for resident-facing colleagues to help us deliver an empathetic and responsive resident experience and manage poor performance.

We are overhauling our complaints handling, investing in additional staff, training and other resources, prioritising efficiency and good communication, and embedding learning from complaints in our process. We’re already seeing a reduction in the time it takes to resolve complaints and in the number progressing to stage 2. The Ombudsman’s report acknowledges the improved quality of our complaint responses.

Underpinning these changes is a £40m investment in a new housing management system and other technologies that will improve how we manage our data and information, and how we communicate with residents, and in particular vulnerable residents who may need different types of support.

We have a clear plan, a dedicated and committed team to deliver it, and we are confident that the changes we’re making will ensure residents receive the quality homes and services they deserve. We are grateful to the Ombudsman for their work, and we look forward to ongoing collaboration to make further improvements.