Landlords can now complete the Complaint Handling Code Annual Submissions form. More information is available online.

Vulnerable children left in damp and mould after complaint handling failures by Stoke-on-Trent City Council

15 August 2023

The Ombudsman found severe maladministration for Stoke-on-Trent City Council for how it handled a complaint, including not giving a stage one response on two separate occasions.

We have found severe maladministration for Stoke-on-Trent City Council for its lack of stage one complaint response on two separate occasions, which left a resident and her two vulnerable children in a home with damp and mould.

The resident never received a formal stage one response to her complaint against the landlord for its failure to act on the damp and mould, with the landlord saying it had responded over the phone.

When the problems persisted over the coming months, she once again raised a complaint and received no formal response. Works were agreed around the complaint, but this was outside of the complaint response.

After being contacted by the resident, the Ombudsman was forced to intervene to get the landlord to escalate the complaint to its final stage and respond to the resident.

And whilst on this occasion it did make a final stage response, the resident was dissatisfied as it did not address the outstanding damp and mould, toilet, or remaining garden repairs, and the works that it had agreed to still being incomplete.

Spotlight on… damp and mould: ‘It’s not lifestyle’ report

We ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident, pay £1,000 in compensation and review its processes and staff training needs in respect of its compliments, comments and complaints procedure, and the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code.

In its learning from the case, the landlord said it has improved arrangements for initial contact and further communication with customers, standardised letter templates and ensured all complaints are responded to in writing.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Our Complaint Handling Code is clear that landlords must issue residents with a formal stage one response

“In previous cases we have seen significant delays in responses but for a resident to receive nothing, when her two vulnerable children are living in a damp and mould home, is completely unacceptable.

“Another important part of the Code is addressing all of the residents’ concerns within the response, which again the landlord did not do.

“As the Code becomes statutory with the passing on the Social Housing Regulation Act, landlords must get on top of this. We’re holding monthly Code drop-in sessions to help landlords provide a better service to residents in this area, but training staff on these issues is absolutely vital too.”

We also found maladministration for how the landlord dealt with the damp and mould in the property.

Read the report

In all cases of severe maladministration, we invite the landlord to provide a learning statement.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council learning statement

We apologise fully that the response our customer received in this case fell below the standards expected of our teams and by our customers. We have apologised to our customer and made the appropriate compensation payment. We are committed to continuously improving services and learning from mistakes and welcome the learning from the Housing Ombudsman.

To date we have:

  • Reviewed and updated all of our processes and procedures in relation to Damp and Mould complaints including the development of a stand-alone Damp and Mould policy together with updated guidance on reporting and treating damp and mould.
  • Updated our overall Repairs and Maintenance Policy and Voids Policy. These policies have been designed with residents in mind, to ensure works are delivered efficiently and effectively including the making and keeping of appointments and an improved lettable standard.
  • Completed a review of overall complaint handling across all service areas including Unitas, our repairs and maintenance service provider, incorporating improved monitoring and oversight arrangements so that we are focussed on resolving issues for customers at the earliest opportunity. We have improved arrangements for initial contact and further communication with customers, standardised letter templates and also ensured that all complaints are responded to in writing.
  • Delivered ongoing training across the workforce, highlighting the potential health impacts of Damp and Mould on vulnerable customers and across our complaints handling procedures incorporating the need for accurate and timely record-keeping and complying with the Housing Ombudsman handling code and remedies guidance.

This work is part of our ongoing approach to continually improving the service we offer to customers and placing customer feedback at the heart of our service improvement approach.