We have found severe maladministration for how Newham Council dealt with damp and mould, taking over three years to fix the issue, and therefore ordering the landlord to pay £5,400 in compensation.
After the resident first complained about the damp and mould, he asked to be kept updated with the findings, but it is not evident he was.
A couple of months later, the resident chased the landlord for a response and they revisited to supply him with a dehumidifier and suspected that the leak was coming from behind the toilet, although they were still unsure.
Whilst that leak was remedied just under a year after it was first reported, damp and mould continued to persist.
The resident said the landlord had not carried out any specific works on the damp and mould itself, telling the resident to clean it himself. He also expressed his concerns around safety as the damp areas were affecting the light fittings and the area around the fuse box.
In response to this, an operative made sure the electrics were safe but noted “severe water penetration” from the bathroom. Over the next couple of months, the landlord visited the property on several occasions to fix leaks in the shower.
Following this, the resident contacted the landlord multiple times to ask what it would do about the damp and mould in his home. The landlord said its repairs team would respond, however there is no evidence to suggest this response happened.
Whilst the resident continued to complain about damp and mould, the landlord continued to fail in updating him on what was happening with his home and actions that could be taken to fix it.
Two years after the first reporting of the issue, the resident requested to be moved to temporary accommodation due to the strong smell of damp throughout the home and a rat infestation he believed was caused by the mould.
Over the next nine months, whilst works were done to the bathroom to help with the pests and damp issues, the resident chased numerous times about updates to the works and his request for a decant. Each time the landlord said its repairs team would respond but there is no evidence this ever happened.
Three years and four months after the first reporting, the landlord advised the resident, who had only moved into temporary accommodation the month before, that works were complete. However, when the resident returned to the home, he believed the standard of repairs were unsatisfactory and asked for an independent surveyor report to prove otherwise.
On top of the compensation, which has been calculated to include some of the rent paid during the period of service failure, we ordered for a senior member of the landlord to apologise to the resident, provide him with information about next steps regarding his damaged belongings and for the landlord to review its service against the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report into damp and mould.
In its learning from the case, the landlord said it has acted on all the orders and recommendations and set up a damp and mould taskforce as well as publishing a draft Damp and Mould Strategy and Action Plan.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “There were significant failings throughout this case which left the resident living with damp and mould for an unreasonable amount of time.
“On multiple occasions throughout the course of the complaint, a lack of proactive action and poor communication, both with the resident and internally, contributed to significant delays.
“Despite repeated issues with communications from its repairs team, the landlord did not change its approach and take ownership of the resolution of the issues. Whilst there were severe delays to the repairs, the landlord also took too long to arrange temporary accommodation and to respond to the resident about his damaged belongings.
“I welcome the landlord’s response to the lessons from this report and its extensive efforts to put in place a stronger and more proactive approach to addressing damp and mould.”
In all cases of severe maladministration, we invite the landlord to provide a learning statement.
Newham Council learning statement
Our priority is providing safe, decent homes for our residents and dealing with any issues brought to our attention swiftly, effectively and with compassion. We apologise unreservedly for failing to meet our high standards in this instance.
We fully accept the Ombudsman’s findings and have acted on each of the orders made. We have also found alternative accommodation for the household involved and will continue to work with them to find a suitable permanent solution.
We now have a well-established, proactive approach to tackling damp and mould across Newham, and we are prioritising driving up standards by:
- Continuing to invest in a dedicated taskforce to tackle damp and mould in Council properties. More than 1,500 enquiries were made between the taskforce’s establishment in September 2021 and March 2023
- Undertaking more than £6 million of works over the same period to resolve issues of damp and mould in our homes. We have budgeted £25 million towards the taskforce’s work over the next three years
- Publishing a draft Damp and Mould Strategy and Action Plan setting out our work across council homes and blocks, temporary accommodation and the private rented sector. The strategy was open for public consultation in June and July
- Collecting data on our housing stock to target improvements where they are most needed. This is backed by a current £53 million capital investment programme alongside an initial investment of £21 million, which will be followed by more, to upgrade the fabric of our residential buildings to improve conditions and energy efficiency.