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Residents with cancer and chronic asthma left in damp and mould for almost 2 years

23 November 2023

The Ombudsman has made 2 findings for Wandle Housing Association of severe maladministration and ordered £12,000 in compensation in 2 different cases, both relating to repairs not being carried out and damp and mould being present.

Photograph of mould around window

The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration in 2 different Wandle Housing Association cases, both about its response to repairs and damp and mould. In one case, a resident was receiving cancer treatment and in another, the household contained a child that was registered disabled.

With the important role that social housing has to play in giving safe and secure housing to millions, the learning in these reports should help landlords provide effective services that protect this aspiration.

In Case A (202219681), not enough was done by the landlord to ease poor conditions, which included cracked walls and significant damp and mould, for a resident who was receiving cancer treatment. Instead, it was more focused on whether it would dispose of the building or not.

The landlord should have taken action when it became aware of the poor state of the internal ceilings, walls and windows to make sure they were kept in a reasonable state of repair whilst awaiting either the major works or the decision to dispose of the building.

Evidence shows that the Streatham resident and family lived with cracked walls for over 4 years, and with damp and mould in most rooms for 2 years. Whilst there is evidence the landlord tried to fix the windows in the home, there is little to suggest it did anything about the cracking or the damp and mould.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £5,480 in compensation which takes into account some of the rent paid in this period. They must meet with the resident to talk about its next steps and how it can best facilitate that for them.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has finished the Ombudsman’s damp and mould self-assessment to make sure its response to damp and mould is in line with the regulatory approach, introducing a triage process and dedicated oversight for damp and mould cases.

However, the Ombudsman did have to issue a Complaint Handling Failure Order to make sure the orders in this case were met.

In Case B (202125872) the landlord failed to repair the heating system, ventilation system and to address damp and mould persisting in a home containing a resident with chronic asthma and a registered disabled child.

The Wimbledon resident and her child suffered significant distress and inconvenience as a result, living in the property without fully functioning heating and while the property was affected by damp and mould. Two years after it first being reported, the landlord was still unable to give any evidence of addressing the concerns.

The home had been affected by mould, particularly in the bathroom, for nearly 2 years. The heating system had not been in full working order for at least 16 months and the ventilation system not in full working order for nearly 2 years. Some windows were defective for 14 months. There was very little detail about the results of appointments and the end dates in the records are not all accurate. This is of concern to the Ombudsman.

The landlord took some appropriate action in that it inspected the property, agreed to arrange repairs, and offered some compensation for the earlier delays.

However, the landlord has not evidenced that it has followed through and finished those repairs therefore it has not put right its failings. Neither has it showed any learning in terms of identifying what went wrong and how it would prevent a reoccurrence.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident £6,620 in compensation and to appoint specialist contractors and surveyors to confirm any outstanding works and undertake them.

In both cases the Ombudsman ordered the chief executive to make a direct apology to the residents concerned and to self-assess against the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report into damp and mould.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has reviewed its handling of repairs and record keeping practices in respect of repairs by commissioning mandatory training for all staff.

Damp and mould e-learning

Damp and mould report (pdf)

Follow up damp and mould report (pdf)

Wandle Housing Association landlord report 2022/23 (pdf)

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Social housing can be vital for residents with vulnerabilities and these cases provide important learning for landlords to ensure it does so effectively.

“These entirely separate cases are united by vulnerable residents living in poor conditions and damp and mould being allowed to persist.

“The central failings in each case speak strongly to different recommendations we made in our Spotlight report on damp and mould.

“There’s a huge amount of learning that landlords can take from these cases, especially centreing on regeneration and decanting. I’d urge landlords to look past the headlines and to delve into the detail of the cases for that added learning, and where the sector can drive improvements to its services.

“For those landlords looking to go one step further than the reports, our CPD-accredited Centre for Learning contains e-learning on various aspects of housing management, including damp and mould.”

In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.

Wandle learning statement

We’re deeply sorry that our service to these residents didn’t meet the standard we strive to deliver and thank the Housing Ombudsman for allowing us to learn from both cases.

When we received the determinations in April and August 2023 respectively, we apologised unreservedly to both our residents in writing and in person, and reviewed policies and procedures to prevent something like this from happening again, including:

  • Completing the Ombudsman damp and mould self-assessment to ensure our response to damp and mould is in line with the regulatory approach, introducing a triage process and dedicated oversight for damp and mould cases.
  • Reviewing our handling of repairs and our record keeping practices in respect of repairs by commissioning mandatory training for all staff on our customer relationship management system
  • Reviewing our complaint handling process, and moving staff roles into the Customer Resolution team, to better manage response times and satisfaction.
  • Improving training for all staff who handle complaints.
  • Introducing regular meetings to review decant requests and major works.

These, and all our learnings from feedback from residents, have been reflected in our repairs policy review.

We value our relationship with the Housing Ombudsman service, and always use feedback and findings to continually improve service, constantly striving to deliver outcomes for customers that make us proud.