The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration in four cases involving Croydon Council, urging the landlord to use these as a springboard to deliver better services.
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.
The cases cover several aspects of the landlord responsibilities, including anti-social behaviour, adaptations and mutual exchange.
In Case A (202127675) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord mishandled an upgrade and adaption to the resident’s kitchen and bathroom.
It led the resident to believe it would carry out extra works that did not form part of an occupational therapist’s recommendations as long as she paid for these, which she agreed to.
Given that it was aware that she had physical and mental conditions, the landlord failed to take these circumstances into consideration and missed several opportunities to put things right.
The landlord’s failure to follow its procedures, its lack of knowledge and its delays in investigating the case effectively negatively affected her day-to-day living.
On top of this, the landlord at one point incorrectly told the resident it would not undertake her adaptations at all. It is clear that the landlord’s lack of knowledge and procedure significantly contributed to these miscommunications.
Miscommunication between the landlord and the OT department was also concerning, especially as both are part of the same local authority.
The landlord also failed to provide important evidence by way of emails or call logs and notes of outcome of visits with key people involved, and therefore failed to demonstrate that it handled the upgrade and adaptations requests to the resident’s kitchen and bathroom appropriately.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £3,875 in compensation and organise an occupational therapist assessment of the entire property, following up on this with any adaptations that need to be made.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has implemented Complex Case Forums to bring together teams and complaints officers to address cases which are multidisciplinary and complex.
In Case B (202118843) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord failed to adopt a victim-centred approach or respond to the resident’s allegations of anti-social behaviour (ASB), including indirect racial harassment.
It failed to support the resident through regular communication and there was no evidence it liaised closely with partner agencies at the earliest opportunity.
Despite numerous reports and the resident stating the impact it was having on her mental health, the landlord failed to undertake a risk assessment and was unsympathetic to her concerns about attending court as a witness.
Although there is evidence of the landlord asking for timesheets from an early point, two years’ worth of these could not be found. It also took nearly three years, in which multiple neighbours had also experienced this ASB, for the landlord to hold a multi-agency meeting.
These delays and failings led to severe distress for the resident who, by the end of this investigation, had been complaining of this for nearly five years.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident £2,900 in compensation, for the housing director to apologise to the resident and for it to conduct a full review of its ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the risk assessment matrix and action plans.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has provided ASB training to all staff and has reviewed its ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the risk assessments, action plans and management oversight.
In Case C (202204778) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for how the landlord handled noise nuisance. The resident reported that this impacted her mental health.
The landlord did not follow its own anti-social behaviour policy during this case, and in particular did not keep the resident informed about the progress of the case until she complained again. This caused unreasonable delay and distress to the resident.
It also took five years to supply any sound recording equipment, and the Ombudsman made an order to ensure this happened.
Although equipment was in high demand, this was not a reason for it to be unavailable for this length of time. During this time, it also took years for alternatives to be arranged and used.
Whilst the landlord carried out an inspection and wrote to the landlord during this case, it did not keep the resident updated of any outcomes and the issues remained.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident, provide her with a device such as sound recording equipment so she can make accurate reports moving forwards and pay £900 in compensation.
In Case D (202215975) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for how delays in processing a mutual exchange application and arranging the inspection and repairs caused for the exchanged to be cancelled.
This was despite a large amount of chasing by the resident over a period of months. It also meant that the resident was left sleeping on the sofa as her son was using the only bedroom.
The landlord accepted this was a failing on its behalf and the Ombudsman has not seen any evidence of it ever giving urgency to these works despite a 42 day deadline needing to be met. Instead, some of the works were completed two months after the exchange had already been cancelled.
Although the landlord accepted its failings, it did not offer any compensation for the upset, disappointment and distress it caused. It also offered no further practical support after this period.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to provide a written apology from the Chief Executive, pay £700 in compensation and review its mutual exchange process.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has complied with the orders above and has therefore made improvements to its mutual exchange process.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The landlord should reflect on these four cases and continue to make significant improvements to its services, building on the orders we made. Complaints act as a mirror to services and its handling fell far below what residents would expect of their landlord.
“The landlord should use this as a springboard to deliver better services for its residents.
“These cases cover a wide range of landlord responsibilities. Throughout there were opportunities for the landlord to put things right or repair the relationship with the resident, whether that be through communication or action in the form of an inspection or repair. And most of the residents involved had physical or mental health needs that were not fully accounted for by the landlord.
“Landlords should not give up on a case just because a complaint has been made, instead using it as an opportunity to resolve the situation for the resident.”
In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.
Croydon Council learning statement
We acknowledge that there were significant failures in the way we handled these cases and would like to offer our apologies to these residents for the difficulties they experienced.
We have embarked upon a transformation journey which seeks to improve the housing services we offer to our residents. The work carried out by the Housing Ombudsman continues to support us in this journey by highlighting areas for improvement.
We complied with the orders of the Ombudsman for each of the cases and we’ll continue to learn from these to improve our service for customers and mitigate the risk of similar failings recurring. Following these findings, we have:
- Initiated the review of the ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the risk assessments, action plans and management oversight.
- Provided training to all staff, specifically around high priority ASB including harassment and hate crime, to ensure that staff are confident in dealing with reports of a similar nature in the future.
- We have implemented Complex Case Forums to bring together teams and complaints officers to address those cases which are multidisciplinary and complex to ensure we provide a consistent and fair approach. These forums are also seeking to address complex service requests to prevent them becoming complaints.
- We expanded our complaints team and are continuously working to improve our systems and procedures to ensure that all complaints are responded to and handled according to our policy and procedure, keeping customers updated at every stage.
We will continue to work collaboratively with the Ombudsman and value the opportunity to learn from our cases to drive improvements for our residents and we apologise unreservedly for how these cases were handled previously.