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Inaction on leaks and vulnerable residents left in damp and mould among 6 Birmingham City Council failings

22 February 2024

Inaction on leaks and vulnerable residents left in damp and mould among 6 Birmingham City Council failings

Birmingham city centre

The Housing Ombudsman has made 6 findings of severe maladministration for Birmingham City Council for how it handled leaks and damp and mould, as well as the associated complaint handling.

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.

These included cases where a resident’s disabled mother left in damp and mould as well as complaint responses constituting informal emails from a contractor.

Last year the Ombudsman published a Special Investigation Report into Birmingham City Council. These investigations followed the report and relate to events prior to it being published. The landlord has responded positively to the Ombudsman’s recommendations and is making service improvements.

Case A

In Case A  (202011032), the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after it failed to undertake necessary damp and mould works, which the resident said impacted his health and made one room inhabitable.

After the report was first lodged, the ‘routine’ repair was completed outside of policy timescale and did not detail what action had taken place, giving no evidence that a proper repair happened.

The fact the resident continued to report issues with damp and mould after the completion of the requested repair suggests any repair was not successful.

Whilst initially the resident could not allow the landlord access at times due to medical appointments, after this the landlord continued to show up without pre-arranged appointments.

After the resident told the landlord one room was uninhabitable, it should have arranged an urgent inspection due to the extent of the mould. Instead it recommended ‘an antifungal solution’ be applied.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to undertake a full investigation into the damp and mould at the home, pay £1,300 in compensation and apologise to the resident.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it will introduce a new Damp and Mould strategy this year, supported by the implementation of a new Complaints Policy and Compensation Policy.

Case B

In Case B (202122577) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord left a resident and her vulnerable mother in a home with damp and mould that was described as in a “terrible state”, as well as the associated complaint handling.

Despite the damp and mould being classified as “severe”, the landlord failed to complete a damp survey or instruct a damp specialist in the first instance or when further reports of damp and mould were made a year later. Although it made some attempts to attend the property, it did not act swiftly enough.

The landlord did not provide information to show when the resident initially raised reports of damp and mould and evidence of the work it did at that time, therefore it is not known how long the residents suffered in this condition. It has also incorrectly told the Ombudsman that there were no recorded vulnerabilities despite it being made aware of these.
However, it is acknowledged that the resident’s mother was offered alternative accommodation due to her disabilities.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £3,824 in compensation, apologise to the resident in person and conduct a review into this case and how it will improve policy and procedure as a result.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has increased capacity within the complaint handling service and provided additional training and monitoring of responses to prevent inaccuracies and improve response times.

Case C

In Case C (202202841) the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for wholly unreasonable complaint handling after flooding impacted a residents’ home and damaged his ceiling.

After a sprinkler activated flood, which was traumatic and stressful for the resident, the landlord responded well and completed a temporary decant and initial good efforts were made by the repairs contractor.

However, it is regrettable that these efforts were undermined by the landlord’s extremely poor complaint handling. That the landlord’s complaint handling failed to even address, never mind resolve, the resident’s primary concerns about his cracked ceiling and would have only added to what was already a distressing episode for him.

The landlord barely investigated the resident’s complaint at all, and instead relied upon the unverified updates of its contractor, using its informally worded internal emails as the near verbatim basis of its complaint response letters.

The repairs contractor once again visited the property to carry out an inspection but the landlord sent its complaint response before this, despite still having plenty of time within the Code to respond. Therefore, what little information that was contained in the landlord’s stage one complaint response was either inaccurate, out of date or contradicted other records.

This poor complaint handling carried on into Stage 2 with factually incorrect statements about the repairs carried out.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident and to arrange an inspection of the resident’s ceiling by a suitably qualified person, address the resident’s structural concerns, and raise appropriate remedial works.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has made improvements to its record keeping and complaint handling and believes that if these cases happened now, it would not have the same failings.

Case D

In Case D (202125701), the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for how the landlord handled a leak coming from the flat above for over 3 years and the associated complaint handling.

The landlord’s failure to successfully diagnose and repair the cause of the leak over a prolonged period, as well as its lack of communication throughout, was likely to have caused the resident a significant level of frustration, inconvenience and time and trouble.

After the resident first reported it the landlord came out to inspect the property. However after that he had to chase 8 times over 18 months before any further action was taken by the landlord.

After a replacement window was unsuccessful, the resident once again reported the leak. The landlord acted appropriately by sending someone out the same day but did not seek assurances its fixes had worked. Ultimately, they did not and the resident reported the issue again.

Over 3 years since the initial reporting, the landlord still needed to carry out the final repairs to the property, to which the Ombudsman made an order on which was complied with.

While the landlord acted fairly by acknowledging delays in its complaint responses, its responses were inadequate and did not demonstrate that it had utilised its complaints process to put things right or learn from outcomes to improve its service.

The landlord’s failure to fully address the resident’s concerns, and its provision of inaccurate information, was likely to have caused significant frustration and inconvenience to the resident.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord’s chief executive to write an apology to the resident, to pay £1,400 in compensation and for it to carry out a survey into the property, assess the works that need doing and then ensure the resident gets a full explanation about what works are needed and what is going to be carried out.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has introduced enhanced escalation measures to ensure appropriate oversight is available where appointments are not kept or where repairs are not resolved first time.

Birmingham City Council landlord report 2022/23 pdf

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Throughout these cases there were similar points of failure in the landlord’s process, whether inadequate diagnosis of the problem, failing to escalate issues, or delays often caused by missing appointments. The lack of communication further undermined resident’s confidence in the landlord’s actions.

“It is positive to see the progress that the landlord has made on a number of these areas since the special investigation report. It is essential residents’ experience improvements in housing management and it is encouraging that the landlord is confidence that that similar outcomes would not be repeated. The complaints the landlord receives in future will reveal the truth.

“Landlords should always be looking to learn and build on their approaches. There are multiple pieces of learning from these cases that landlords can take from all three of our recent Spotlight reports on damp and mould, knowledge and information, and attitudes, respect and rights.

“On top of this, these cases evidence how strong complaint handling can significantly improve the substantive issue in the case. We would urge landlords to get to grips with our now statutory Complaint Handling Code before self-assessments are due later this year.”

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

Birmingham City Council learning statement

The Council fully accepts the findings of the Housing Ombudsman in these cases and has apologised to the residents for the failures identified and complied with the orders and recommendations made.

We are pleased that the Housing Ombudsman has identified instances where the Council has acted in accordance with its published policies, but we acknowledge that in all cases there were failures that caused unnecessary distress and inconvenience to the residents, and that in some cases our response was unacceptable. It is important to note that the issues raised in all these cases occurred prior to the Housing Ombudsman’s Special Report of January 2023 and, whilst this does not excuse the failings in the cases highlighted, the Council has been working in partnership with the Housing Ombudsman since this time to deliver significant improvements in our repairs, record keeping and complaint handling performance.

We accept that no tenant should have to make repeated requests for repairs, or need to complain before an issue is appropriately investigated and responded to. Where we fail to deliver the service tenants expect of us, we should be able to put things right first time and offer appropriate redress to recognise where we have let our tenants down. Since the Housing Ombudsman’s Special Report, we have implemented a new Complaints Policy and Compensation Policy, ensuring that we are acting in accordance with the Complaint Handling Code and offering timely and appropriate redress to remedy failures. We have taken significant steps to improve the way in which repairs are prioritised and the way we monitor repairs from beginning to end to ensure we are delivering what we promise and that residents are satisfied with the outcome. We have implemented systemic changes across our service to ensure that our records are accurate, timely and accessible to all officers.

We apologise again to the residents involved for our poor performance in the cases highlighted by the Housing Ombudsman but welcome the opportunity provided to review and revise the way we work in.