Independent review ordered by Ombudsman makes 15 recommendations to Orbit Group to tackle damp and mould failings

25 April 2024

Independent review ordered by Ombudsman makes 15 recommendations to Orbit Group to tackle damp and mould failings.

wooden house models

An independent review ordered by the Ombudsman into how Orbit Group has handled damp and mould has made 15 recommendations to the landlord.

The review was independent of both the Ombudsman and the landlord, and is one of the first uses of the Ombudsman’s new powers under the Social Housing Regulation Act to order wider reviews into a landlords policy, practice and root causes of complaints. The power to make a wider order goes beyond providing  redress on individual complaints and extends fairness and protection to other residents. The review involved 7 cases of damp and mould where the Ombudsman had found maladministration, including severe maladministration.

The landlord has published its independent review and it provides learning that all landlords can use to improve their approach to disrepair and damp.

Investigations by the Ombudsman leading to the review found repeated poor handling of damp and mould, with residents living with the issue for as long as four years, and consistent failure to address physical or mental health needs in its response. Failings in inspections, oversight of repairs and record-keeping were common across many of the cases.

It recommended that Orbit Group do more to comply with the recommendations within the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on damp and mould and knowledge and information management, and highlighted that in its current self-assessment against the damp and mould report, no assurances are given.

Whilst the review is accepting that the organisation is in “transition” in its approach to damp and mould, more work is needed in this area to achieve a good service for residents. The review also found that whilst there was a lot of focus on learning from damp and mould, there was not so much in other key areas such as repairs.

The review also identified a significant lack of complex case management and that although mechanisms are currently in place to improve, “these do not fully resolve some of the concerns identified”.

A lack of in-house technical skills has also hampered some of the responses to damp and mould, with it resulting in clashes with technical advisors and residents.

In some more general reflections, the review found there was not enough evidence of resident involvement in the learning and delivery plans for improvements and similarly little evidence of further training plans for staff past the initial set of courses.

The review has also found that the landlord’s decentralised model for training has resulted in inconsistencies for job specific learning and development.

The review did find that the landlord’s systems for registering, tracking, and analysing damp and mould cases are fit for purpose and that any key performance indicators are robust for case monitoring and management.

The Ombudsman has a suite of resources from its Centre for Learning to further help landlords improve its services on damp and mould, including a key topics page containing case studies, podcasts and webinar recordings. There are also e-learning courses and workshops for landlords to book onto via the Learning Hub, as well as the 2 Spotlight reports mentioned in the review.

Orbit Group independent review report (PDF)

Orbit Group Landlord Performance Report 2022/23 (PDF)

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “It is essential for landlords to tackle the root causes of complaints to drive service improvements and reduce the higher rate of maladministration we are finding.

“I welcome the positive way the landlord has embraced this review to improve its handling of disrepair and damp.

“Its open and transparent approach to sharing the lessons of the review will support other landlords to focus on how they can improve their own services and address these issues.

“It is clear from the repeated failings in these cases that the landlord’s damp and mould policy was not producing positive outcomes for residents when applied in practice.

“Without the review, other residents may have experienced similar service failings and the learning from our investigations and the review will help the landlord to take targeted action to improve the experience of residents. Our power to order a wider review is one of the most significant changes to way the Ombudsman operates.

“Our wider orders can help landlords undertake a review into a specific policy or practice to improve outcomes for residents and provide landlords with an opportunity to learn where and why things are no working as they should, so that social housing can perform the vital role in plays in our communities.”

Orbit Group learning statement

We apologise to all customers affected in these cases and fully accept the findings of the Housing Ombudsman. Providing our customers with the home and service they deserve is central to our purpose, and when we get something wrong, we will strive to put it right and learn from it.

We are committed to continually improving our customer experience and welcomed the opportunity to work in partnership with the Housing Ombudsman to undertake an independent review of our to responding to requests for repairs due to reports of damp and mould, and more importantly, learn from its findings.

We remain committed to building on the significant investment and new initiatives we have already implemented to further improve our services. These have included significantly increasing investment in colleague training and skill development, sharpening our focus within our case management and technical teams, enhancing repair diagnostics, working with our supply chain partners, and launching a You and Your Home customer check-in pilot, allowing us to discuss with the customer any work required and how we can best support them. In addition, we have completed organisational-wide training to increase understanding of vulnerability, and introduced new Colleague Commitments, which set the minimum expectations for all of us and are intended to encourage everyone to aim for positive actions, whatever their role.

We are currently addressing any remaining recommendations identified in the report and are confident our new Assurance Programme will work to close the service gaps highlighted by the Ombudsman.

We are on a long-term journey but will continue to be driven by listening to our customers’ voices and providing them with the best possible experience.

The severe maladministration cases related to the wider order are:

  • 202203675 – The Ombudsman found severe maladministration in this case after unreasonable delays in both stage 1 and 2 responses, as well as its offer for compensation. This caused considerable inconvenience, time, trouble and distress to the resident in having to chase the landlord for a response. The landlord also failed to respond after being contacted by the Ombudsman on more than one occasion. The Ombudsman ordered an apology to be sent from a director, to pay £1,942 in compensation and carry out an inspection to produce a schedule of works to resolve the issues.
  • 202223344 – Excessive delays to complete repairs, along with a consistent lack of communication meant the resident was left to chase the landlord repeatedly with little or no response. Poor record keeping, poor contract monitoring, lack of urgency or consideration of the household’s vulnerabilities and failure to follow its policies and procedures meant the resident and his family were left in a property that suffered from damp and mould, and associated risks, for around 4 years. The Ombudsman ordered for the Chief Executive to apologise to the resident, to pay £5,884 in compensation and rectify any outstanding repairs.
  • 202213063* – The resident reported 3 separate leaks within 17 months, at each point the landlord failed to act swiftly in completing works related to the leak. It was aware of mould at the property however failed to monitor the potential hazard or investigate its cause. This was also whilst being aware of the residents’ vulnerability – she was blind and her son was deaf. It left the vulnerable resident in a property with a continuing leak for 15 days and failed to act quickly or offer alternatives available to it. During this time the resident told it the situation was “dangerous” but it failed to respond in a way to show it understood her circumstances or vulnerabilities. The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £11,533 in compensation and for the Chief Executive to write a written apology.
  • 202123208* – There was severe maladministration in the landlord’s handling of repairs and the inspection to the property as it failed to carry out an inspection. It also did not follow its mutual exchange policy and failed to act quickly to repair and restore the resident’s bathroom. It confused itself over whether it was going to offer a decant and did not consider the resident’s vulnerabilities. The Ombudsman also found severe maladministration for the complaint handling in this case, which was not in compliance with the Complaint Handling Code and was confusing to the resident. The Ombudsman ordered an apology from the Chief Executive, to pay £2,120 in compensation and for staff training to be carried out on complaint handling.
  • 202204426 – The landlord failed to deal with a leak for over 3 years, causing damp and mould in the home. The landlord did not act with a sense of urgency and did not consider whether the property was habitable in view of the resident’s vulnerability. It did not effectively manage the repairs or keep detailed records, and failed to keep the resident updated throughout. The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay £3,914 in compensation, apologise to the resident, and arrange a surveyor to fix the outstanding problems.
  • 202215754* – The landlord failed to carry out repairs that were recommended by a specialist contractor, and which were required to prevent any further harm being caused to the resident and his possessions. It also failed to give a “high priority response” to residents identified as having acute physical or mental health vulnerabilities. The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to carry out the repairs then surveyor recommended, pay £1,200 in compensation and for the Chief Executive to apologise.
  • 202219418 – The excessive delays to complete repairs, along with a consistent lack of communication from both the landlord and its contractor, poor record keeping, poor contract monitoring and a failure to follow its policies and procedures meant that the resident and her children were left in a damp property that was in a poor state of repair for around 18 months, resulted in severe maladministration. The Ombudsman ordered the Chief Executive to apologise in person, to pay £3,442 in compensation and to carry out an inspection of the property.

*Specific case reports available upon request