Lambeth council has been rapped by the Housing Ombudsman for its negligence and incompetence in handling complaints. The Ombudsman has issued a damning and unprecedented special report that identifies “multiple indicators of service failings” by the council.
The council was ordered to pay compensation to complainants totalling £6,425.
Tenants and leaseholders of local councils can register complaints about their conditions with the Ombudsman, who can issue orders for action to rectify the faults — and to improve the way they handle complaints themselves.
Last summer the Ombudsman’s office issued five of these “complaint handling failure orders” against Lambeth council.
The council failed to comply with three of them and the Ombudsman set up an action plan to progress the complaints.
In November it issued a further nine formal decisions, ruling that three were “service failure”, five were “maladministration” and one was “severe maladministration”.
It said: “We found maladministration where adverse effect was caused to the resident by the landlord significantly delaying or failing to respond to complaints, where its position through the complaint procedure was not supported by evidence, and where it failed to attempt to put things right when it was aware things had gone wrong.
“We found severe maladministration in complaint handling where there were significant and cumulative failings which were found to have a seriously detrimental impact on the resident. In these cases, there had been substantial failings in the landlord’s response to repairs and the poor complaint handling exacerbated these failings.”
The three principal faults were found to be
- poor record keeping;
- failure to respond to complaints or significant delays; and
- failings in responding to repairs.
Lambeth was ordered to review its repair and maintenance services and its complaint handling procedures.
These measures apply to the 24,000 properties owned and managed by the council and not to those on estates managed by housing associations.
The report is the first of its kind under powers granted to the Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, a year ago. He said: “This is the first [report] concerning an individual landlord where we had seen multiple indicators of service failings. The cases highlight the importance of landlords maintaining appropriate and easily accessible records.”
His office takes a collaborative rather than a disciplinary approach to dealing with landlords. He said: “We are recognising what has gone wrong, seeking to put things right and learning from outcomes. We welcome the landlord’s constructive engagement with this work.”
A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “Lambeth has been working intensively with the Housing Ombudsman over several months to resolve the issues he has raised with us.
“We will continue to positively engage with the Ombudsman and we are committed to tackling any issues raised to ensure that we provide the best possible service for all our tenants.”
“We have instituted additional training for staff and contractors and introduced a dynamic appointment system that gives full visibility and real-time updating of repair appointments.
“Additionally, we have invested in a dedicated housing portal that now allows residents to report their repairs online and upload photographs to aid diagnosis.”