Ombudsman launches investigation of Lambeth housing complaints

urban town hall
Lambeth town hall in Brixton

Lambeth council’s complaint handling is to be investigated by the Housing Ombudsman after residents from a previously resolved case had the problems return.

It is the first time the ombudsman has used its powers to mount such an investigation. The council has accepted the ombudsman’s findings and welcomed the investigation.

When the problems returned, the Ombudsman said, the council, once again, did not deal with the issues satisfactorily and the ombudsman found maladministration.

This has led to the Ombudsman to scrutinise evidence of the council’s complaints handling, including an in-person inspection.

The ombudsman will evaluate evidence of the council’s complaint handling, including compliance with recent orders and recommendations and previous decisions relating to service improvements.

It has engaged with both residents and the council to establish how the council allowed the issues to resurface.

Poor complaint handling in these subsequent cases included the council not following its policies, failing to fully investigate the issues, and not offering appropriate remedies.

The Ombudsman said it would have expected to see more improvement in complaint handling following its own special report on the council in February 2022, “especially as the landlord should have been aware of the issues in complaints previously investigated”.

The Ombudsman is also due to hold an open meeting with Lambeth council tenants, hosted by the council in September, to hear about the issues facing them.

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: ” I am proposing my team engage with the landlord to establish why the service failures reoccurred in these and any other relevant cases, using paragraph 11 of our scheme.

“This paragraph allows us assemble evidence, including by inspection, to ensure the landlord is taking robust steps following our recent decisions in order to make significant improvements to its complaints handling.

“Following this engagement, the ombudsman may also make further recommendations for service improvement.”

Lambeth council, which has more than 33,000 council homes, said its priority “is ensuring that all of these are safe and well-maintained for our residents. When problems arise, we work hard to deal with them quickly and fairly.

“We are extremely disappointed that, on this occasion, we fell below our standards, and apologise for failings experienced by this resident and acknowledge that our response to the resident’s complaint was not as helpful, considerate or timely as it should have been.

“Lambeth has worked intensively with the Housing Ombudsman and with residents to improve the way we respond to complaints, tackling any issues raised to ensure we provide the best possible service to all our tenants.

“The council recognises the importance of addressing complaints received efficiently and effectively with a view to providing viable resolutions for our residents when things go wrong.”

The council said it had recently implemented improvements aimed at all staff responsible for handling complaints. These include:

• The introduction of dedicated complaints officers with experience of different subject matters across housing services.

• Increased engagement with stakeholders, both internally and externally, particularly operational service areas and contractors, enabling the complaint handlers to obtain the most up to date information to address issues raised.

• Additional complaint handling training to improve the quality and timeliness of responses.

• Increased monitoring of agreed remedies and service commitment of works, together with retrospective case reviews capturing the learning and driving through any identified necessary improvements.

The council said that “these wide-ranging changes, alongside our collaborative work with the ombudsman, are already delivering benefits, with more to come.

“We accept the ombudsman’s findings in this case. We welcome this inspection as an opportunity to work with them, to demonstrate the work we’re doing, and to continue improving the service we provide to all our tenants.”

In June, the ombudsman ordered the council to pay £6,500 compensation after it left a resident and her family with a leaking roof and resulting damp and mould for nearly six years and was slow to respond to concerns raised by the school of one of her children.