The Housing Ombudsman has made six findings of severe maladministration against Lambeth council over three different cases.
“A recurring theme throughout is the unacceptable time taken to remedy outstanding repairs, some of which were left for five years,” the ombudsman said.
“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.”
In the first case, the ombudsman made three findings of severe maladministration for repairs, record keeping and complaint handling after the council took 197 weeks to fix a broken pipe and complete the associated replastering and redecorating.
It also took 196 days to register the complaint and failed to show how it had investigated the complaint and explain its findings. I
The council also failed to address the complaint points made by the resident or offer an explanation about the compensation it offered.
Despite being chased by the resident, the council never offered an explanation as to why the repairs took nearly four years to complete.
The landlord failed to provide its records in relation to its correspondence with the resident, repair reports from inspections or records of works ordered.
The council claimed that it does not hold any records of telephone conversations between residents and its contact centre, that the surveyor managing the works related to this complaint had since left the council, that it was unable to locate any correspondence that may have been sent from that person’s inbox. and that a check of its historical communications database did not yield any positive results.
The ombudsman ordered the council to pay £6,400 in compensation, apologise to the resident and undertake any remaining repairs related to the complaint.
The council said it has made additional repairs to the resident’s home after the case, has set out 10 new repairs and maintenance contracts and increased the training it gives to staff handling complaints.
In the second case, the ombudsman made two findings of severe maladministration for how the council dealt a with window replacement and how it dealt with the leak that led to the windows needing to be replaced.
It took eight months for the council to respond to a resident’s concerns about the window when they reported it had a massive crack in it. Once a surveyor had visited to approve replacement of the windows, the repair should have been carried out within 90 days. It took the landlord 1,315 days – three and a half years.
During the complaint process, the landlord marked the repair as complete when works had not started. It also put scaffolding up for a year and half but conducted no works in this time before removing it and not needing it at all for the replacement.
The resident had to chase the landlord on numerous occasions during this time, sometimes spending over 90 minutes on a call. The contractors carrying out the works gave the resident various reasons for not carrying out the works, such as the windows being broken or stolen in transit.
The leak had still not been repaired at the point the ombudsman investigated, four years after it was first reported.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to conduct a survey to complete the outstanding repair, apologise to the resident and pay them £1,400 in compensation.
The council said it has completed the repairs to the home and fixed any associated damage, as well as introducing dedicated complaints officers “with wide housing experience”.
In the third case, the ombudsman found severe maladministration for how the council responded to a vulnerable resident’s outstanding repairs related to damp and mould, damaged door and blocked drains, which it did not rectify for five years.
During this time the resident raised a legal claim against the landlord which was dropped when it agreed to do the works. However, those works then never happened.
The landlord failed to find proactive solutions for the repairs and did not consider the resident’s vulnerability when proposing how she would be moved for the work to take place. The resident had clearly stated a number of times that she did not wish to be “decanted” due to mobility issues and her concern that she would not be able to return.
The surveyor had also said that the works could be carried out without the need for the resident to move. “The landlord’s lack of movement on this issue unreasonably delayed the repair being completed,” said the ombudsman.
The ombudsman ordered the landlord to inspect the property and carry out all necessary work to the home, pay £5,200 in compensation to the resident and to review its housing management complaints policy.
The council said it has arranged for the resident to move out while it carries out the works needed and will provide a full decoration for her before moving her back in.
It has also introduced a damp charter, “home MOTs”, “estate action days” with a damp/mould focus, and a rapid response mould removal and treatment service.