The Housing Ombudsman has ordered a local authority to pay £6,500 in compensation to a resident and her family after it left them for six years in damp and mould following a leaking roof.

The Ombudsman also found severe maladministration for Lambeth Council’s record keeping after it failed to keep track of the complaint after its stage two response.

The findings come as the landlord continues to engage with the Ombudsman following its Special Report in 2021. The Ombudsman and the council will be holding an open forum with residents in September to discuss issues in the borough.

In the latest investigation, the landlord stated it would monitor a roof leak after making several attempted repairs – including “limited” repairs ordered by the court after a successful disrepair claim by the resident against the landlord a few years earlier.

However, over the next two years, the leak continued, with damp and mould causing anxiety for the family who were worried about a three-year-old living there who had severe eczema.

The leak impacted the loft, kitchen, living room and bedroom. During attempts to try and fix the issue, the landlord left scaffolding outside the home blocking natural light for 27 months.

The landlord did not appropriately respond to a safeguarding enquiry from the children’s school, taking five months to act on it, the Ombudsman said. In the enquiry, the school said there was black mould in the kitchen and red/orange mould in the living room. It raised several concerns including wood lice and a window pane held in position with sticky tape.

There were also persistent failures in the landlord’s record keeping, impacting the landlord’s repair and complaint handling operations.

Missing information hampered the Ombudsman’s investigation, with the landlord unable to provide a tenancy agreement or any inspection reports. This was a key factor in the landlord’s poor performance overall. Further, the landlord was unable to improve its performance because it failed to keep track of the situation following its stage two response.

On top of the compensation, the Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident in person, carry out an inspection and complete works needed to the home and review relevant processes and policies to help prevent future service failings.

In its learning from the case, the landlord said it has completed the works and will establish a Repairs Journey team and an Early Resolutions team to improve communication between the repairs team and residents.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “It is intolerable a mother had to spend six years getting her landlord to respond to serious issues which were causing considerable anxiety for her family.

“The landlord’s response was contrary to its legal obligations and its failure to engage with the damp and mould issue, despite the health and safety severity, was inappropriate.

“It should not take intervention from the Ombudsman to carry out fundamental repairs. I am also concerned the landlord was slow to respond to the school’s safeguarding enquiry who were worried about the conditions at the home.

“This investigation includes one of the first severe findings for poor information management, with the landlord unable to locate basic documents like the tenancy agreement. Information mismanagement is a challenge for most landlords and our latest Spotlight report provides important lessons for this landlord and the sector.

“Whilst the landlord has made good progress on a variety of issues since our Special Report, this case shows how far it has yet to go. The issues evident in this case of excessive delays, poor repairs and inadequate records were apparent in previous investigations.

“I welcome the council hosting a Meet the Ombudsman session with residents in September to learn the lessons from this report and wider learning we’ve shared.”

The Ombudsman also found maladministration for the landlord’s complaint handling after it failed to recognise the resident’s full complaint journey, the extent of its complaint handling delays and failures or their impact.

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

In its learning statement, Lambeth Council said: “Our priority is to ensure that all our thousands of council homes are safe and well-maintained for our residents and that, when there is a problem, we deal with complaints quickly and fairly.

“We acknowledge that our management of the repair was inadequate, and we recognize the need for greater proactive communication with our tenants.

“An independent surveyor has inspected the property, and all of the works required in this case have now been completed. In line with the Ombudsman’s findings we have apologised to this tenant for the failings identified.

“The council has also paid the resident a total of £6,478 in compensation, covering issues including the delay in responding to their disrepair concerns, and any distress and inconvenience the resident was caused by our handling of their complaint.

“We acknowledge that a proactive approach is crucial when addressing water penetration and damp issues, as these can be highly disruptive for our residents and have the potential to escalate.

“The council is therefore actively working on establishing a Repairs Journey team and an Early Resolutions team dedicated to improving communication between the Repairs Service and our tenants, and managing and coordinating repair needs promptly and proactively.

“As enhancing collaboration with our contractors is necessary to ensure efficient tracking of all scaffolding orders, we will conduct a thorough review of our scaffolding tracker to accurately monitor the number of scaffolds in use and their expected duration.

“And, as the reported crack could have been detected without the need for scaffolding – which can be costly, time-consuming, and cause inconvenience – the council is exploring opportunities to broaden the scope of available sub-contractors by investigating more efficient methods for conducting external works.

“This includes considering the use of abseiling specialists, drone technology, and infrared cameras for surveys.

“We have also concentrated on making improvements to the day-to-day delivery of repairs and maintenance work.

“This has resulted in a new resilience structure for responsive repairs that will improve the real-time communication between residents, front-line housing staff and its call handling team, improve the visibility of complaints by front-line teams to speed up resolution activity, and monitor the journey of each repair and proactively instigate a solution where the journey has stalled.

“We are committed to tackling any issues raised, to ensure we provide the best possible service to all our tenants.”

You can read the Ombudsman’s report here.