The Housing Ombudsman has made three findings of severe maladministration over how a council let a property in poor condition to a young family, which resulted in significant distress and inconvenience for the household.
Despite being aware of the rotten kitchen floor and damp being present in four rooms, Manchester City Council progressed the home as ready to let, the ombudsman said.
When the resident moved in, she complained about the amount of mould on the walls meaning she couldn’t decorate as plaster peeled off when she tried. Soon after moving in, one of her children tripped in the unsafe garden path resulting in a cut lip.
According to the ombudsman, in allocating the property, the council demonstrated a disregard for the resident’s wellbeing and safety, including the implications of moving a family with children into the property where it had failed to investigate the underlying cause of the damp and mould. The landlord didn’t appropriately consider whether the property was fit for habitation and didn’t investigate these matters for several months when put on notice.
The lack of action resulted in the resident handing the keys back and staying with family members in an overcrowded house whilst the council looked into the issues, such as a roof leak and the damp and mould. The resident wasn’t offered alternative accommodation by the landlord. This roof leak into the kitchen took the council 67 weeks to complete after being reported.
Despite the resident pushing for repairs to be carried out over the next couple of months, there were still various issues including water coming up through the kitchen floor, damp and mould, and holes in the roof causing leaks to several rooms including the kitchen and bedrooms.
A couple of months later the resident moved her children into the home to get them settled for school but the landlord surveyors report confirmed that much of the repairs remained outstanding, including flooring in the kitchen and bathroom – this was of particular concern as the resident had a young child who was crawling.
It took 10 months for the landlord to respond to the resident about re-letting standards and admit the home was not up to that standard, which is indicative of its poor communication throughout.
The ombudsman ordered the chief executive to apologise in person to the resident and awarded £5,000 for the distress and inconvenience caused to her. The council was also ordered to calculate the costs of the works the resident had to undertake and reimburse her for those costs.
The ombudsman ordered a detailed review by the landlord to prevent future failure, including its handling of cases under the pre-action protocol, procedure for letting vacant properties and oversight of contractors.
In its learning from the case, the council says it has carried out all repairs on the home and added additional insulation as requested by the resident. It says it has brought its ALMO in house, in a bid to drive further improvements.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “There were widespread, multiple and serious failings in this case and the landlord has to undertake significant learning to prevent similar future failure.
“The combined failings led to a young family being left essentially homeless due to an unhabitable home. The fact the home was unfit to live in before the family even moved is shocking, but the landlord then failed to make things right for the residents with the subsequent repairs needed.
“These failings included extensive delays, lack of competency in inspections, poor quality works and inadequate coordination and oversight..
“This caused serious adverse effect on the household. The landlord’s response was hindered by its treatment of the resident’s pre-action letter where instead of resolving the complaint it suspended repairs. We have been clear in our guidance on Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Condition Claims and service complaints that this should not be the case.
“On top of these failings, the complaint handling also let the landlord down. It took six months to provide a complaint response, denying the resident’s right to have her concerns heard, and failing to issue a response within the timeframe set out in its complaint procedure. There was also little evidence to show that the landlord learned from the outcomes of the case.”
The ombudsman also found maladministration for the council’s record keeping, with failings in this area causing a cumulative impact on the resident who suffered additional time, delay, and distress and inconvenience as a result.
In its learning statement, Manchester City Council said: “Our focus is delivering the best possible service for our residents and we must fully accept the Ombudsman’s findings in this case. Our actions in managing this home on behalf of our tenant did not match the high standards we expect of our housing service.
“Our tenants should never feel that they have no other option other than to escalate repair issues to the Ombudsman and we have since visited the resident on a number of occasions to apologise in-person for the distress she has experienced, and we immediately engaged a chartered surveyor to undertake a comprehensive assessment of any outstanding issues at the home.
“We can confirm that following the development of a project plan in collaboration with the residents, all repairs have now been completed at the property, along with further insulation works requested by the tenant. We have also reimbursed the resident for costs incurred in tackling some of the issues at their home.
“In 2021, the council approved the decision to bring northwards housing back in-house, which in large part was to improve standards and management of council-owned social housing. We are already seeing tangible improvements under the guidance of a new leadership team, and we strive to avoid future failings of the kind the resident has experienced. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise again to them and their family.”
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