The Housing Ombudsman has made seven findings of severe maladministration against a local authority for various repairs failings, which left one resident significant damp and mould for four years and another with intermittent hot water during cancer treatment.

In the seven findings, made over three cases, the Ombudsman raised concerns over how London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham operates and the services it provides.

In Case A, the landlord left a resident and his young daughter living with water pouring down their walls in heavy rain and subsequent mould and damp for approximately four years, which damaged plaster, decorations, and belongings.

The landlord visited the home on multiple occasions to take photographs and to treat the problem but failed to resolve it. There were also significant periods where the resident had to chase for updates and a number of issues raised by the resident were not addressed.

At every stage of the complaint, the landlord’s complaint handling was delayed and its offer of £150 compensation was, according to the Housing Ombudsman, completely inadequate and disproportionate.

The Council’s chief executive was ordered by the Ombudsman to apologise in person to the resident, pay the resident £5,080 in compensation and inspect other properties in the block.

In Case B three findings of severe maladministration were found for the landlord’s response to leaks, its complaint handling and its consideration of the residents’ vulnerability.

Despite assurances made to the Ombudsman, the landlord failed to fix the leak coming in from a neighbouring flat, causing significant distress, inconvenience, time and trouble to the resident over a five-year period.

The Housing Ombudsman stated that the landlord repeatedly failed in its management and oversight of the repair, and did not take into account the residents’ vulnerability, failing to offer any support or make appropriate safeguarding referrals which could have reduced the impact on the resident.

They added that the landlord’s complaint handling was severely inadequate, and the resident had to repeatedly chase a response which caused further distress. As in Case A, the landlord’s complaint response failed to acknowledge where it went wrong, identify areas of improvement, or provide evidence it can prevent similar failures happening again.

The landlord’s chief executive was ordered to apologise to the resident in person, pay the resident £7,185.50 and carry out reviews into various policies, including on resident vulnerabilities.

In Case C, three findings of severe maladministration were found for the landlord’s failure to make multiple repairs, its complaint handling and poor record keeping.

The failings in the repairs jobs meant damage within the toilet was left unresolved for two years, damage to a bathroom caused by its contractors wasn’t fixed for seven months and intermittent hot water outages that lasted for two and a half years caused significant distress for the resident – who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time.

The Housing Ombudsman states that the landlord’s complaints handling was poor and differed significantly from the timescales and guidance in its complaints policy. On top of this, the landlord’s compensation offers were ‘not detailed’ and ‘didn’t go far enough’ to provide redress.

The Ombudsman also found poor record keeping, including an insufficiently detailed audit trail of its repairs and what was found on inspection, what action was taken, and what follow-up action was required.

The landlord was ordered to pay £5,950 to the resident, apologise to the resident in person and ensure all follow up repairs are completed.

In its response to all three cases, the landlord said it has now completed the repairs to the homes, apologised to the residents and undertaken work to improve in multiple areas such as complaint handling and repairs.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The experiences of each resident engaging its landlord is shocking. There were significant, multiple and common failings across these cases, which raises serious concerns about the landlord’s services.

“In all three of the cases, there was a vulnerability present that the landlord either did not take into consideration or ignored. This is simply unacceptable from a social landlord.

“Running through of all these complaints are failings in repairs, which we see often in our casework. However, it is the length of time residents have been waiting in appalling circumstances that is of greatest concern. There were multiple opportunities for the landlord to resolve all of the issues uncovered in our investigations and yet the urgency to do so wasn’t there.

“There is significant learning here for the landlord and the Ombudsman will be engaging with it over the coming months to ensure that lessons are learnt.”

In all cases of severe maladministration, we invite the landlord to provide a learning statement.

London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham said: We accept fully the Housing Ombudsman’s decisions and have apologised unreservedly and directly to the residents.

“We have completed the repairs to the residents’ homes set out in these complaints, but acknowledge that we failed to do so in a timely way in a period when our repairs service was adversely impacted by the Covid lockdowns and one of our three major contractors exiting abruptly.

“The affected residents have accepted our apologies. In addition to completing the repairs, the Council has provided further support and recompense to these residents.

“We are working hard to improve all aspects of our repairs service and complaints handling, including directly addressing the Housing Ombudsman’s valuable findings and learning from our residents’ feedback.

“We have strengthened our Housing leadership team and contractor capacity and will continue to do so. We are investing £1m a week over coming years to improve our ageing housing stock, in addition to making millions of pounds of further funding available over the next three years to tackle individual repairs quickly and effectively.  This includes focusing on issues highlighted in these three cases: leaks causing damp and mould and upgrading windows.

“We are improving our culture, processes, and systems to ensure that we deliver our repairs promptly and effectively with excellent customer service. More broadly, we are working to improve all Housing services for the benefit of our residents.”