The Housing Ombudsman found severe maladministration for a London-based local authority’s continued repairs failings, which had a “detrimental impact” on a resident and his young children who lived with unsafe and rotting windows.
According to the Ombudsman, it took Hammersmith and Fulham Council 18 months to repair the windows, and during this time there was a lack of reasonable management or communication from the landlord, who had noted that the windows were unsafe.
Even when the resident had told the landlord of his safety concern due to having a toddler and young child in the property, the landlord did not contact the resident to arrange an out of hours repair, the Ombudsman said. There was also no attempt to progress the repair with the contractor, despite the safety issues and freezing weather conditions.
The landlord also took 15 months to act on the roof leak and even then, it did not fix the issue, with the resident reporting that water was still coming in when it rained.
The resident had trouble cooking and maintaining meal preparation due to the leak, which was brown and smelled, and he was concerned about the fire risk.
Significantly, the resident’s concern about the fire safety from water leaking onto the cooker were amplified by the outstanding repair to the smoke detector, which the landlord also failed to address within a reasonable timeframe, the Ombudsman reports. This also took 18 months, when it should have been resolved within 3-5 days.
Potentially linking to the roof leak was the leak coming from the bathroom extractor fan. Like the roof leak, the landlord took 15 months to fix this issue, however it is another repair that the resident disputed was ever fixed. The landlord failed to carry out an inspection after the repairs had been done to get an update on the condition of the home.
And after the resident reported mould in the property, it took the landlord eight to 10 months to rectify the issue.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise and complete repairs on the residents home, pay the resident £1,050 in compensation and undertake a senior management review of the case and repairs communications more generally.
In the learning from this case, the landlord has set out how it has introduced a specialist leak management team, creation of a council-wide Ombudsman Board and more regular learning with partners on service failures.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The landlord repeatedly failed in its repairing obligations to the resident. Poor communication about the repair action plans, inefficient management of the repairs, and unproductive systems of raising repairs to completion or escalating outstanding issues with its contractors.
“Throughout the case, there was a lack of satisfactory completion records and an absence of evidence to show the landlord’s reasonable investigation into reports of continued issues.
“The resident and his young family has experienced distress and inconvenience, living with health and safety hazards during the duration of the outstanding repairs. The landlord failed to offer interim solutions and the redress it offered was disproportionate to the significant detriment caused by its multiple delays and service failures.
“I welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning the case offers for their own services.”
The Ombudsman also found maladministration for the landlord’s complaint handling, with the resident experiencing time and trouble chasing responses and relied on Ombudsman intervention to escalate his complaints.
The landlord’s responses were not always clear in setting out the status of the complaint and were not issued within appropriate timescales.
In cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a statement on the lessons learned following the decision.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council said: “Hammersmith & Fulham Council accepts unconditionally the decision of the Housing Ombudsman.
“We fully acknowledge that we failed to respond to and address the repairs needed in the family’s home and did not resolve them in a timely manner.
“We have made a direct, sincere, and unreserved apology, which has been accepted. The family has acknowledged they are content with the resolution the Council has already provided.
“We continue to improve all aspects of our repairs service and have made improvements to our complaints handling, which directly addresses the valuable feedback and findings we received from the Housing Ombudsman service.
“We reviewed the family’s experience thoroughly to ensure we learnt from this case and are working with our delivery partners to develop process improvements that will mitigate against future service failures of a similar nature.
“The improvements made incorporate changes to policy and processes, operational changes, staff training and contractor management and accountability. These include:
- The introduction of a specialist leak management team
- Refresher and additional training in call handling and customer care
- Improved feedback to delivery partners on service failure; more regular liaison to review and resolve complaints; more collaboration and reporting on unresolved complaints
- Reviewing and improving the escalation process (internally and with delivery partners)
- Changes in how we address and learn from Ombudsman cases including the introduction of a Council wide Ombudsman Board.
“We will continue to seek improvements throughout our Housing Service.”