The Housing Ombudsman has ordered Sanctuary Housing to pay over £5,600 in compensation after making two findings of severe maladministration due to the landlord leaving a resident and her child living in damp and mould for years and then failing to provide proper redress for the situation.

The North London resident has said that because of these failings, in which the bathroom, living room, two bedrooms, and hallway were all impacted, her and her child have been diagnosed with asthma.

Whilst a few delays to the initial inspection of the damp and mould were down to the resident, there was over a year delay due to the landlord’s failings. When requested by the ombudsman, the landlord was unable to provide any reports or surveys conducted on the house.

Other failings by the landlord included dismissing a contractor report after receiving a second one that did not match the initial findings. The landlord should have been fully satisfied that all leaks had been resolved to meet its repair obligations and resolve the complaint. There were also three occasions over a ten-month spell where either a surveyor or operative missed an appointment and then failed to communicate with the resident.

When the landlord undertook works on the bedroom for damp, it took only 12 days before the problem returned.

It was eventually determined to be caused by the issues the initial contractor had raised but the landlord subsequently dismissed. This meant the problem was finally fixed four months after the dismissed report, and two months after the resident reported damp again after the initial repair attempt.

The second finding of severe maladministration related to the landlord’s handling of the resident’s complaint including their request for compensation for items damaged by mould.

The landlord failed to provide the resident with details of how to make a claim on its insurance and act reasonably in accordance with its own policy.

Other complaint failings included not giving the resident a stage one response for 71 weeks and not offering appropriate compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused.

On top of the compensation, which was partly calculated based on the amount of rent the resident had paid in that period, the Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident in person and review its staff training on not closing a complaint early until the issue has been resolved.

In its learning from the case the landlord said it has created a dedicated damp and mould taskforce, as well as increasing the number of people in its complaints team.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The landlord’s actions were dismissive of a young family living with damp and mould.

“It delayed unreasonably in inspecting and rectifying the damp and mould. It failed to act on the advice of its own experts to identify the source of the leak and to resolve this before commencing internal works.

“In failing to do this the landlord had to complete some of the repair works twice which further delayed final resolution and caused the resident further distress and inconvenience.

“The sector has taken important steps to address damp and mould and it is vital landlords use this time before the winter months to ensure their response to reports is robust. This case also shows the importance of not closing complaints early without satisfactory resolution.

“I also welcome the lessons the landlord has actioned from this case and the extensive steps it is taking to develop its approach on damp and mould.”

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

In a learning statement, Sanctuary Housing said: “We are sorry that our service provided on this occasion fell below the standard we set ourselves. A senior member of the Sanctuary team has personally apologised to our resident for having let them down. All our customers have the right to live in a safe and well-maintained home, free from damp and mould, and should expect to have any issues dealt with quickly and efficiently. We will learn from our mistakes and use this case to drive improvements.

“We accept the ombudsman’s findings and have fully complied with the orders made.

“Our dedicated taskforce was established in November 2022 to make sure we take all necessary steps to proactively manage cases of damp and mould as quickly and effectively as possible. We have published our approach to damp and mould on our website so that all our customers can hold us to account.

“We have reviewed our approach to complaints, increased the number of people in our complaints handling team and invested in additional complaints training to improve our communication with customers. Our enhanced processes give greater visibility of open complaints and associated repairs to ensure effective resolution for our customers.

“Our customers come first and we remain focused on improving our approach to learning from complaints so that we can continue to drive positive change and ensure customers receive a quality service and experience.”

Read the full report here.