A London council has become the first ever social landlord to be hit with two “severe maladministration” findings by the Housing Ombudsman.
Newham Council “took an excessively long time” to deal with a “relatively straightforward” complaint from a resident about a leak from an upstairs flat while also failing to apologise or offer appropriate compensation, the complaints arbitration service said.
The resident, identified only as Mr G, was temporarily moved out of his flat by the council in 2018 after flooding caused by the leak.
He then contacted the council’s repairs service several times about the flooding repairs but was unable to get through, according to the ombudsman.
Eventually, Mr G phoned the landlord’s call centre and was told he could carry out the work himself, which he did, and later requested reimbursement of £2,296.85.
Mr G complained after receiving no response to his request and then had to pursue his complaint for more than 18 months.
During this time, the ombudsman contacted Newham Council, which owns nearly 16,000 homes, on “at least seven occasions” asking it to respond to Mr G.
The council claimed it would not have advised the resident to carry out the work himself but was unable to provide evidence for that as it only keeps telephone recordings for six months.
Investigators at the ombudsman found that the landlord had no specific policy on repairs, so the service was unable to determine who was responsible for carrying out the work to Mr G’s flat and could not order Newham Council to reimburse him.
It ordered the council to pay the resident £800 in compensation and provide complaints handling training to staff.
The ombudsman also recommended that the council develop a repairs policy “to address responsibilities of the parties and to address timescales for repairs”, as well as a compensation policy.
Newham Council has now been the subject of two of the eight “severe maladministration” determinations issued by the Housing Ombudsman since it created the category in 2019/20.
The previous case involved striking similarities to Mr G’s complaint, with the council slow to respond to a leak from an upstairs flat and offering inadequate compensation.
At the time, it was ordered to “review its handling of the repairs to identify what went wrong so the same issues do not recur”.
Analysis published last month by Inside Housing revealed that Newham Council has one of the worst records in the sector for complying with ombudsman orders on time.
Housing ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “The landlord took an excessively long time to respond to the formal complaint, failed to keep the resident informed, provide explanations for the delays or contact the resident despite numerous requests from this service.
“It also failed to check its records for the content of the phone call during the stage one complaint despite having ample opportunity, which was unacceptable.
“I welcome the landlord’s positive engagement with us on the learning from this complaint, including developing policies on repairs and compensation, and the actions it is taking to implement our orders and recommendations.
“It has recognised where things have gone wrong, apologised and made a number of changes to policies and procedures to improve complaint handling for the benefit of its residents.
“I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning this report offers for their own services.”
In a statement, Newham Council said: “We sincerely apologise for the poor handling of this complaint and the long delays experienced by both the resident and the ombudsman.
“We fully accept and acknowledge, that on this occasion, our service fell far short of the high standards we set for ourselves and which our residents have the right to expect.”
It added that it has “taken a number of lessons from our handling of this case”, assigning senior officers to monitor housing-related complaints and undertaking Housing Ombudsman training.
In line with the ombudsman’s recommendations, a compensation policy has been created, with a repairs policy set to be completed in April 2021, the council said.