The Housing Ombudsman has ordered Clarion to pay £10,800 in compensation to households after it made four findings of severe maladministration across three cases.
In the first case, the ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord failed to rectify leaks reported by the resident for five years, causing her a high level of distress and inconvenience. The two further cases involved issues with damp and mould
While leaks can be tricky to fix first time – a point also acknowledged by the West London resident herself – the ombudsman said this does not excuse the length of time taken to resolve the issue in ‘case A’. On top of this, the resident spent a lot of time and effort chasing for responses and action.
Another reason the landlord used to explain the delay was correspondence with the developer. However, this only happened years after the resident moved into the property and did not account for the majority of the delays experienced.
Clarion also did not appear to manage her repair consistently, or in the same way as it did other reported leaks within the same block, which meant the resident had a vastly different outcome to her neighbours, who had similar issues resolved in a much timelier manner.
According to the ombudsman, this was not appropriate, and calls into question the landlord’s ability to identify core issues being raised.
Further to this, the offer of compensation within its complaint response was insufficient and a further 12 months passed after this before the leak was finally resolved, compounding the failings.
The ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident £4,400 in compensation, have a director apologise to the resident, and to review how oversight and engagement with third parties could be improved to avoid the inconsistencies in responding to different residents.
In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has taken on new service level agreements, which would see that if a contractor or developer doesn’t fix the issue, the landlord will rectify the issue itself and levy costs afterwards.
Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said: “In these [three] cases, residents had to go to extraordinary lengths for the landlord to take action, which should not have been necessary.
“There is also evidence of the landlord failing to join the dots or having similar points of failure, especially in the cases where there were multiple related complaints from the same block.
“Running throughout these cases is evidence of delay, poor communication and ineffective action. There were multiple instances in these cases where it would not have been too late to rectify the situation for the resident and repair the relationship between them and the landlord. However, these opportunities were also missed.”
Damp and mould
In the second case, ‘B’, the ombudsman found two counts of severe maladministration for how Clarion responded to a damp and mould complaint, as well as the associated complaint handling.
Clarion failed to act quickly to the Wimbledon resident’s complaints of damp and mould in both bedrooms, and she experienced significant difficulty in getting the organisation to acknowledge concerns about the fabric of the building. Often, the landlord’s responses “lacked empathy” and put the onus on the resident “changing her lifestyle”.
Although the property is due for regeneration, the landlord was not proactive in seeking resolutions in line with its health and safety obligations, and failed to effectively communicate with the resident. Worryingly, there were other complaints from residents in the same block experiencing the same problems.
Whilst the original appointment for the repairs were made within timescales, the ombudsman said that the landlord should have thought about attending sooner after the resident explained her children had to move into the living room to escape the mould.
With communication from the landlord to the resident continuing to be poor, she asked her MP for help and described feeling suicidal. The resident was finally decanted and works undertaken to resolve the problem. However, the problems soon returned and the resident reported that her home smells of damp, and floor tiles are lifting.
This led to the ombudsman ordering the landlord to inspect and identify any further remedial works required to the resident’s recent reports of damp and mould.
The ombudsman also ordered for a senior member of the landlord’s management team to apologise in person, pay £5,000 in compensation and to investigate and respond to the resident’s reports of discrimination and racial bias.
On top of this, it must review whether any further compensation was owed due to the decant, and carry out a full review of the case which would include taking into account the ombudsman’s Spotlight reports on damp and mould, and Knowledge and Information Management.
In the third case, ‘C’, the ombudsman found severe maladministration after Clarion did not take all the steps it could reasonably be expected to take to investigate and resolve the damp and mould issues, causing a Sevenoaks resident and her family significant distress.
The resident has said as a result of this disrepair, she has been unable to use a bedroom and has provided medical evidence referring to her housing situation possibly exacerbating her children’s medical conditions.
Despite making some attempts to resolve the issue, the ombudsman said, the fact it remained ongoing for so long meant there was an “obvious need to do more”. The resident believed the landlord was simply masking the problems rather than dealing with the root cause.
The landlord fitted a new bathroom, undertook an inspection of the drains, re-glazed windows and undertook mould washes. An inspection after this found that it was caused by condensation and therefore no further action was required.
But after more complaints, the landlord undertook a new survey with environmental health present, and found that repairs were required – some of these had been completed but others had not.
The ombudsman ordered the landlord to appoint an independent external damp and mould specialist to undertake a thorough and rigorous assessment of the property, including the exterior walls and ventilation, pay £1,200 in compensation and assign someone in the organisation to be her single point of contact for all communications.
On top of this, the ombudsman ordered the landlord to discuss the housing situation with the resident, which may include needing a temporary decant.
In its learning from these second and third cases, Clarion says it has developed a new damp and mould strategy, which has seen every member of staff undertake damp and mould training.
Respect and empathy
Blakeway added: “Complaints about leaks, damp and mould have increased significantly in the past year, and these cases show where landlords can make decisive changes to improve its service for residents.
“With the wet weather and storms impacting homes over the festive period, we are urging landlords to take any reports of leaks and damp seriously, take responsive action and ensure residents feel they are being treated with respect and empathy.”
In its learning statement to the ombudsman, Clarion said: “We apologise sincerely to the residents in all three of these cases for the shortcomings in the service we have provided to them. We have complied with the ombudsman’s orders in each case, and we have gone to lengths to consider what we can learn from these cases to continuously improve.
“In the damp and mould cases, while we took steps to address the issue, there were delays and we were not always consistent in keeping the residents updated. Ultimately, it took too long to resolve the problem and we understand the impact this will have had on the households.
“We acknowledge that it is not acceptable to blame lifestyle – that is, normal household activities – as the cause of damp and mould, and we are committed to taking responsibility and doing all we can to support our residents to manage the issue while we identify and fix the root cause.
“These cases predate the acceleration of our damp and mould strategy. Our new approach has seen every member of staff undertake damp and mould training, so that reports are dealt with promptly and sensitively.
“We have new processes in place to check for and record any health issues or vulnerabilities at first triage, and we revisit this throughout the duration of the case. Our teams now have new technology that can be used to detect damp and mould and we take a ‘property first’ approach to help us diagnose the root cause. We have also hired a number of new specialist technical surveyors and resident liaison officers – who act as a single point of contact for residents in complex cases – as part of our recruitment of 100 additional staff to help tackle leaks, condensation, damp and mould. We expect to see the impact of these changes in cases that have arisen since December 2022.
“In the case of the shared owner, we acknowledge there was confusion around responsibilities meaning the customer was left for a sustained period without a resolution, which is not acceptable. Since this case, we have made a number of changes to how we work which has improved oversight and engagement with third parties.
“Our service level agreements now ensure that customers can be attended to within the shortest possible time-frame and allow for us to step-in quickly, following any failure to respond by a contractor or developer, rectify the issue ourselves and levy costs against the party responsible. Our defects management procedures have evolved to ensure that the defects management team are following the trail of the communication from the customer, through to the party responsible for resolving the defect, and supporting the customer in this way.”
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