Croydon council told by ombudsman to learn its lesson

Image credit: sbuyjaidee/Shutterstock

The Housing Ombudsman has urged Croydon Council to learn the lessons and use the experience as a “springboard” to better services after finding severe maladministration in four cases.

In the first case, the Ombudsman found severe maladministration after the landlord mishandled an upgrade and adaption to the resident’s kitchen and bathroom.

The second case landed Croydon in severe maladministration after it failed to adopt a victim-centred approach, or respond to the resident’s allegations of anti-social behaviour (ASB), including indirect racial harassment.

Thirdly, the ombudsman found severe maladministration for how Croydon handled noise nuisance. The resident reported that this impacted her mental health.

Lastly, the ombudsman found severe maladministration for how delays in processing a mutual exchange application and arranging the inspection and repairs caused the exchanged to be cancelled.

Across the four cases, the ombudsman ordered Croydon Council to pay a combined sum of £8,375 in compensation to the affected residents, among other measures.

Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said: “The landlord should reflect on these four cases and continue to make significant improvements to its services, building on the orders we made. Complaints act as a mirror to services, and its handling fell far below what residents would expect of their landlord.

“The landlord should use this as a springboard to deliver better services for its residents.

“These cases cover a wide range of landlord responsibilities. Throughout there were opportunities for the landlord to put things right or repair the relationship with the resident, whether that be through communication or action in the form of an inspection or repair. And most of the residents involved had physical or mental health needs that were not fully accounted for by the landlord.

“Landlords should not give up on a case just because a complaint has been made, instead using it as an opportunity to resolve the situation for the resident.”

Kitchen drama

In the case of the mishandled upgrades and adaptations to a resident’s kitchen and bathroom, the ombudsman said Croydon led the resident to believe it would carry out extra works that did not form part of an occupational therapist’s recommendations, so long as she paid for these herself, which she agreed to.

Given that it was aware that she had physical and mental conditions, the landlord failed to take these circumstances into consideration and missed several opportunities to put things right.

Croydon’s failure to follow its procedures, its lack of knowledge, and its delays in investigating the case effectively negatively affected her day-to-day living.

On top of this, the landlord at one point incorrectly told the resident it would not undertake her adaptations at all. The ombudsman said tt is clear that the landlord’s lack of knowledge and procedure significantly contributed to these miscommunications.

Furthermore, the ombudsman said that miscommunication between the landlord and the occupational therapy department was also “concerning”, especially as both are part of the same local authority.

The landlord also failed to provide important evidence by way of emails or call logs and notes of outcome of visits with key people involved, and therefore failed to demonstrate that it handled the upgrade and adaptations requests to the resident’s kitchen and bathroom appropriately.

The ombudsman ordered Croydon to pay £3,875 in compensation, and organise an occupational therapist assessment of the entire property, following up on this with any adaptations that need to be made.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has implemented complex case forums to bring together teams and complaints officers to address cases which are multidisciplinary and complex.

Victim-centred approach

In the second case, the ombudsman said Croydon had failed to support the resident through regular communication, and there was no evidence it liaised closely with partner agencies at the earliest opportunity.

Despite numerous reports, and the resident stating the impact ASB was having on her mental health, the landlord failed to undertake a risk assessment, and was unsympathetic to her concerns about attending court as a witness.

Although there is evidence of the landlord asking for timesheets from an early point, two years’ worth of these could not be found. It also took nearly three years, in which multiple neighbours had also experienced this ASB, for the landlord to hold a multi-agency meeting.

These delays and failings led to severe distress for the resident who, by the end of this investigation, had been complaining of this for nearly five years.

The ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay the resident £2,900 in compensation, for the housing director to apologise to the resident, and for it to conduct a full review of its ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the risk assessment matrix and action plans.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has provided ASB training to all staff and has reviewed its ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the risk assessments, action plans, and management oversight.

Noise nuisance

In the case of the resident complaining of noise nuisance, the ombudsman said that Croydon did not follow its own anti-social behaviour policy during this case.

In particular, Croydon Council did not keep the resident informed about the progress of the case until she complained again. This caused unreasonable delay and distress to the resident. It also took five years to supply any sound recording equipment; the ombudsman has made an order to ensure this happened.

Although equipment was in high demand, this was not a reason for it being unavailable for this length of time, the ombudsman said. During this time, it also took years for alternatives to be arranged and used.

The ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident, provide her with a device such as sound recording equipment so she can make accurate reports moving forwards ,and pay £900 in compensation.

Mutual exchange

In the final case, the delays that led to the mutual exchange falling through occurred despite a “large amount” of chasing by the resident over a period of months, the ombudsman said. It also meant that the resident was left sleeping on the sofa, as her son was using the only bedroom.

Croydon accepted this was a failing on its behalf, and the ombudsman has not seen any evidence of it ever giving urgency to these works despite a 42 day deadline needing to be met. Instead, some of the works were completed two months after the exchange had already been cancelled.

Although the landlord accepted its failings, it did not offer any compensation for the upset, disappointment and distress it caused. It also offered no further practical support after this period.

The ombudsman ordered the landlord to provide a written apology from the chief executive, pay £700 in compensation, and review its mutual exchange process.

In its learning from this case, the landlord says it has complied with these orders, and has therefore made improvements to its mutual exchange process.

In its learning statement to the ombudsman regarding the fours cases, Croydon said: “We acknowledge that there were significant failures in the way we handled these cases, and would like to offer our apologies to these residents for the difficulties they experienced.

“We have embarked upon a transformation journey, which seeks to improve the housing services we offer to our residents. The work carried out by the Housing Ombudsman continues to support us in this journey by highlighting areas for improvement.

“We complied with the orders of the ombudsman for each of the cases and we’ll continue to learn from these to improve our service for customers and mitigate the risk of similar failings recurring.”

Croydon says it has:

  • Initiated the review of the ASB policy and procedure, with particular focus on the use of the risk assessments, action plans and management oversight
  • Provided training to all staff, specifically around high priority ASB including harassment and hate crime, to ensure that staff are confident in dealing with reports of a similar nature in the future
  • Implemented complex case forums to bring together teams and complaints officers to address those cases that are multidisciplinary and complex to ensure a consistent and fair approach is provided. These forums are also seeking to address complex service requests to prevent them becoming complaints
  • Expanded its complaints team and is continuously working to improve systems and procedures to ensure that all complaints are responded to and handled according to policy and procedure, keeping customers updated at every stage

The council added: “We will continue to work collaboratively with the Ombudsman and value the opportunity to learn from our cases to drive improvements for our residents and we apologise unreservedly for how these cases were handled previously.”

Image credit: sbuyjaidee/Shutterstock

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