Peabody has found it never rains but it pours, after the Housing Ombudsman found it in severe maladministration over a case of severe leaks in a tenant’s home.
The case – one of two that led to three findings of severe maladministration against the organisation – has led to Peabody being fined £8,300 in compensation to the residents concerned.
The verdicts follow two separate investigations, after if left one household with intermittent hot water for nearly two years, and another with leaks in multiple rooms for three years.
These findings come just four months after the organisation’s last severe maladministration finding was published, and seven months after the ombudsman’s special investigation report into Catalyst, which merged with Peabody earlier this year.
Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said: “In both cases, the landlord did not act with the urgency or the empathy required.
“The landlord repeatedly delayed its response to fixing the repairs and the fact that in one of the cases the landlord staff were accusing the resident of deliberately creating the problem should be a huge cause of concern.
“It is essential landlords adopt a positive complaint handling culture. Many of the poor complaint responses were issues we highlighted with Catalyst Housing in our special investigation report before they merged with Peabody.
“At that time we urged the new organisation to make sure it did not make those same mistakes and we reiterate that call through these findings.”
In the first case, Peabody left problems with a central London resident’s water supply ongoing for nearly two years. There was a second finding of severe maladministration for its poor handling of the complaint.
During this time, the resident suffered intermittent issues from total and partial loss of hot water to insufficient water pressure to deliver hot water to the taps.
While the landlord said it was not correct of the resident to say she had no hot water, the water pressure rendered the available supply barely useable. The ombudsman said the situation should have been considered an emergency to resolve.
The events took place during the pandemic, where there was a particular emphasis on the importance of hand-washing. The resident described the stress caused to her and her daughter as they had not been able to adequately wash themselves at the time of this public health messaging.
There was also evidence of confusion over the cause of the fault, supplier issues and contractors not turning up to appointments.
According to the ombudsman, the landlord spent some time suspecting the resident was causing the issues through deliberate tampering in order to get compensation, but this was eventually accepted as unfounded.
Overall communication with the resident was deemed poor. Her emails were often not responded to, leaving her to chase multiple times before being given a range of excuses, usually staff absences, by the landlord.
The resident also asked for all communication to be in writing as English is not her first language, but this adjustment was not always made by the landlord.
There were also instances of the tone of communication from the landlord being inappropriate, where the language could be interpreted as patronising and dismissive, when it should have been understanding and reassuring.
The ombudsman also found severe maladministration for complaint handling. This reflected the landlord’s disregard of previous reports of the heating system not working and its stage two response being issued almost a year after the stage one response.
The ombudsman ordered the landlord’s chief executive to apologise directly to the resident and pay £2,300 in compensation.
In the second case, the ombudsman ordered over £6,000 in compensation after Peabody failed to fix leaks in a South East London home, and did not consider whether it was habitable for its vulnerable residents during this time.
The resident repeatedly made the landlord aware of the distress, discomfort, and impact on her mental health, as well as the impact on her children.
The investigation found no evidence to demonstrate the landlord considered the vulnerability of the occupants, completed a risk assessment, checked whether the electrics were safe, offered interim support, or prioritised the repairs.
The landlord also did not effectively manage the repairs or keep detailed records, and failed to keep the resident updated.
The leak into the kitchen was not resolved for 18 months, with leaks in the living room and bathroom not being fixed for 28 months. Furthermore, related internal repairs were only completed over three years after being reported.
Despite leaks being a complex repair, the ombudsman said it is not evident the landlord ever approached the issue with the “urgency it required”, or with the “pro-activeness it deserved”.
These delays meant the resident and her young family spent several winters in a wet, cold, and uncomfortable environment. She also complained about how unsafe the home was, with her children getting caught in downpours if it rained while they were in the bath.
There were evident delays throughout, such as scaffolding taking two months to be erected, an inspection taking a further month to take place, and the landlord closing the repair request despite the issue being ongoing.
On top of compensation, the ombudsman ordered an apology from a senior member of staff, and for the landlord to complete an action plan to see how it can improve its services to residents.
In both cases, the Ombudsman required the landlord to examine how it could improve its complaint handling, including ordering it to self-assess against the Complaint Handling Code.
In its learning from these cases, the landlord said it has created a specialised complaints team and improved record keeping with a centralised system.
Blakeway added: “These cases also shine a real spotlight on the importance of record keeping and how that can drive positive performance and culture.
“Our report on knowledge and information management covers this extensively and it is vital for landlords to make this part of foundation for improving complaint handling.”
In its statement to the ombudsman, Peabody said it was sorry it had let its residents down.
“We’ve made considerable improvements to our complaint handling since these issues came to light more than three years ago, but we are very sorry that we let these residents down at the time,” it said.
“The repairs took far too long in both cases. Our overall handling of the complaints also fell below the standard residents should expect. We have apologised and paid compensation to both residents.
“Since these complaints were made, we have formed a specialist, centralised complaints handling team who make sure that any issues are handled promptly. We have also improved our record keeping with a new centralised system and are reviewing how we can strengthen our approach to meet the needs of residents especially where there are vulnerabilities.
“It’s clear we needed to do better in these cases, and we’re committed to listening to our residents and using every opportunity to continue to learn from our mistakes and improve.”
Image credit: Benjamin Nelan/Pixabay
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