The Housing Ombudsman has published a severe maladministration finding for the London Borough of Ealing following a series of complaint-handling failures.
The finding was issued after a resident experienced lengthy and frustrating delays in getting a response to her complaint from the borough.
The Ombudsman said it found severe maladministration for the landlord’s complaint handling and maladministration for its response to the resident’s reports about water coming into her flat and the repairs carried out.
The landlord was ordered to pay the resident compensation of £3,600 for the unreasonable delay in completing major works to the building, for the standard of temporary works to resolve the issues, and for its complaint handling.
The resident had been waiting six years for a leaking roof to be replaced.
The landlord had previously identified that the roof needed to be replaced following an inspection in 2015, saying that the work would be carried out in its next planned programme of repairs, but would complete temporary work in the meantime address the leak from the roof that was causing damp.
The resident complained that the temporary work to resolve the issues was of a poor standard and about ongoing dampness and the impact on the property, her health, and her finances.
In response, the landlord focused on the single issue of the delay to the roof replacement works referring to procurement issues and then COVID-19 related issues.
It failed to address the other issues raised by the resident, the Ombudsman said.
The Ombudsman further found that the borough failed to escalate the complaint as requested by the resident and missed her response to its stage-two complaint.
‘Lacked customer focus’
Commenting on the finding, Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “It is clear that the resident experienced a significant detriment over an extended period of her time.
“She encountered significant difficulty in progressing her complaint, even with our assistance, and did not receive a final response at any point.
“The landlord’s consideration of her complaint lacked customer focus.
“The fact that it chose to narrow the focus of the complaint just on the delay in the programme of works was a missed opportunity to address the resident’s points of dissatisfaction and resulted in a deterioration in the landlord and resident relationship.
“While it was appropriate to complete temporary repairs and add the roofing works to its planned major works, the timeframe that the resident has been asked to wait for these works – approximately six years – to take place is not reasonable.
“I welcome the opportunity the landlord has taken to learn lessons from this complaint and its actions to improve and prevent similar issues recurring.
“I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning this case offers.”
London Borough of Ealing response
Responding to the case, the London Borough of Ealing said: “Whilst we are disappointed at the persistent failure of service execution that have led to the Ombudsman’s determination of maladministration, we welcome this as an opportunity to learn lessons, review our working practices, and put in place new measures to ensure there is not a repeat of the issues identified in this case.
“With water ingress first identified in 2015, temporary repairs were made whilst a full replacement of the roof was planned to take place in 2018 as part of the Council’s major works programme.
“Due to procurement issues, the Council was unable to call on contractors to carry out these types of works until 2020.
“In the interim, we were only able to carry out responsive ‘patch’ repairs in response to further reports of water ingress.
“We have learnt a number of lessons from this case, and have put in place, and plan to implement, improvements including:
- A new streamlined and efficient two-stage corporate complaints procedure, mediated by a bespoke IT system, giving better oversight of complaints trends, enhanced quality checks of responses and an improved customer experience
- A planned programme of cyclical major works is now in place, with two contractors appointed in 2021 to carry out the programme based on our Stock Condition Survey
- A fully fledged patch management system in place for surveyors
- Plans to move to more proactive working practices, including the implementation of automated flagging of repeated responsive repairs, renewed emphasis on post-inspections, and more active monitoring of interim repairs pending major works.”
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