Lambeth Council is to undergo an inspection into its complaint-handling following a “concerning” reoccurrence of complaint-handling cases.
The Housing Ombudsman has raised concerns with the council after residents from a previously resolved case saw problems return, with the landlord once again failing to deal with the issues satisfactorily and the Ombudsman finding maladministration.
This has led to the Ombudsman using paragraph 11 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme to scrutinise evidence of complaint-handling through an inspection of the landlord, including through an in-person inspection of evidence.
It is the first time these powers have been used.
The Ombudsman will evaluate evidence of the landlord’s complaint-handling, including compliance with recent orders and recommendations and previous decisions relating to service improvements.
It has engaged with both residents and the landlord on these cases and will establish how the landlord allowed the issues to resurface.
The poor complaint-handling in these subsequent cases included not following its policies, failing to fully investigate the issues, and failing to offer appropriate remedies.
The Ombudsman said it would have expected to see more improvement in complaint-handling following its special report in February 2022, “especially as the landlord should have been aware of the issues in complaints previously investigated.”
The Ombudsman is also due to hold an open meeting with residents of Lambeth Council, hosted by the landlord, in September to hear about the issues facing them and the landlord.
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Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Following recent determinations, I am proposing my team engage with the landlord to establish why the service failures reoccurred in these and any other relevant cases, using paragraph 11 of our scheme.
“This paragraph allows us assemble evidence, including by inspection, to ensure the landlord is taking robust steps following our recent decisions in order to make significant improvements to its complaints-handling.
“Following this engagement, the Ombudsman may also make further recommendations for service improvement.”
Last month, the Ombudsman ordered Lambeth Council to pay £6,500 in compensation to a resident and her family after it left them for six years in damp and mould caused by a leaking roof.
Earlier in the year, the Ombudsman told the council to “radically improve” following five new severe maladministration findings.
Lambeth Council response
In response to the Ombudsman’s announcement, Lambeth Council said: “Lambeth has more than 33,000 council homes and our priority is ensuring that all of these are safe and well-maintained for our residents. When problems arise, we work hard to deal with them quickly and fairly.
“We are extremely disappointed that, on this occasion, we fell below our standards, and apologise for failings experienced by this resident and acknowledge that our response to the resident’s complaint was not as helpful, considerate or timely as it should have been.
“Lambeth has worked intensively with the Housing Ombudsman and with residents to improve the way we respond to complaints and tackle any issues raised, to ensure we provide the best possible service to all our tenants.
“The council recognises the importance of addressing complaints received efficiently and effectively with a view to providing viable resolutions for our residents when things go wrong.
“Lambeth has recently implemented a number of improvements aimed at all staff responsible for handling complaints, which include:
- The introduction of dedicated complaints officers with experience of different subject matters across Housing Services;
- Increased engagement with our stakeholders both internally and externally – that is, operational service areas and contractors – enabling the complaint handlers to obtain the most up to date information to address issues raised;
- Additional complaint handling training to improve the quality and timeliness of responses;
- Increased monitoring of agreed remedies and service commitment of works, together with retrospective case reviews capturing the learning, driving through any identified necessary improvements
“These wide-ranging changes, alongside our collaborative work with the Ombudsman, are already delivering benefits, with more to come.
“We accept the Ombudsman’s findings in this case and we welcome this inspection as an opportunity to work with them, to demonstrate the work we’re doing, and to continue improving the service we provide to all our tenants.”
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