The housing ombudsman has issued a shaming indictment of a sector proud of its social values – a 323% rise in findings of severe maladministration.
“Most worryingly”, as the ombudsman service puts it, that’s the headline figure in the organisation’s Annual Complaints Review, which tracks key trends in its dealings with social landlords, but it’s not the only sorry statistic.
Along with this soaring rise in severe maladministration findings, the review also reveals a 40% increase in maladministration findings, and a 20% drop in findings of no maladministration.
The sharp rise comes as individual performance reports were published for 163 landlords where the ombudsman made most findings.
Together, they paint a “challenging picture” of social housing complaints, which has seen a huge spike due to poor property conditions, legislative changes, media attention, and the inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak.
The Annual Complaints Review provides a unique and comprehensive assessment of complaints in social housing, and reveals that the ombudsman received over 5,000 complaints for the first time last year – a 28% increase on the previous year.
The review also reveals an increase in maladministration findings where service requests were not handled reasonably, and a decrease in findings of no fault. Combined, the ombudsman says this means more than half of findings were upheld for the first time.
Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, called the findings of the review a “a unique and sobering overview” of social housing complaints.
“While the statistics reflect a picture of poor practice, they also reflect the increased pressures we know that social landlords are facing with a combined housing and cost of living crisis,” he added.
“However, despite some notable efforts, what our data shows is a fundamental gap between some of the services landlords deliver and the reasonable expectations of their residents.
“Too often residents with disabilities or mental health needs are falling between those gaps. Too often the basics not being done properly, with straightforward communication or record keeping being missed, leading to problems becoming more severe.
“This is leading to residents being treated unfairly and experiencing financial detriment or losing the enjoyment of their home.”
The ombudsman has again written to chief executives of landlords that have a maladministration rate of over 50% to bring urgent attention to the figures. There are 91 landlords with a maladministration rate above 50%, according to the review, with 25 landlords being above 75%.
However, it’s not all negative: This year the ombudsman is also writing to five landlords that had no findings upheld, recognising their positive complaint handling approach.
The review also looks at Complaint Handling Failure Orders (CHFOs) and key issues for the first time.
The ombudsman issued 146 CHFOs last year, mostly for failing to progress complaints in line with its Complaint Handling Code, with 73% of those being for landlords with over 10,000 homes.
In terms of what residents were complaining about, property condition was once again the leading category, with the ombudsman making almost 2,000 findings where the failure rate has increased dramatically from 39% to 54% this year.
The ombudsman also found a 52% maladministration rate for health and safety complaints.
Another key element of the Annual Complaints Review is the regional data. This has shown the South West as having the lowest overall maladministration rate, as well as having a significantly lower maladministration rate on health and safety complaints.
The North East and Yorkshire has the lowest severe maladministration rate.
London continues to be where the ombudsman makes most of its determinations, even accounting for the quantity of social homes in the region. It had the highest maladministration rate and accounted for 77 of the 130 severe maladministration findings last year.
Blakeway added: “As part of the Social Housing Regulation Act our powers have increased as we will soon be issuing wider orders to help landlords improve their policy and practice in key areas where we see potential for repeated failings.
“Next year, we will also be looking at developing good practice under our Centre for Learning and strongly encourage governing bodies to consider the review, and what further action they can take to improve the outcomes for their residents.”
Responding to the Housing Ombudsman’s Annual Complaints Review, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, councillor Darren Rodwell said: “Councils are working hard to deliver good outcomes for tenants – despite significant financial constraints – and are committed to improving housing conditions for all residents.
“Ultimately, councils do not want to let their tenants down and want to work with them, the ombudsman and the Regulator of Social Housing to deliver the best possible service.”
Image credit: sbuyjaidee/Shutterstock
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