The London Borough of Hackney has been hit with a severe maladministration judgement by the Housing Ombudsman after it found “substantial delays” in the council’s response to a tenant who had repeatedly complained about damp and mould.
In a note sent out today, the ombudsman confirmed it had ordered the landlord to pay £1,500 in compensation after finding that the tenant had been waiting more than two years for her issues to be addressed.
It was also found that the landlord had failed to respond within its timescale for repairs, did not explain the reasons for the delays and failed to decant the resident despite being advised that it was the best course of action.
The ombudsman said that significant amounts of mould affecting the front room, kitchen, hallway and bathroom resulted in health and safety implications for the tenant.
After the tenant raised a stage-two complaint to the council, Hackney upheld the compliant and offered £60 in compensation. However, she was not satisfied with this and escalated the complaint to the ombudsman.
In addition to the severe maladministration judgement, the ombudsman made a maladministration finding against the landlord for failing to properly investigate the resident’s complaint and the extensive delays.
It found that the offer of £60 in compensation was disproportionately low and not representative of the serious failures in resolving the issues and its complaint handling.
The ombudsman acknowledged that the council had been the victim of a cyberattack at the time and lost records, but said that, despite this, it did not make reasonable efforts to look at other sources, such as emails, or to interview staff.
The ombudsman did recognise in its judgement that the landlord had learned from this case and welcomed its actions, including the creation of a new repairs charter.
It resulted in the landlord being told to pay the resident £1,500 in compensation and arrange a decant as a matter of urgency. The landlord must also carry out a thorough investigation of the issues at the property to provide the resident with information in writing about its repair plans.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said: “We accept there were failures made while dealing with this case and that the service we provided fell well below that we expect to provide our residents. We are sorry for the distress this has caused the resident.
“We had been working, unsuccessfully, with the resident to gain access to their home to undertake the necessary works – including offering a temporary home whilst we carried out the repairs.
“Unfortunately, this prolonged the time taken to carry out the work. The resident has since been moved into a new, permanent home.
“In 2020, the council was the victim of a criminal cyberattack which resulted, at the time, in the loss of all our ICT systems and processes. This impacted on our ability to retrieve our housing management and repairs data as well as historic records, and sadly impeded our ability to investigate the resident’s complaint.
“The issues outlined in the report were further complicated by the impact of the COVID pandemic, during which we were only able to provide an urgent and emergency repair service.
“A new repairs charter is being developed to provide residents with a clear picture of the standard we are setting ourselves and what they should expect from the service in the future.
“We are disappointed with the finding, but we recognise our failings and we are continually taking steps to enhance the service we provide to residents, including improving how we communicate the outcomes of any inspections our surveyors undertake.
“We will use the findings of this investigation to improve our processes to prevent issues like this occurring in the future.”