'Severe maladministration' by Newham Council in housing complaint handling

East Ham Town Hall

An investigation by the Housing Ombudsman Service found severe maladministration by Newham Council. - Credit: Steve Poston

The Housing Ombudsman Service found “severe maladministration” by Newham Council after an investigation into its handling of a tenant’s complaint about repairs.

A report released on Wednesday, March 3 found the council took an excessively long time to deal with the complaint, didn’t communicate with the tenant, then failed to apologise or offer appropriate compensation after he carried out the repairs himself.

The Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, also found the council had no specific policy on repairs and, as such, he was unable to determine who was responsible for doing the work and couldn’t order the council to recompense the tenant.

In a statement, the council said it accepts its service “fell far short” of the standards residents expect and several changes have been made to its processes for handling complaints.

In 2018, following a leak from a flat above, the resident was temporarily moved out of his flat. He contacted the council several times to get the repairs carried out but was unable to get through.

The tenant then called the landlord’s call centre and said he was told he could carry out the work himself, which he did and requested reimbursement.

After receiving no response, he made a complaint, which he then pursued for more than 18 months.

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During that time, the Ombudsman also contacted the council on at least seven occasions asking it to respond.

The council said it would not have advised the resident to carry out the work himself, but phone recordings were only retained for six months so could not be reviewed.

Mr Blakeway said: “The landlord took an excessively long time to respond to the formal complaint, failed to keep the resident informed, provide explanations for the delays or contact the resident despite numerous requests from this service.

“It also failed to check its records for the content of the phone call during the stage one complaint despite having ample opportunity, which was unacceptable."

The Ombudsman ordered the council to pay the resident £800 compensation for its failures and to provide training to staff in complaint handling.

He also recommended the council produce a repairs policy to address the responsibilities of the parties and timescales as well as a compensation policy to address how and when it will consider making financial redress to a complainant.

The Ombudsman said the council had engaged positively with the service about what it had learned, including developing those policies.

“It has recognised where things have gone wrong, apologised and made a number of changes to policies and procedures to improve complaint handling for the benefit of its residents,” Mr Blakeway said.

In a statement to the Ombudsman, the council said it had taken “taken a number of lessons” from its handling of this case.

“We sincerely apologise for the poor handling of this complaint and the long delays experienced by both the resident and the Ombudsman,” the statement said.

“We fully accept and acknowledge, that on this occasion, our service fell far short of the high standards we set for ourselves and which our residents have the right to expect.”

The council said it has assigned dedicated senior officers to monitor all housing complaints to ensure they are responded to comprehensively and within its published target times.

It has also “embedded senior management oversight into the process for all housing complaints”, including escalated complaints and correspondence from the Ombudsman, as well as implementing complaint handling training for all housing staff.

The council statement added: “We have a new senior leadership team in place within housing and we will continue to develop our policies and processes to ensure residents understand the council’s obligations as their landlord.

“As a result of the Ombudsman’s recommendations in this case, our compensation policy has been created and we are committed to publishing our repairs policy once a thorough policy review is completed in April 2021.”

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