The Housing Ombudsman found severe maladministration for Longhurst Group after it left a resident with maggots falling from the kitchen ceiling due to dead rats, mould growing on the walls and various other repairs failures. These combined issues had a seriously detrimental effect on the disabled resident, leading the Ombudsman to raise concerns about the sector’s handling of some vulnerable residents.
After the resident reported the pest infestation, it took nine days for the landlord to clear the rats despite it being a category one hazard. The resident reported maggots dropping from the kitchen ceiling due to the dead rats above. A deep clean of the kitchen was ordered for the next day but no one attended.
It was noted that the loft insulation would need replacing and other roof repairs needed following the infestation, but these took months to be done and even resulted in a partial return of the rats.
When the loft insulation works finally started a contractor fell ill and works were only partially completed. The resident then made a formal complaint adding in repairs work that were needed for the wet room, kitchen and the roof.
After some repairs, the resident reported issues still occurring including increasing damp and mould in the kitchen and bedroom, sewage in the garden and the kitchen ceiling close to collapse. Shortly after, the rats were back in the residents’ home, six months after the first reporting of the issue.
The landlord took action to fix these issues, including treating the mould and proofing work being done to the roof. There was also a commitment from the landlord to organise a repair to the wet room.
However, the resident reported that the damp proofing had failed, he had been told the heating pipes were too small, the boiler outdated, the wet room smelt “horrible” as the drain blocked each time he used it, the wet room floor was “lifting” and there was mould on the walls, a beam had collapsed in the roof and the kitchen needed a new ceiling as well as kitchen units.
Two years after his first complaint, the resident said repairs to the roof and the wet room renewal was still outstanding. He expressed concerns about the renewal given his disability and living without a proper toilet for a period while this work took place.
Furthermore, the delay in resolving the damp in the bedrooms meant that a vulnerable resident has lived with a category one hazard for an extended period. Nor were the landlord’s handling of reports of damp and mould appropriate.
The Ombudsman also found severe maladministration for the landlord’s complaint handling. The landlord failed to issue a stage one complaint response, due to waiting for the repairs to be done.
As a result of this approach, the landlord took almost eight months to issue a response. This excessive delay meant that the landlord failed to resolve matters at the earliest opportunity and missed an opportunity to improve the landlord/resident relationship.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise and pay the resident £2,300 in compensation, review its compensation policy and undertake the necessary works and action in relation to the wet room.
In its learning from the case, the landlord said it has restructured customer facing teams, appointed new repairs contractors and improved its training offer for staff.
“It is deeply concerning that a vulnerable resident lived with a category one hazard for some eighteen months without the matter being resolved.
“There were lengthy delays by the landlord in carrying out many repairs at the property. While the landlord investigated and undertook to take action in relation to the roof, damp and mould and wet room, these matters are still outstanding. All this had a seriously detrimental effect on a vulnerable resident.
“The landlord also failed to follow its complaint procedure by omitting to send a stage one response; there were excessive delays in issuing the stage two response. Furthermore, the landlord failed to acknowledge this delay or consider the impact of it on the resident.
“Findings of severe maladministration often, although not always, involve residents with evident vulnerabilities. The cumulative lesson for the sector of these cases across several landlords is that it needs to get better at recognising and responding appropriately to residents with vulnerabilities.
“I welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning the case offers for their own services.”Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman
In all severe maladministration cases, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a short statement on the lessons learned following the decision.
Longhurst Group learning statement:
“Firstly, we’d like to publicly apologise to our customer for the experience they received. We’ve apologised in person and taken steps to make amends, including paying compensation and ensuring they’re happy that repairs have been completed to a high standard.
“We acknowledge we made mistakes and took far too long to resolve the issues reported to us. We didn’t communicate well with our customer or deal with their complaint properly and we failed to hold our contractors to account strongly enough.
“With more care and attention, the frustration and distress our customer experienced could’ve been avoided, and we take full responsibility for these failings.
“Individually, our colleagues were committed to achieving a resolution for our customer, but collectively, due to poor communication between teams and with our contractors, we didn’t respond as we should’ve.
“We’ve since invested additional resource to meet the increase in demand, restructured customer facing teams and enhanced the training our colleagues receive. We’ve also appointed new repairs contractors and changed processes to better manage their performance.
“We need to get better, and we will, but we also acknowledge that all the improvements we need to make won’t happen overnight. We’re continuing to deal with a backlog of repairs that built up during the pandemic and as we transitioned to new contractors, and still have a high number of complaints to resolve.
“We completely accept the severe maladministration finding, and we’re determined to learn from the mistakes we’ve made. Our customers rely on us to support them when they need us the most, and we need to make sure we get things right.”