The Housing Ombudsman has urged social landlords to better consider residents’ individual circumstances when handling complaints about the cladding crisis.
In a new report looking into how landlords handle cladding complaints, the Ombudsman has identified three areas in which landlords can improve in this regard: outlining their long-term compliance plans, communicating effectively with residents, and addressing residents’ individual circumstances.
The report focuses on social landlords’ response to leaseholders and share owners seeking to re-mortgage, staircase or sell their homes, which the Ombudsman said was the focus of most complaints it received.
The Ombudsman has expressed concern that while landlords have “prioritised their remedial programmes based on the fire risk to residents”, residents’ individual circumstances are “at risk of being lost” as landlords scramble to tackle the crisis.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “At the heart of the cladding crisis there exists extreme unfairness and residents, through no fault of their own, will feel this sense of injustice most. In our decisions we have been clear about what it is reasonable to hold social landlords responsible for, but however difficult the situation is for landlords it is infinitely worse for any resident living in a home affected by this crisis.
“Our casework reveals the extraordinary lengths residents are taking to overcome the barriers preventing them re-mortgaging, staircasing or selling – and central to our report is concern about residents’ individual circumstances being lost because of the enormity of the challenge facing social landlords.”
The report explores the 64 complaints handled by the Ombudsman between October 2019 and March 2021 relating to cladding issues.
17 of these 64 complaints entered the Ombudsman’s formal remit for investigation, while it found maladministration in 88% (15) of those cases.
While the report concluded that prioritising remedial programmes based on fire risk to residents is “an entirely rational approach” for landlords to take to cladding issues, it found that “landlords have at times been too slow to recognise and act on the human impact” of the crisis.
It advised that landlords should therefore make sure their policies are “sufficiently flexible” to adapt to residents’ individual circumstances, including their position on reverse staircasing, sub-letting and buy-back.
Landlords should also review their long-term compliance plans, considering their potential implications for residents, and outline them to residents through a clear roadmap, it said. These plans should include “clear and realistic timescales for action” and be kept under regular review.
The report added that landlords should be proactive in providing residents with “appropriate and timely updates” at least once every three months, and respond to the specific issues that residents raise rather than providing generic responses.
Blakeway added: “The building safety crisis is broad and I am acutely aware that the limitations of our jurisdiction mean in this situation our remedies may not always provide complete resolution. Yet our decisions can make a difference and ensure a resident’s voice is heard. The purpose of this report is to extend our recommendations further, to the benefit of far more residents.
“Every social landlord whose residents are affected should consider the actions in the report. I would urge senior leaders to discuss them at their governing body and share their response with their residents.”
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