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Housing Ombudsman to launch wider investigation into largest social landlord in UK following finding of severe maladministration

The Housing Ombudsman plans to conduct a "wider investigation" into the UK’s largest housing association, Clarion, after an initial investigation concerning a vulnerable resident uncovered severe failings.

The Ombudsman said it is carrying out a further investigation because of other cases about similar issues "which may be indicative of repeated failure".

The investigation also made a conclusive finding of severe maladministration at the housing association due to a lack of explanation for its delay of more than a year in responding to the resident's complaint.

Extensive delays in resolving water issues and leaks and repairs at the home meant that there were instances where the resident lacked hot or cold water for days and months at a time, the Ombudsman said.

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Overall the resident had to wait for more than 15 months for a number of necessary repairs that were known to the landlord following reports of leaks in the resident's home and outside her door, damp and mould and rodent issues.

The Ombudsman found service failure for the response to the resident's rodent infestation. The landlord delayed in carrying out works and missed opportunities in assessing the issue, which contributed to the ongoing lack of resolution, according to the report.

The landlord apologised and offered compensation for the delay and the impact on the resident, but there were "unacknowledged failings" in its response, the Ombudsman added.

In regard to the issues raised around damp and mould, and pest infestation, the Ombudsman is set to conduct a further investigation using its systemic powers under paragraph 50 of its Scheme to identify areas for the landlord to learn and improve.

Considering the other issues, the Ombudsman made a finding of severe maladministration, as it said the landlord's responses to the resident's complaint did not go far enough to acknowledge specific issues and reasons for the delays she experienced across the full 15 months of her complaint, and the cumulative impact.

During the course of the complaint, there were issues with complaint handling, communication and consideration of the resident's vulnerabilities, the report said.

The resident reported her vulnerabilities, but the Ombudsman found no evidence the landlord took steps to review and make further enquiries about these to consider any additional needs or appropriate variations in service delivery.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said the investigation recognised the complexity and challenges of the case. "However, it also highlights that had the landlord not made reasonable offers of redress for the delays resolving water issues and leaks and repairs, its actions would have amounted to multiple findings of severe maladministration," he added.

"We are dealing with other cases about similar issues which may be indicative of repeated failure which is why we will be carrying out a further investigation.

Mr Blakeway added: "It's concerning in this case that there is no evidence that the resident's vulnerabilities were given consideration. In the information provided to us from the landlord during our investigation, it stated that the resident had no vulnerabilities. The landlord's communication with the resident was poor and this lack of communication appears relevant as to why matters became so protracted."

The Ombudsman recommended Clarion pay additional compensation of £600 in recognition of the distress and inconvenience caused by its complaints handling.

It also recommended the landlord review the failures identified in this case to consider how it will ensure that complex complaints are progressed appropriately through the complaints procedure.

Responding to the wider investigation the Ombudsman is planning to carry out, a Clarion spokesperson said: "Clarion's processes have changed substantially since the case published today by the Ombudsman was resolved. We have provided extensive information to the Ombudsman regarding the progress we have made on pest control, specific vulnerabilities and tackling damp and mould in the homes of our residents.

"We are disappointed by the public comments about a 'wider investigation' today and will be writing privately to the Ombudsman on these issues. Most importantly, Clarion is determined to continue to drive improvements in the service we provide all our residents."

On the finding of severe maladministration, the spokesperson added: "This was a complex and challenging case, which has concluded with the resident moving to a new Clarion home. We are disappointed by the judgement made by the Ombudsman, as we don't believe it reflects all of the support that our colleagues provided. This is particularly the case regarding the resident's vulnerabilities; we have provided evidence that when alerted to these, they were taken into account.

"We fully accept that we were too slow to act in the early stages of this case, have apologised for this and conducted a full internal review into what went wrong. However, a number of issues were exacerbated by the resident refusing to grant Clarion staff access to the property over a period of time. Housing associations do not have the same power as private and local authority landlords to access homes and we'd like to see this changed, so the problem does not recur in the future."

The spokesperson said: "As an organisation, Clarion is determined to learn from every case. We will continue to work closely with the Ombudsman and are reviewing our approach to pest control and how to account for specific vulnerabilities among our residents."

Adam Carey

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