The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration at Stratford and Rural Homes (now Housing Plus Group) for how it dealt with a resident's complaint about delayed repairs and a bedbug infestation.
There were “completely unacceptable” delays in the landlord's response to the complaint at all stages without apology or empathy for the resident, the Ombudsman said.
The resident complained to the Ombudsman about several repairs required at her property, which she said the landlord had not remedied, despite her contacting it over the years on numerous occasions, including by telephone, email and three previous complaints.
She had been contending with a number of issues, including a leaking roof, mould and infestation with bedbugs.
When the resident asked for her complaint to be escalated, the landlord said she would need to specify the reasons and suggested she use a library or fast-food restaurant to email as she had no data on her phone.
The Ombudsman found this was an unreasonable and insensitive suggestion during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The landlord, which owns more than 19,000 homes in Shropshire, later inappropriately refused to escalate the complaint to stage three of its complaints process. It relied on a change in policy which took place many months after it was due to provide a response to the complaint to justify the refusal, according to the Ombudsman.
The investigation also found maladministration for the landlord's response to the resident's report of repairs and infestation.
It took too long to carry out repairs, the landlord did not respond to the issues in accordance with its own timescales for repairs, it failed to keep the resident updated, and there was no evidence that the landlord carried out repairs it had agreed to complete at stage zero of its complaint process, the investigation found.
The Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, said the case showed the impact of an inaccessible and unresponsive complaints procedure.
He said: “The complaints process should be accessible but the landlord did not facilitate this, by declining to take the escalation reasons over the telephone in circumstances where the resident was unable to access the internet. The length of time the landlord took at all stages was completely unacceptable and without apology, explanation or empathy into the impact this had on the resident. It stated that it had been unable to make contact with the resident but did not explain when or how it tried to make contact nor evidence it."
In light of the findings, the Ombudsman recommended the landlord pay £1,000 in compensation and to contact the resident to arrange for a date for the infestation fumigation works it agreed to do and carry out the repairs it is responsible for.
A Housing Plus Group spokesperson said: "This was a wholly unacceptable situation that was compounded by a poor response from the landlord and failure to communicate with the customer properly. We have apologised unreservedly to the resident and have dealt with all of the issues that gave rise to the complaint. Stafford and Rural Homes became part of the Housing Plus Group in October 2019 and since that point working practices and policies have been reviewed taking account of the lessons we have learned from this experience.
"Processes for dealing with damp and mould have been improved, with surveyors conducting inspections and given the authority to immediately action any necessary repairs. Pest control working practices have also been updated.
"We have also introduced a new procedure to ensure that customer complaints are dealt with efficiently and there is appropriate oversight of all complaints by an Executive Director."