The social landlords in England with the worst records of maladministration have been named by the housing ombudsman, who said failures were “deeply concerning” and that poor performance was “still at unacceptably high levels”.
Richard Blakeway, the ombudsman for England’s 4.4m social homes, concluded there was maladministration in 90% of the complaints cases brought to it by tenants of Golding Homes, which provides housing for more than 21,000 people across Kent, including in the case of a resident who complained for seven years about problems including damp and cold.
He said 86% of complaints considered about Lambeth and Southwark Housing Association in London were judged to amount to maladministration, and 89% of complaints about East Devon district council. The figures relate to the period from April 2021 to March 2022.
The physical condition of homes was the biggest reason for referrals to the watchdog over that period, and in more than half of cases it concluded there had been service failures by the landlord. The named landlords have been approached for comment.
Blakeway said: “We recognise that social landlords and residents are facing unprecedented challenges, with a cost of living crisis and ageing homes, but a positive complaints handling culture remains vital. Our review highlights the challenges with embedding this and also shows poor performance in some service areas still at unacceptably high levels.
“Too often landlords can focus on managing the reputational risk to their organisation when things go wrong, rather than learning and improvement.”
Steph Goad, the chief executive of Golding, said: “In 2021-22, we had two findings of maladministration from the housing ombudsman. We understand two cases is still too many and we fully accepted the ombudsman’s findings and have been working to put things right and learn from them.”
The handling of complaints was a major cause of problems, with shortcomings found in more than eight of 10 cases where a tenant had raised concerns about how their complaint to the landlord was handled. There was also a significant decline in the number of residents who think making a complaint would make a difference, compared with the previous year.
There has been growing concern about safety and standards in social housing after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak as a result of chronic damp in a rented flat in Rochdale.
After a coroner’s verdict last month that prolonged exposure to mould was to blame for the boy’s fatal respiratory illness, the chief executive of the registered social landlord was fired and Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, directed all English councils to “make an urgent assessment of housing conditions … with particular focus on issues of damp and mould, and enforcement action being taken.”
Gove said: “I am putting housing providers on notice, I will take whatever action is required to improve standards across the country and ensure tenants’ voices are heard.”
The housing sector and campaigners have argued they need greater funding to build new homes and have warned that a recent decision by the government to cap rent rises at 7% in response to the cost of living crisis will hamper their progress.
Meanwhile, an independent review of social housing in England has called on social landlords to urgently revert to delivering “decent, safe homes”.
The Better Social Housing Review, commissioned by the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing, found that the practice in some parts of the sector of “sweating assets” for cash had reached its limit, and the power imbalance between landlords and tenants had entrenched racial discrimination.
The review’s chair, Helen Baker, said the “shockingly poor quality of some social housing” required urgent remediation.
“The power imbalance between tenants and housing providers remains one of the biggest problems facing the sector, perpetuating rather than dismantling the societal stigma and discrimination experienced by people living in social housing,” she said. “This is particularly true for those from black and minority ethnic communities.”
Relative to total population size, 44% of Black African households and 40% of Black Caribbean households are social renters, compared with 16% of white British households, the review states.