An ombudsman has called for “radical” improvements to a local authority’s housing policies after three cases in which it failed two disabled tenants and a child with a damp and mould allergy.
The Housing Ombudsman spoke out this week just a year after it published a special report into the same council, which called for action on a “myriad of issues” following concerns about complaint handling and a series of formal investigations.
The ombudsman has made five severe maladministration findings against Labour-run Lambeth council, across the three latest cases.
In one case, the parent of a child with a damp and mould allergy reported that mould had formed after a bathroom leak, but the council repeatedly failed to carry out the repairs.
The mould caused her child’s skin to crack and bleed due to an eczema flare up.
In the second case, contractors carrying out delayed ground-floor adaptations left the disabled resident without a functioning bath or shower for three weeks, while he needed buckets of water to flush away waste, and he and his son were left with no taps in the bathroom.
The third case saw a resident with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia left without heating and hot water for a “significant period” during the winter – exacerbating their pain – although it is not clear how long this lasted because of record-keeping failures.
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, said: “It is horrific that time and again we hear that disabled people are living in uninhabitable housing.
“Where this is public sector or arms-length management housing, it beggars belief that local authorities are not keeping housing stock in fit repair and its conditions are actively exacerbating people’s impairments and poor health.
“Nobody should be living in damp or cold premises or premises with black mould.
“Councils need to place a higher priority on ensuring that tenants are safe in their housing.
“And national government needs to ensure that councils have the funding to do this.”
Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said: “The distress and inconvenience experienced by its residents was considerable, and some actions were disrespectful of residents and lacked empathy for the impact on them.
“It is critical for the landlord to make changes to prevent similar failings affecting other residents.”
He said there had since been “constructive and positive engagement” from the council’s senior leadership, but he added: “I recognise it will take time to embed change and expect it to continue to use the learning from our special report and these cases to radically improve services for residents.
“I also welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from these cases and the changes being made to improve its service.
“I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning the cases offer for their own services.”
Lambeth council said it had been “working intensively with the Housing Ombudsman over several months to resolve the issues he has raised with us.
“We are committed to tackling any issues raised, to ensure we provide the best possible service to all our tenants.
“In the three cases identified by the Housing Ombudsman today, we fully accept that the service we provided fell below our usual standards.
“We have apologised to the tenants for this and, in line with the judgement, we have paid compensation in recognition of the inconvenience and frustration these tenants have experienced.
“We have also resolved the original problems reported at each property.”
The council said it had “invested hundreds of millions of pounds in improving our council homes and estates in recent years” and would “ensure that we learn the lessons from these cases to improve the service provided to all tenants in the future”.
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