housing secretary rogue councils

01 Jan 23

Housing secretary Michael Gove has named  Lambeth Council, Birmingham City Council and Orbit  for failing residents and “letting tenants suffer in disgraceful conditions”.

Lambeth Council, Birmingham City Council and Orbit, were all highlighted after the Housing Ombudsman found severe maladministration in their handling of complaints.

Inside Housing revealed in March that the government intended to start naming and shaming poorly performing social landlords as part of its sweeping reforms of the sector. 

The latest announcement brings the total number of social landlords to be publicly criticised by Mr Gove to 14. 

To date, Birmingham City Council, Lambeth Council, Orbit, Clarion, Metropolitan Thames Valley, Johnnie Johnson Housing, Hackney Council, Housing Plus Group, Habinteg Housing, Shepherds Bush Housing Group, Southern Housing, Onward Homes, Catalyst and PA Housing have all been named and shamed. 

So far in 2022-23, the ombudsman has ordered landlords to pay more than £574,000 in compensation to social tenants. 

Lambeth Council was criticised after it left a tenant with boarded-up windows for three years, while Birmingham City Council failed to respond to a resident’s complaints of boiler faults and rotten floorboards in their living room. [This in addition to some of the most appalling housing conditions reported previously in these posts. Ed.]

Mr Gove highlighted Orbit after it left an asthmatic tenant living with serious damp and mould and a slug infestation. 

Mr Gove said the three landlords failed their tenants, “letting people suffer in disgraceful conditions while refusing to listen to complaints or treat them with respect”.

The housing secretary also urged lawyers to direct tenants to the ombudsman first. 

In a letter to the Law Society, Citizens Advice and the Housing Law Practitioners Association, Mr Gove said that the Housing Ombudsman should be the first route for people to report complaints about their landlord and that it is unacceptable for landlords to let legal proceedings get in the way of repairs.

[This of course ignores the fact that it is usually the tenants’ no win no fee lawyers that stop the repairs taking place. Ed.]

It follows the coroner’s ruling on Awaab Ishak’s death that the two-year-old died from long-term exposure to mould and that Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) failed to take action while there was an ongoing disrepair claim. 

Mr Gove said: “While lawyers will always have a crucial role representing tenants in legal proceedings, the ombudsman services are free to use and residents are now able to bring complaints directly themselves, potentially avoiding lengthy and costly legal proceedings.

“I’m urging everyone offering advice, from solicitors to voluntary organisations, to always direct social housing tenants with complaints to the Housing Ombudsman.

“Every tenant deserves a decent home, and landlords must not use legal cases as an excuse to delay making repairs or act on complaints.”

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “As one of the largest social landlords in the country with 60,000 properties, Birmingham City Council takes its duty to provide all its tenants with suitable accommodation very seriously. 

“When individual cases do reach the Housing Ombudsman, the council takes the appropriate action to ensure any recommendations are adhered to. 

“The cases referred to in DLUHC’s press release are historical cases and relate to 2021-22 and have now been resolved. 

“Also, since then we have undertaken a review of how complaints and ombudsman cases are dealt with and have liaised directly with the Housing Ombudsman as part of our journey of improvement and are applying any lessons learned from these previous cases.”

A spokesperson for Orbit said: “Our customers deserve quality, affordable and safe homes and we welcome the intervention made by the secretary of state to encourage the legal profession to direct customers to use the complaints systems already in place through their landlords and the Housing Ombudsman.

“We recognise that in this previously reported severe maladministration case we did not meet the expectations of our customer regarding the maintenance of her home, communications and complaint-handling, and have accepted the findings of the Housing Ombudsman, apologised to our customer, and we are working with her to finalise a resolution.”

Timothy Windle, cabinet member for housing and neighbourhoods at Lambeth Council, said: “We look forward to receiving communication from the secretary of state. 

“We would be happy to talk him through the positive action Lambeth Council has taken in the 10 months since this report was issued.

“We have apologised to residents let down by poor repairs and handling of complaints and are taking action to improve services for all residents who live in Lambeth properties. 

“That includes replacing private contractors who weren’t delivering for tenants, carrying out a stock condition survey of all properties to ensure repairs can take place proactively and launching a new disrepair arbitration scheme that will better support residents to get compensation when they have been let down.

“Lambeth has one of the largest housing stocks in the country and therefore has particularly suffered the impact of 12 years of cuts in funding by the Conservative governments that Michael Gove has been a key part of. 

“We welcome his new-found recognition that social housing conditions in this country are letting many people down – but will wait to see if this stance is backed up with the powers and funding needed to improve conditions, not just warm words.”

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