06 Nov 23
A tenant killed himself after his landlord dismissed his pleas for help with a noisy neighbour as “whining” and told him he could not expect silence if he lived in London.
Clarion, the UK’s largest housing association, had been warned by the vulnerable resident’s doctor that the effect of noise from the upstairs flat on the tenant’s mental health was such that he had already attempted suicide twice.
But it failed to fix the problem or find him another home despite receiving more than 20 complaints. After a nine-month ordeal, the tenant, who has not been named, took his own life in September 2021.
Publishing his investigation into the “deeply distressing” and “tragic” case, the housing ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, found Clarion responsible for “severe maladministration”. He ordered the landlord to review its vulnerable residents policy and apologise to the family, which it has done.
The tenant had also directly told Clarion he had tried to kill himself as a result of stress from the noise and that “he felt so overwhelmed that he did not see any way out”.
The case has echoes of the death of Awaab Ishak, the two-year-old boy who died from a respiratory condition in 2020 follwing exposure to mould in social housing, after his parents had complained about it. That sparked a nationwide shift in the handling of mould, and Blakeway is now telling social housing providers to treat noise more seriously, warning that it is “something that can engulf” residents.
Blakeway said Clarion had “repeatedly failed to apply a considered and tailored approach to the resident, despite a previous attempt to end his life. That should have been a warning but instead the landlord did not go far enough.”
The ombudsman investigates complaints involving tenants and leaseholders in England’s 4.4m social homes. Clarion operates 125,000 homes in the UK with a £1bn annual turnover and close to £100m post-tax surplus.
Blakeway’s account of the case shows the tenant repeatedly asked for noise insulation to be installed in the converted house in north London, or for him to be rehoused.
His first noise complaints came around Christmas 2020, with “banging and hammering and children jumping and stamping” on a new wooden floor. He said he suffered with poor mental health and was stressed and not eating or sleeping.
Clarion responded with a standard letter and suggested he speak to the neighbour. Over the next five months, he filed several more noise reports, saying he had anxiety and depression and repeating that the noise was affecting his mental health. He kept logs and supplied recordings. The landlord spoke to the upstairs neighbour, who said the noise was not deliberate.
Clarion was assessing the situation as possible antisocial behaviour, but concluded that although it was noisy, it was normal household noise. The problem was that there was no insulation between the upstairs floor and the tenant’s ceiling below. In February, it closed the antisocial behaviour case.
Two days later, the tenant attempted to take his own life. An NHS mental health unit told Clarion the resident had said the attempt was “due to the impact of the noise from his upstairs neighbour”.
Clarion arranged for the flat to be carpeted, but that did not help. By March, the tenant’s GP had told Clarion the impact of the noise had been such that the tenant had twice tried to kill himself, and had asked the landlord to prioritise the resident’s concerns.
The tenant described the situation as “unbearable” and said he felt “trapped”. He said he would sometimes sleep on an airbed in the kitchen to avoid the worst of it.
Clarion said it had kept in weekly contact with the resident and supported him with a specialist officer. On 18 March 2021, he again told the landlord he was feeling suicidal but shortly afterwards, a Clarion employee new to the case told him that “as he lived in London he should have no expectation of silence”. Internal emails showed landlord staff also felt the tenant was “whining”.
In mid-April, one landlord official agreed it was noisy and that the ceiling cavity should be insulated. But another part of Clarion decided the floor insulation was adequate; the landlord would take no further action. Further complaints were met with more automatically generated letters saying Clarion could not investigate every noise complaint.
In July, Clarion received another call from the local mental health team concerned about the tenant’s wellbeing as a result of the noise. A surveyor took a look in August and sound monitoring equipment was installed but then on 11 September the tenant was told that no action would be taken about antisocial behaviour issues and the case would be closed. Eleven days later, the tenant took his own life.
Clarion said: “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and an unreserved apology for all shortcomings in the service we provided the resident. We recognise that our communication process should have been far better and we accept the recommendations of the ombudsman with humility.”
It said it was improving how it recorded and acted on residents’ vulnerabilities, has reviewed its automated letter process, and has an action plan to separate building noise cases from antisocial behaviour issues.
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org
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