14 May 24

An independent review ordered by Housing Ombudsman into how Orbit Group has handled damp and mould has made 15 recommendations to the landlord.

Independent of both the Ombudsman and Orbit Group, the review is one of the first uses of the Ombudsman’s new powers under the Social Housing Regulation Act to order wider reviews into a landlord’s policy, practice and root causes of complaints.

The review involved seven cases of damp and mould where the Ombudsman had found maladministration, including severe maladministration.

Investigations by the Ombudsman leading to the review found repeated poor handling of damp and mould, with residents living with the issue for as long as four years, and consistent failure to address physical or mental health needs in its response.

Failings in inspections, oversight of repairs and record-keeping were common across many of the cases, the Ombudsman said.

The review recommended that Orbit Group “do more to comply with the recommendations within the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on damp and mould and knowledge and information management, and highlighted that in its current self-assessment against the damp and mould report, no assurances are given”.

The Ombudsman said that whilst the review was accepting that Orbit Group is in “transition” in its approach to damp and mould, it stated that more work was needed in this area to achieve a good service for residents. The review also found that whilst there was a lot of focus on learning from damp and mould, there was not so much in other key areas such as repairs.

The review also identified a significant lack of complex case management and that although mechanisms are currently in place to improve, “these do not fully resolve some of the concerns identified.”

A lack of in-house technical skills has hampered some of the responses to damp and mould, with it resulting in clashes with technical advisors and residents.

In some more general reflections, the review found there was not enough evidence of resident involvement in the learning and delivery plans for improvements “and similarly little evidence of further training plans for staff past the initial set of courses”, the Ombudsman said.

The review also found that the landlord’s decentralised model for training has resulted in inconsistencies for job specific learning and development.

The review did find that the landlord’s systems for registering, tracking, and analysing damp and mould cases were fit for purpose and that any key performance indicators were robust for case monitoring and management.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “It is essential for landlords to tackle the root causes of complaints to drive service improvements and reduce the higher rate of maladministration we are finding.

He welcomed the positive way Orbit Group had embraced the independent review to improve its handling of disrepair and damp.

“Its open and transparent approach to sharing the lessons of the review will support other landlords to focus on how they can improve their own services and address these issues,” he said.

“It is clear from the repeated failings in these cases that the landlord’s damp and mould policy was not producing positive outcomes for residents when applied in practice.

“Without the review, other residents may have experienced similar service failings and the learning from our investigations and the review will help the landlord to take targeted action to improve the experience of residents.”

Blakeway said the Ombudsman’s power to order a wider review was one of the most significant changes to way it operates.

“Our wider orders can help landlords undertake a review into a specific policy or practice to improve outcomes for residents and provide landlords with an opportunity to learn where and why things are no working as they should, so that social housing can perform the vital role in plays in our communities.”

Orbit Group apologised to the customers affected in these cases and fully accepted the findings of the Housing Ombudsman.

It said in a learning statement: “Providing our customers with the home and service they deserve is central to our purpose, and when we get something wrong, we will strive to put it right and learn from it.

“We are committed to continually improving our customer experience and welcomed the opportunity to work in partnership with the Housing Ombudsman to undertake an independent review of our to responding to requests for repairs due to reports of damp and mould, and more importantly, learn from its findings.

“We remain committed to building on the significant investment and new initiatives we have already implemented to further improve our services. These have included significantly increasing investment in colleague training and skill development, sharpening our focus within our case management and technical teams, enhancing repair diagnostics, working with our supply chain partners, and launching a You and Your Home customer check-in pilot, allowing us to discuss with the customer any work required and how we can best support them. In addition, we have completed organisational-wide training to increase understanding of vulnerability, and introduced new Colleague Commitments, which set the minimum expectations for all of us and are intended to encourage everyone to aim for positive actions, whatever their role.”

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