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Ombudsman finds London borough guilty of severe maladministration in handling of complaint about leak

A Housing Ombudsman investigation has found complaint handling failures at the London Borough of Ealing that amounted to severe maladministration, in a case in which a resident had to wait six years for a leaking roof to be replaced.

The resident, a leaseholder of a flat, complained in 2019 that she had been affected by extreme mould throughout the property for a number of years.

The council had previously identified that the roof needed to be replaced following an inspection in 2015. It said this would be included in its next planned programme of works but would complete temporary work to address the leak from the roof.

However, the tenant said this temporary work was of a poor standard. She also complained about ongoing dampness and the impact on the property, her health and her finances.

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In its response to the complaint, the council focused on the single issue of the delay to the roof replacement works, referring to procurement issues and then Covid-19 related issues. But it failed to address the other issues raised by the resident, the Ombudsman said.

Ealing also failed to escalate the complaint as requested by the resident and missed her response to its stage two complaint, resulting in a protracted and unsuccessful complaints process.

The Ombudsman found severe maladministration for the council complaint handling and maladministration for its response to the resident's reports about water coming into her flat and the repairs carried out.

The Ombudsman ordered the Ealing to pay the resident compensation of £3,600 for the unreasonable delay in completing major works to the building, for the standard of temporary works to resolve the issues, and for its complaint handling.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said it is clear that the resident had experienced a "significant detriment" over an extended period of her time. 

He added: "She encountered significant difficulty in progressing her complaint, even with our assistance, and did not receive a final response at any point. The landlord's consideration of her complaint lacked customer focus. The fact that it chose to narrow the focus of the complaint just on the delay in the programme of works was a missed opportunity to address the resident's points of dissatisfaction and resulted in a deterioration in the landlord-resident relationship. 

"While it was appropriate to complete temporary repairs and add the roofing works to its planned major works, the timeframe that the resident has been asked to wait for these works - approximately six years - to take place is not reasonable."

The Ombudsman welcomed the council’s decision to learn lessons from this complaint and its actions to improve and prevent similar issues from recurring. "I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning this case offers," he added.

In response to the findings, a spokesperson for Ealing said that whilst the council was disappointed at the "persistent failure of service execution that have led to the Ombudsman's determination of maladministration, we welcome this as an opportunity to learn lessons, review our working practices, and put in place new measures to ensure there is not a repeat of the issues identified in this case". 

The spokesperson added: "With water ingress first identified in 2015, temporary repairs were made whilst a full replacement of the roof was planned to take place in 2018 as part of the council's major works programme. Due to procurement issues the council was unable to call on contractors to carry out these types of works until 2020. In the interim, we were only able to carry out responsive 'patch' repairs in response to further reports of water ingress."

Following on from the case, the council has put in place - and plans to put in place - a number of improvements, including a new two-stage complaints procedure, mediated by an IT system for better insight into trends and better quality checks of responses.

In addition, the council is to establish a planned programme of cyclical works, with two contractors appointed in 2021 to carry out the programme based on its Stock Condition Survey.

A patch management system has also been established for surveyors.

The council added that it plans to move to "more proactive working practices," including the implementation of automated flagging of repeated responsive repairs, renewed emphasis on post-inspections, and more active monitoring of interim repairs pending major works.

Adam Carey

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