The Housing Ombudsman has made a finding of severe maladministration against the London Borough of Hackney for "substantial delays" in dealing with damp, mould and leaks at a resident's home.
Following an investigation, the Ombudsman found that the delay of over two years contributed to further deterioration of the conditions and had health and safety implications due to the significant amounts of mould affecting the front room, kitchen, hallway and bathroom of the property.
The resident asked Hackney to be 'decanted' or in other words, moved to temporary accommodation while waiting for the repairs to take place. She said the situation had impacted her mental health, and some of her belongings had been damaged by the leaks and mould.
Her grievance eventually reached a stage two complaint, in which the landlord upheld the complaint and offered £60 compensation.
She then referred her complaint to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman's ensuing investigation found that the London borough failed to respond to the resident's reports of the issues in accordance with its own timescales for repairs as set out in its repairs policy. It also found that it did not keep the resident updated, explain delays or manage expectations in any way. In addition, it failed to decant the resident as had been advised.
It found severe maladministration for the landlord's response to the tenant's reports of water ingress, damp and mould at the property and maladministration for its handling of the complaint and compensation offer.
The council said that a cyber-attack it was a victim of in October 2020 had meant that records were lost, hindering its response. But despite this, the Ombudsman's investigation found that it did not make all reasonable efforts to look at other sources such as emails or to interview staff. It was unfair to disadvantage the resident because of the lost data, the Ombudsman said.
In a statement, Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said the delay in attending the property, carrying out inspections, investigations and ultimately works to resolve the issues "was unacceptable and inappropriate".
Mr Blakeway added: "The landlord missed opportunities to investigate what had gone wrong and to put things right accordingly.
"Following our decision, I welcome the landlord's response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning this case offers for their own services."
In light of the findings, the Ombudsman recommended the council pay £1,500 and arrange to decant the resident as a matter of urgency if it hadn't done so at the time.
The Ombudsman also ordered the landlord to carry out a thorough investigation of the issues at the property to provide the resident with information in writing about its plans for carrying out repairs.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said: "We accept there were failures made while dealing with this case and that the service we provided fell well below that we expect to provide our residents. We are sorry for the distress this has caused the resident."
It added: "We had been working, unsuccessfully, with the resident to gain access to their home to undertake the necessary works - including offering a temporary home whilst we carried out the repairs. Unfortunately, this prolonged the time taken to carry out the work. The resident has since been moved into a new, permanent home.
"In 2020, the council was the victim of a criminal cyberattack which resulted, at the time, in the loss of all our ICT systems and processes. This impacted on our ability to retrieve our housing management and repairs data as well as historic records, and sadly impeded our ability to investigate the resident's complaint."
The issues outlined in the report were further complicated by the impact of the Covid pandemic, during which we time the council was only able to provide an urgent and emergency repair service, the statement noted.
"A new repairs charter is being developed to provide residents with a clear picture of the standard we are setting ourselves and what they should expect from the service in the future.
"We are disappointed with the finding, but we recognise our failings and we are continually taking steps to enhance the service we provide to residents including improving how we communicate the outcomes of any inspections our surveyors undertake. We will use the findings of this investigation to improve our processes to prevent issues like this occurring in the future."