England: Ombudsman issues special report on Clarion following further investigation

England: Ombudsman issues special report on Clarion following further investigation

The report identifies five key findings and sets out a series of recommendations

The Housing Ombudsman has issued a special report on Clarion following concerns about the UK’s largest housing association’s response to complaints about damp and mould and pest control.

The Ombudsman said it used its powers to conduct a further investigation beyond an initial complaint that may indicate wider service failure.

The investigation was initiated by a case where the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for the landlord’s significant failings in dealing with a complaint about leaks, repairs and a rodent infestation. Other cases received highlighted similar concerns.

Based on a review of the 13 investigations featuring those issues and determined over a six-month period up to June 2022, the report shows that the individual cases involved residents living in eight local authority areas. Three-quarters of the findings across those cases were service failure or maladministration, including five findings of severe maladministration, and there were five findings of reasonable redress or no maladministration.

The report identifies five key findings and sets out a series of recommendations:

  • Damp and mould – the landlord’s approach was often inconsistent which seriously impacted residents. It did not have a sufficiently robust and detailed policy in place, and the policy aims that it did have were not met in practice. Recurring themes in the majority of relevant cases include a failure to accurately diagnose the cause within a reasonable timeframe, poor communication and failures to update residents on inspection findings and the actions to be taken. The recommendations are focused on ensuring that policies are published and shared with residents, including reviewing its practices on how to successfully gain access to properties.
  • Pest control – there was no evidence of wider service failure in the landlord’s overall approach but some weaknesses found in its response to individual cases. The landlord should ensure that early action is taken where there is any indication that reports of pests may not be solely within the resident’s own property, or could be caused by disrepair.
  • Complaint handling – evidence of service failures were found that are indicative of wider service failures in the landlord’s handling of formal complaints, with poor complaint handling often adding to existing delays in addressing the service provision issue. Four of the five severe maladministration findings related to complaint handling. The report recommends the landlord produce an action plan to improve the timeliness, quality and consistency of its complaint responses and the clarity of the information available to residents about its complaint handling procedures.
  • Compensation – the landlord offered sizeable compensation in two of the cases with severe maladministration findings. This practice at the end of the complaints procedure may be appropriate but should not be routine. The landlord should review where it has made repeated, significant compensation offers to identify any improvements that could facilitate earlier resolution of complaints.
  • Record keeping and communication – Poor record keeping and communication were recurring themes in the majority of the cases, both in the response to the service request and subsequent handling of the complaint. The landlord should ensure that a resident has a clear point of contact when dealing with ongoing issues.

The Ombudsman said Clarion has engaged positively and actively during this investigation and has also responded to and acted upon the orders and recommendations made in the 13 individual cases that have been issued during the investigation.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Over the course of the last few months we have been issuing individual decisions with orders and those orders, along with Clarion’s own work, seek to address the issues set out in the report. This investigation has brought a focus to the key weaknesses we identified and makes recommendations for the landlord to further learn and improve.

“The fact remains that residents had to raise formal complaints to prompt action from the landlord and the complaint handling was then often slow and ineffective, adding to their dissatisfaction. While the landlord has regularly self-assessed against our Complaint Handling Code, this has not led to significant adjustments to its published policy.

“The landlord should consider how it achieves a positive complaint handling culture, developing the required leadership to promote this approach across the organisation. It should also involve residents in reviewing the content of this report and addressing the recommendations.”

The aim of the report is to provide insight to help the landlord strengthen its approach to damp and mould and pest control, as well as complaint handling, to help extend fairness to other residents and help prevent complaints in future. It also aims to help other landlords identify potential learning to improve their own services and is part of our wider work to monitor landlord performance and stimulate learning from complaints.

A spokesperson for Clarion said: “This report from the Housing Ombudsman covers 13 cases from 2019-2021. In these cases, Clarion has not provided the quality of service we aim to, or that our residents deserve. We have learnt from these cases and in every instance, we have made changes to our approach so that we reduce the chance of a similar issue arising.

“During the course of the investigation, we collaborated fully with the Ombudsman, sharing the work we are doing to secure lasting improvements. We have also worked with our residents to review the learning and accepted and implemented their recommendations for change. Our complaint handling performance is also regularly reported to our boards.

“Clarion carries out over 1,300 repairs per day. Our dedicated team are highly trained problem solvers who take accountability for resolving issues. This year we have invested in new equipment to support the early detection of damp and mould and have taken advantage of new technology to support the management of data, in order to track property interventions, measuring and reporting results.

“We regularly review our investment priorities to ensure that our planned investment is targeted where it is needed most. This is reviewed with residents through our resident involvement panels, including the National Property Engagement Group, and their feedback drives our decisions.

“Our independent satisfaction surveys results show high levels of satisfaction amongst our residents with our repairs services. This report has rightly highlighted that in a small number of cases, we did not provide the service our residents deserve – we can and will do better.”

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