Report says number of complaints indicative of wider problem at H&F
Hammersmith & Fulham Council's Housing Department on King Street
May 22, 2023
England’s housing regulator has launched a ‘wide-ranging’ investigation into a Hammersmith & Fulham council following a string of failures.
The Housing Ombudsman is investigating Hammersmith and Fulham Council (LBHF) to uncover whether its handling of complaints and repairs is indicative of a wider problem, a report revealed.
The watchdog said it was concerned about the number of delays being reported and how the council was dealing with them. It said there are 13 high or medium risk cases currently open and 12 findings of severe maladministration since April last year.
The Ombudsman will use special powers bestowed on it to investigate individual complaints and advise on changes to LBHF’s housing department.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “After repeated failures in the past year by this landlord, we’ve seen a high number of cases concerning the landlord identified as high or medium risk. Under the circumstances, I’ve asked my team to expedite these investigations.
“Other cases with us concern similar issues and may indicate a repeated failing. Conducting a further investigation, using our systemic powers under paragraph 49 of the Scheme to identify areas for the landlord to learn and improve, is therefore required.
“Following our investigation, we will publish a learning report highlighting any issues we have identified in the cases investigated and make recommendations to the landlord where appropriate.”
LBHF opposition spokesperson for housing, councillor Adronie Alford, claimed the Labour-run council lacked proper scrutiny.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I am deeply concerned and very worried about the state of the housing department, in particular relating to the maladministration findings by the Ombudsman and the failings regarding repairs.”
Freddie Poser, from the housing reform charity PricedOut, said the UK had one of the oldest housing stocks in the world with most of today’s social housing built decades ago.
He said this means homes are poor at conserving energy, have damp and are often unsafe to live in, hurting both the financial and physical health of those living in them.
He said: “It isn’t a surprise that councils are struggling to protect residents, there are just so many people suffering. In the short term it is important that the ombudsman drives social landlords to improve conditions for residents and protect the most vulnerable.
“In the long term, however, the only sensible remedy has to be building more homes of a good quality in the places which people want to live. Without more homes the pressure on social and private rented homes will continue to increase.”
It comes as the West London local authority was recently fined £18k for a string of repair failures, including leaving a dad and his young daughter in a mouldy flat for four years and causing a cancer patient to go without a reliable hot water supply for two-and-a-half years.
Meanwhile, residents in Fairborn House in Hammersmith have told the LDRS they’re in a never-ending state of illness caused by damp and mould in their flats. A single mum-of-three has moss and mushrooms growing out of the mould in her bathroom, which she claims contributed to her daughter being rushed to A&E for a collapsed lung.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has said it is reforming its housing repairs service, including successfully exiting an underfunded 10-year maintenance contract in 2019.
It has increased funding for repairs to £30m annually, established a dedicated repairs taskforce, appointed a new council housing senior management team and hired additional contractors to undertake more work.
The council also plans to invest more than £600m to “radically improve” its council homes over the next 12 years.
Commenting on the investigation, Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Strategic Director of Economy, Jon Pickstone, said,“We fully recognise the historic failings in our handling of complaints and repairs in our ageing housing stock.
“The severe maladministration findings referenced by the Ombudsman relate to a period when one of our three major contractors exited abruptly, the impact of which was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
“We have apologised unreservedly to those affected. We have failed to provide them with services that reflect the high standards that we expect and they deserve. We have learned lessons from every case and implemented changes as a result. Our residents’ homes should be safe, secure and fit for purpose.
“We will co-operate fully with the Ombudsman’s investigation and look forward to receiving its report. We will study it closely and act on its recommendations.”
Adrian Zorzut - Local Democracy Reporter