Ombudsman demands culture change after council flats ‘shock’

Shocking: it was damp and mould in flats such as this one in the council-owned blocks on Regina Road in South Norwood which prompted the Ombudsman to commission a report

Croydon Council’s housing department and repairs contractors need to change their ways, following the publication of an official report into “appalling” conditions endured by council tenants, many of whom have been found to be ignored by their landlords and even blamed for the damp and mould in their homes.

The Housing Ombudsman is demanding a culture change from social housing landlords, including local authorities such as Croydon. The report was commissioned following television news reports earlier this year which exposed the dangerous living conditions of flats in a council block in South Norwood, where families were forced to live in uninhabitable conditions, in homes riddled with mould, damp, leaks and collapsing ceilings.

Richard Blakeway, the Ombudsman, said he was “shocked” by the conditions that Croydon Council tenants were having to endure in the Regina Road blocks, and that his office had found other examples around England where other landlords had failed to take proper responsibility for the disrepairs in their properties.

Many landlords, according to the Ombudsman, tended to blame their tenants for issues.

The Housing Ombudsman’s report echoes many of the findings of an independent report into the state of the Croydon flats, with Blakeway saying councils and housing associations lack empathy and respect for residents.

The Ombudsman investigated 142 social housing providers and spoke to hundreds of tenants.

Richard Blakeway: demanding change from landlords

Blakeway said that he demands “changes in culture, behaviour and approach; from being reactive to proactive, and from inferring blame to taking responsibility”.

Blakeway – a former adviser to Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London – said, “The recent media coverage clearly demonstrates the significant impact on residents when things do go wrong, complaints are not responded to appropriately, and lessons are not learned.

“There is a strong legislative and policy basis to prevent these issues arising but it is clear that despite this, residents are still facing problems, sometimes extreme problems, and landlords are struggling to resolve these. This means we need a fresh approach.”

He said the distress caused by landlords’ failure to resolve mould and damp cases was “the most profound we have seen”, raising concerns about tenants’ physical and mental health, and stressing the impact on children.

It has also led, the report states, to “the loss of trust and reputation.”

The report makes 26 recommendations to councils and housing associations, including:

  • adopt a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould interventions
  • review the accessibility and use of their systems for reporting repairs and making complaints (in other words, make sure the contact phone lines are staffed properly)
  • improve staff training
  • avoid automatically apportioning blame or using language that leaves residents feeling blamed
  • treat residents with “respect and empathy”

Read more: Investigation into housing scandal finds systemic failure and incompetence
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: Regina Road residents shiver as they face £2,000 heating bills

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3 Responses to Ombudsman demands culture change after council flats ‘shock’

  1. moyagordon says:

    Ombudsman stating the bleeding obvious. Haven’t read the full report yet but maybe the Ombudsman needs to take a good look at itself and wonder how things got so bad without it ever noticing.

  2. moyagordon says:

    Wow. Opening letter from Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, is a lot of waffle. He says damp and mould wasn’t the focus of the investigation to begin with but because of attention shifting over the last 6 months it has become the focus. Hang on haven’t residents up and down the country been complaining about damp and mould in social housing for years and years, some 10 years at Regina Road. He mentions residents feel patronised and stigmatised when raising genuine issues about the standard of living conditions in their homes, he ‘appreciates this is not intended’. For god’s sake when is someone being patronising ever unintended. Is the Ombudsman really that naive? There are 57 pages to the report, I’m not sure I’ll make it right the way through, but this issue is so important something has to be done to sort it out and it will interesting to see what the Ombudsman plans to do.

    • It is perhaps worth emphasising that Blakeway is an old mucker of Boris Johnson, having been one of his close advisers when Johnson was Mayor of London.

      Is it possible that he might use the dire situation in some council homes and Housing Association flats to pursue a political agenda? Are there no flats in similarly parlous states that are run by private landlords? Why has the Housing Ombudsman not investigated that part of the rented housing market?

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