The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration in two separate cases which formed part of a wider investigation into the Clarion Housing Association.
One of the cases is understood to involve social housing in Merton, where a leaking roof, damp and mould made the flat “unfit for human habitation”, according to the unfortunate tenant.
Clarion is the housing association which has among its directors Gavin Barwell, the former MP for Croydon Central.
Barwell was housing minister in the lead-up to the Grenfell fire in 2017. He was made a peer of the realm in 2019, since when he has been coining it in with a series of directorships, particularly in the housing sector, including as a non-executive director of Clarion Housing Group and a similar appointment for Clarion Futures, where Companies House records show Barwell to be a “political consultant”.
So it is reasonable to suggest that much of the parlous state of social housing in Croydon and across the country began to occur while Barwell was in government, or working as housing minister, or employed as Chief of Staff to Theresa May when she was Prime Minister. Certainly, there’s been no sign of any improvement in the state of social housing in the time Barwell has held directorships in Clarion.
According to the latest published set of accounts (to October 31, 2021) for Gavin Barwell Consulting Ltd, registered at Eagle House on Cranleigh Close in Sanderstead, his Lordship’s business had net assets of £237,730. That was up £210,000 on the previous year.
Whatever advice Lord Barwell is giving to Clarion, he’s not been doing much for their reputation as attentive and well-managed landlords.
According to the latest Housing Ombudsman’s findings, published yesterday, in one case, “On 28 August 2020 the resident sent the landlord a pre-action protocol letter, detailing water ingress, damage to external areas affecting the internal condition of the property, mould, damp, and unsanitary housing conditions that were ‘…directly causing harm to my family’.
“She said that the defects were causing distress, discomfort, and having a negative impact on her family’s physical and mental health… She described the mould as having an impact on her children’s health.”
The Ombudsman’s report goes on to lay out a series of delays, mismanagement and poor standards of repairs which will be all to familiar to residents in council flats in Regina Road, as well as other social housing tenants.
The Ombudsman began a special investigation into Clarion in October last year.
“In one case, we found severe maladministration for the landlord’s complaint handling, as well as maladministration for its repairs, compensation offer and record keeping,” the Ombudsman report states in respect of the Merton complaint.
“The South London resident had reported the ceiling in the bathroom hanging off the wall and the flat smelling of mould. Four months after making the formal complaint, the repairs were still outstanding and the resident complained of a large hole in the bathroom, tiles coming off walls, water damage, mould in several rooms and rainwater coming in when it rained…
“There was little indication that the landlord considered the resident’s concerns about the living conditions in the property in its complaint response and compensation calculations and did not therefore demonstrate that the adverse impact of its failings, which were serious and cumulative.”
Clarion have been ordered to pay a (modest) £2,270 in compensation and to issue an apology in person.
“I would encourage the landlord to double down on its efforts to achieve a positive complaint handling culture, embedding change across what is a large organisation,” Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, said.
The poor conditions in much of the capital’s social housing is being discussed this morning by the London Assembly’s housing committee.
“Damp and mould continue to pose significant risk to Londoners living in social housing despite evidence proving that the tragic death of Awaab Ishak in Rochdale in 2020 was caused by exposure to mould in his home,” City Hall said
“Despite commitments from government and the housing sector to improve the quality of social housing stock in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, there remain a series of issues with the existing stock.”
When the Housing Ombudsman released its special report last year, they found that 92 landlords had complaints made against them for maladministration.
Of all damp and mould cases found in the investigation, 57per cent were located in London.
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Clarion are delivering Barwell’s vision of Housing. Who cannot forget his main intervention in housing policy with his call for developers to provide housing with ever decreasing space standards to reduce costs and to get grandparents to skip a generation and give money to grandchildren to get on the property ladder.
Hiring him is clear that you are not interested in providing better housing or improving standards, but want to drag your bottom line further lower.
Bringing Barwell in should be seem as a mark of reputational damage.