Social housing is being badly managed by councils and housing associations across the country, and all the Tory government is doing is sending a few ‘stern’ letters to officials.
By our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES
Tandridge District Council in Surrey and another of Croydon’s neighbours, Lambeth, are among 14 social landlords to have been served with a severe warning from housing secretary Michael Gove.
In letters sent last week to chief executives, Gove criticised their various failings and said he will be “taking a personal interest” in how the landlords – Tandridge, Lambeth and five other councils and seven housing associations – fulfill their responsibilities to residents.
The housing associations include Sovereign, Hyde, Metropolitan Thames Valley, PA Housing, Inquilab, Peabody for findings against Catalyst, and Notting Hill Genesis. All of them had been written to for previous findings of severe maladministration,
Ealing, Westminster, Tandridge, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and Lambeth councils all received a letter highlighting details of severe maladministration findings by the Housing Ombudsman. Camden was pulled up for breaching the English regulator’s Home Standard.
In his letter to Tandridge CEO David Ford, Gove cited a finding of severe maladministration by the Housing Ombudsman for the failure to abide by duties under the Equality Act 2010 or act in accordance with the council’s safeguarding policy.
In June this year, the Housing Ombudsman found against Tandridge in a case where a council official acted appallingly towards a resident who was at risk of suicide.
“The period around the complaint starts as the housing officer with responsibility for the resident was told that she had recently attempted to end her own life,” the Ombudsman’s report states.
“The resident’s case had already been referred to the Community Harm and Risk Management Meeting (CHARMM)…
“However… the housing officer asked if the attempt to end her life was ‘accidental’ and added he was ‘inundated’ with concerns about her and her sister’s behaviour.”
According to the Ombudsman, when senior council officials investigated the complaints, they “found no evidence that the case had been mishandled and insisted that the housing officer would not be changed”.
The Ombudsman reported: “The resident and Independent Mental Health Advocacy described the housing officer’s approach as ‘aggressive and intimidating’ and said she had never been spoken to in that manner in all her years in the role. This carried on until the housing officer left three months later.”
In his letter to Tandridge’s Ford, Gove wrote, “You failed an extremely vulnerable resident. Her case was not referred immediately, as it should have been, to the relevant support services. The behaviour of a member of your staff towards both the resident and the mental health advocate supporting the resident was described as aggressive, intimidating and neither appropriate nor solution-focused.
“This is not acceptable. Your residents should expect their concerns to be taken seriously… Residents, particularly those who are vulnerable, should expect that their needs are understood and acted upon.”
Gove’s letter acknowledged that an apology had been made and that Tandridge’s processes are to be improved. “I expect you to ensure that these changes make a difference, and I will take a personal interest in how you deliver your responsibilities to you residents,” Gove said in his letter.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities made the ministerial correspondence public last Wednesday, August 16. By this morning, there was still no mention of the Gove rebuke to be found anywhere on Tandridge Council’s own website.
However, Catherine Sayer, the leader of Tandridge Council, did provide the Inside Housing website with a statement (possibly in the hope that few of the residents of Oxted and Limpsfield will ever get to see it…).
“We recognise there were problems in how we dealt with this long-running case which has stretched over several years and we didn’t fully consider the resident’s needs and vulnerabilities,” Sayer said, summarising exactly what the Ombudsman report had found against the authority.
“We are sincerely sorry for the distress and inconvenience caused. Compensation was paid to the resident and we continue to work with and support them with their future needs.”
Sayer added that Tandridge has “learnt from this case”, claiming that after self-referring to the Regulator for Social Housing, they were “satisfied with the response and action we have taken and they did not require us to take any further action”.
Lambeth got a Gove ticking off because of repeated failures.
As previously reported by Inside Croydon, in February, the Housing Ombudsman raised five cases of “severe maladministration”, including in cases “where a household with a vulnerable child was left without a vital repair and a resident was without heating and hot water during winter months”.
Last month, the Ombudsman used its powers for the first time to place Lambeth under special scrutiny following a repeat of unresolved cases.
Writing to Bayo Dosunmu, Lambeth’s new-ish chief exec, Gove makes the point that this is far from the first time that the minister has had to reprimand officials at Brixton Town Hall for their general crapness. “You have failed your residents yet again,” Gove wrote, underlining the sentence just to make his displeasure abundantly clear even for the hard of thinking.
The latest maladministration cases reported by the Housing Ombudsman follow a special report from their office into Lambeth housing in in February 2022 and previous severe maladministration cases published in March 2022 and November 2022.
Gove cites the latest case where a family was left for six years in damp and mouldy conditions caused by a leaking roof. There is barely concealed contempt for Lambeth’s in Gove’s letter: “You failed to properly keep track of the complaint. Having made promises that you would monitor the leaking roof, the leak continued for the next two years.” He even accuses Lambeth of hampering the Ombudsman’s investigation.
“Everyone, particularly those who are vulnerable, should be able to expect to live in a decent, damp-free home and to have repairs take place in reasonable time,” Gove said.
Gove has been writing “name and shame” to landlords and publishing letters since May last year, part of social housing reforms which barely begin to address the woeful state of social housing across the country, or the simple lack of it, thanks to Thatcherite “Right to Buy” rules.
Things are little better in the Southwark housing department, where senior council director Michael Scorer has resigned less than two months after admitting the council lacked the cash to meet its house-building target. Scorer has worked at Southwark since 2018, and will leave at the end of September. He says he is resigning for personal reasons.
In June, speaking to a parliamentary committee of MPs, Scorer admitted that Southwark can only afford to build 3,200 of the 11,000 homes target it has over the next 20 years.
Between 2021 and 2022, 726 of the 2,234 council homes started nationally were in Southwark, more than double the next largest council home-builder, Haringey.
As Inside Croydon reported earlier this month, Michael Gove’s Whitehall department is handing back £1.9billion to the Treasury that was originally meant to tackle England’s housing crisis. The DLUHC is returning the cash after struggling to find projects to spend it on.
The Inside Housing website estimates that by not allocating the cash, DLUHC has wasted an opportunity to build 5,000 homes in the middle of a housing crisis.
- Inside Croydon – as seen on TV! – has been delivering local community news since 2010. 3million page views per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
- If you want real journalism, actually based in the borough, you should consider paying for it. Please sign up today. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- As featured on Google News Showcase
- We offer FREE ads to community groups when they have members who are paid subscribers to Inside Croydon
- Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine