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Housing association took over a year to deal with complaint of home with 'mice in every room'

Social housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa says the ombudsman investigation into UK's largest housing association Clarion will show "how bad things are".

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Mice were reported in every room of the house during the 15 months it took for Clarion to deal with the resident's complaint. Image: sean dreilinger / Flickr

An investigation has been launched into the state of social homes managed by the UK’s largest housing association after severe failings were discovered for the second time in weeks.

The Housing Ombudsman found severe maladministration relating to Clarion Housing’s handling complaints from a resident with vulnerabilities over a 15-month period. The regulator found the resident lacked hot or cold water for days and months at a time. 

Clarion also failed to deal with reports of leaks and a damp and mould and a rodent issue so bad that there were mice in every room of the home at one point. The housing association did apologise and offer compensation for the delay.

The regulator will now launch a wider investigation into the housing association, which has been the target of activist Kwajo Tweneboa in recent months as he uncovered issues at scores of Clarion properties. His campaigning, and reporting from ITV News, forced the government to announce the Social Housing Regulation Bill in this week’s Queen’s Speech to improve standards in social housing.

“Only a few days ago Clare Miller, Clarion’s CEO, was saying how their satisfaction rates are amazing yet today we are seeing that they have been hit with severe maladministration for a second time in the space of a couple of weeks,” Tweneboa told The Big Issue.

“It won’t be the last time they’re hit with it I don’t think because from what I’ve seen and from what I know of the organisation in terms of their repairs and prioritising customers’ needs, it’s an absolute disgrace. I believe that now people will be able to see how bad things are with that organisation and I welcome it.”

A Clarion spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by the public comments about a ‘wider investigation’ today and will be writing privately to the ombudsman on these issues. Most importantly, Clarion is determined to continue to drive improvements in the service we provide all our residents.”

The ombudsman found that Clarion’s delay in carrying out works as well as missed opportunities to assess the issue led to distress for the tenant and also contributed to an ongoing lack of resolution to the problems.

There were issues with complaint handling, communication and consideration of the resident’s vulnerabilities too. The regulator found no evidence the landlord took steps to review or make further enquiries about the resident’s vulnerabilities after she reported them. Her request to be emailed rather than called on multiple occasions was “largely disregarded” for a period of five months.

The Housing Ombudsman said the landlord’s response to the resident’s complaint did not go far enough to acknowledge specific issues and reasons for the delays she experienced over the full 15 months of the complaint. 

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The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay additional compensation of £600 in recognition of the distress and inconvenience caused by the complaint handling. It also ordered Clarion to review its complaints procedure. The resident has since moved to a new home.

The regulator also said it intended to conduct a further investigation of how the landlord can learn and improve in relation to systemic issues of damp, mould and pest infestation.

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “We are dealing with other cases about similar issues which may be indicative of repeated failure which is why we will be carrying out a further investigation.   

“It’s concerning in this case that there is no evidence that the resident’s vulnerabilities were given consideration. In the information provided to us from the landlord during our investigation, it stated that the resident had no vulnerabilities. 

“The landlord’s communication with the resident was poor and this lack of communication appears relevant as to why matters became so protracted.” 

A spokesperson for Clarion Housing Group said it was “disappointed” with the ruling and the regulator’s plans for a wider investigation. 

“We don’t believe it reflects all of the support that our colleagues provided,” the spokesperson said. “This is particularly the case regarding the resident’s vulnerabilities; we have provided evidence that when alerted to these, they were taken into account.

“We fully accept that we were too slow to act in the early stages of this case, have apologised for this and conducted a full internal review into what went wrong. However, a number of issues were exacerbated by the resident refusing to grant Clarion staff access to the property over a period of time.

“Housing associations do not have the same power as private and local authority landlords to access homes and we’d like to see this changed, so the problem does not recur in the future.”

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