The housing watchdog announced a wider investigation into Clarion earlier this year after receiving a series of complaints about the housing association from tenants. Image: Ron Lach / Pexels
Housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa has called for Clarion, the UK’s biggest housing association, to face penalties after a damning report from the Housing Ombudsman.
The watchdog’s special report into Clarion found multiple failings in the housing association’s response to tenants’ complaints about damp, mould and pest control.
The report, based on a review of 13 investigations covering eight local authority areas over a two-year period, found three-quarters of the findings in those cases were due to service failure or maladministration.
The housing association has been under-fire since last year. An investigation from ITV News and campaign work from Clarion tenant Tweneboa uncovered failings at the Eastfields Estate in Mitcham, south London.
Tweneboa told The Big Issue he was “not surprised” at the latest findings.
“My question is: what happens in response to this? What is the sanction for this? What regulation has been put in place? What penalties are Clarion going to receive as a result of this?” the campaigner said.
“We’ve been seeing time and time again the same stories coming up of tenants living in slum conditions under Clarion. They keep coming out and apologising for individual cases and there’s more and more.
“At what point does the ombudsman or the regulator hold them to account and people start losing their jobs? Because ultimately people’s lives have been put at risk.
“Even today I’m highlighting cases about Clarion tenants living in poor conditions. So what is going to be done to hold them to account and penalise them?”
Tweneboa’s campaigning inspired former housing secretary Michael Gove to say he would “put Clarion on notice” in May as the Housing Ombudsman also announced a wider investigation into Clarion, which manages 125,000 homes housing 350,000 people.
The ombudsman’s investigation found five findings of severe maladministration and five findings of reasonable redress or no maladministration.
The landlord’s approach to damp and mould was described as “inconsistent” by the watchdog, which noted that Clarion did not have a “sufficiently robust and detailed policy in place” to tackle the issue.
A failure to accurately diagnose the cause of damp and mould cases within a reasonable timeframe, poor communication and failure to update residents on inspection findings and actions to be taken were all described as “recurring themes”.
The watchdog recommended Clarion ensured policies are published and shared with residents and urged the housing association to review its practices on how to gain access to properties.
In total, four of the five severe maladministration findings related to complaint handling. The ombudsman found evidence of service failures in the landlord’s approach, noting this added to existing delays in repairs.
One tenant waited five months to receive a response from the landlord to a complaint about damp and mould. They waited another 15 months to receive a further response. The watchdog described the responses as “inadequate” and said the landlord did not deliver on promised actions quickly enough, citing a failure to carry out a structural survey inside 15 months.
The watchdog told the housing association to produce an action plan to improve the timeliness, quality and consistency of its complaint responses and the clarity of information given to residents.
Poor record keeping and communication were also criticised in the report with Clarion told to ensure a resident has a clear point of contact when dealing with ongoing issues.
There was no evidence of wider service failure in pest control but the ombudsman did note “weaknesses” in Clarion’s response to tackling infestations at individual properties.
In one case, the watchdog found Clarion had failed to act when a resident reported a hole in a bathroom wall during major works and complained about a bedbug infestation in his flat. The housing association only acted three years later when the infestation had spread to several properties.
The landlord was told to take “early action” to tackle these issues.
Clarion did offer “sizeable” compensation to tenants involved in two cases where there were severe maladministration findings. The ombudsman said paying out “should not be routine” and the landlord should review how it could resolve complaints at an earlier point.
“Over the course of the last few months we have been issuing individual decisions with orders and those orders, along with Clarion’s own work, seek to address the issues set out in the report. This investigation has brought a focus to the key weaknesses we identified and makes recommendations for the landlord to further learn and improve.” said housing ombudsman Richard Blakeway.
“The fact remains that residents had to raise formal complaints to prompt action from the landlord and the complaint handling was then often slow and ineffective, adding to their dissatisfaction.
“The landlord should consider how it achieves a positive complaint handling culture, developing the required leadership to promote this approach across the organisation. It should also involve residents in reviewing the content of this report and addressing the recommendations.”
In response to the report, a Clarion spokesperson said the housing association carries out over 1,300 repairs per day and has invested in new equipment to detect damp and mould and invested in new technology to track complaints.
“In these cases, Clarion has not provided the quality of service we aim to, or that our residents deserve. We have learnt from these cases and in every instance, we have made changes to our approach so that we reduce the chance of a similar issue arising,” the Clarion spokesperson said.
“Our independent satisfaction surveys results show high levels of satisfaction amongst our residents with our repairs services. This report has rightly highlighted that in a small number of cases, we did not provide the service our residents deserve – we can and will do better.”
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