Clarion strongly criticised for its complaint handling failings

The Housing Ombudsman plans to conduct an investigation of property maintenance  services at the country’s largest social housing landlord after issuing two severe maladministration findings within a few weeks of each other.

After the second critical judgement was published Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, announced that a systemic investigation was being launched as they were dealing with similar cases of damp, mould and pest infestation, which may be indicative of repeated failures and to identify areas for Clarion to learn from and improve.

A spokesperson for Clarion, which owns and manages 125,000 homes, responded by saying their processes had changed substantially since the second case was resolved, they were disappointed by the public comments about a ‘wider investigation’ and were determined to drive improvements in the services provided to residents.

In their published finding of the second case, the Ombudsman said: “Our investigation found there were extensive delays in resolving water issues and leaks and repairs. There were instances where the resident lacked hot or cold water for days and months at a time, and there were overall delays of more than 15 months in dealing with a number of necessary repairs that were known to the landlord following reports of leaks in the resident’s home and outside her door, damp and mould and rodent issues.

“We found service failure for the landlord’s response to a rodent infestation which clearly led to some distress to the resident, who reported mice in almost every room at one point. Delay in carrying out works and missed opportunities in assessing the issue contributed to the ongoing lack of resolution.”

Clarion apologised to the resident and offered compensation for the delays and the impact on them, but there were unacknowledged failings in its response.

Recording of vulnerabilities

During the course of the complaint there were issues with complaint handling, communication and consideration of the resident’s vulnerabilities. The resident reported her vulnerabilities but there was no evidence the landlord took steps to review and make further enquiries about these, to consider any additional needs or appropriate variations in service delivery.

The Ombudsman explained that the resident asked to be emailed rather than called on multiple occasions, but this was largely disregarded for five months. A finding of severe maladministration was made because the landlord’s responses to the resident’s complaint did not go far enough to acknowledge specific issues and reasons for the delays she experienced across the full 15 months of her complaint, and the cumulative impact.

“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.”

The Ombudsman ordered Clarion to pay additional compensation of £600 in recognition of the distress and inconvenience caused by its complaints handling. It also ordered the landlord to review the failures identified in this case to consider how it will ensure that complex complaints are progressed appropriately through the complaints procedure.

Read the case summary

A spokesperson for Clarion Housing Group commented that it was a complex and challenging case, which has concluded with the resident moving to a new Clarion home. They did not feel the judgement reflected all of the support provided, but acknowledged they were too slow to act in the early stages of the case.

“A number of issues were exacerbated by the resident refusing to grant Clarion staff access to the property. 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.”

Repeated failures

In the earlier case the Ombudsman found severe maladministration for Clarion’s repeated failure to respond to a resident’s complaints and her requests to escalate them. The resident had regularly reported a leaking roof, damp and mould and cracks to the interior of her property. She complained about the landlord’s lack of action and then had to chase for updates on action it was taking or to respond to her, resulting in considerable time, trouble and frustration.

The resident complained in November 2019 about a delayed start to roof replacement works but her complaint was not escalated by the landlord until the Ombudsman intervened. The landlord did not respond to her later complaint in 2020 which by then concerned additional matters including worsening damp and mould and interior cracks.

Following further intervention from the Ombudsman, the landlord provided a stage 1 response, some five months after the resident had submitted the complaint and then she had to chase again for a final response at review stage. This came 12 weeks after she had first requested it, a delay that was way beyond the landlord’s 20 day standard for such a response.

During this time the resident and her family were living in deteriorating conditions, and she made repeated reference to the detrimental impact of the damp and mould on her family’s health. The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to pay additional compensation of £1,100 on top of the £1,200 it had previously offered for failing to provide adequate recognition of its service failures.

A Clarion spokesperson said: “We have issued renewed guidance to staff on when to escalate an enquiry to a formal complaint. We are also piloting the introduction of Resident Liaison Officers who have a specific focus on managing complex cases and seeing them through to resolution.”

Patrick Mooney, Editor