Council ordered to pay £6K to family confined to one room due to severe damp and mould

An East London council has been ordered to pay a family £6,000 after it failed to fix a damp and mould problem in their home for over two and a half years despite knowing all six of them had been forced to sleep in one bedroom.

The housing ombudsman – which deals with complaints against social housing landlords – made a ‘severe maladministration finding’ against Barking and Dagenham Council after it failed to properly investigate the resident’s complaints.

The family had first complained about black mould in their three-bed home back in January 2016 but the housing watchdog’s investigation focused on January 2020 onwards, which is when the resident had made an increasing number of complaints to her landlord about the damp and mould.

According to the ombudsman, the council knew the family were living with various health conditions including asthma, eczema, skin rashes and that there was a one-year-old baby who had been admitted to hospital with breathing problems.

However, the ombudsman said ‘there was no evidence of this being considered as an urgent case’ and said on one occasion it took the council seven months to follow up with repairs after the resident had chased them up on it.

The ombudsman found the council had scheduled an inspection at the home, which didn’t take place until two months later and had failed to communicate properly with the resident over repairs, despite knowing the family were living and sleeping in one room.

There had also been no offer of temporary accommodation and at one point, the resident’s husband had suffered a heart attack, though again no offer of temporary accommodation was made, despite it being advised by a doctor.

The council said a move wasn’t needed because it had fixed damp and mould issues in two of the rooms, but the resident said the damp had returned and her family couldn’t live in there.

A further inspection found these repairs were ‘substandard and ineffective’ and another survey had to take place three months later.

The ombudsman said it took another 10 months for the final repair to be completed and said ‘the property was affected by damp and mould for at least two and a half years’.

Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said: “While the Covid restrictions and a breakdown in trust between the resident and landlord did contribute to delays, the majority was as a result of the landlord’s inactions and mishandling of the repairs over a long period of time.”

Mr Blakeway blasted the council for being ‘unreasonable’ and said the issue should have been dealt with more urgently as it caused distress for the family.

He added: “There is a need for landlords to consider the urgency of its repairs when dealing with those who have a relevant health condition or where there are children involved.

“Temporary accommodation could have given the family a vital reprieve, but the landlord did not consider it until too late.”

In a learning statement, Barking and Dagenham Council said it had recognised the failings in the case and the impact it had on the family and offered its “sincere apologies” to them.

It said it had launched a ‘robust post-inspection regime’ to ensure a high standard of workmanship and that any work identified on the surveyor’s report is always fully complete and signed off.

The council added that it had created a new approach to ‘root cause identification’ by specialist surveyors and the use of specialist equipment which it hopes will drive down the occurrence of repeated reporting.

A new compliance team that will focus on case management rather than ‘job management’ has also been created to taken into account ‘wider considerations’ of the resident or household needs.

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Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter