105,000-home housing association rapped by Housing Ombudsman over poor customer service

The Housing Ombudsman has ordered housing association giant L&Q to pay £140,000 in compensation to residents due to poor customer service.

The watchdog, in a special report into the 105,000-home landlord published today, said it had determined 103 cases between January and 26 June, finding 24 cases of severe maladministration and ordering L&Q to pay £141,860 compensation in total.

Fiona Fletcher Smith IWD 2022 2 (003)

Fiona Fletcher Smith, chief executive, L&Q

The ombudsman said its investigation identified L&Q policies and procedures not being adhered to, a resistance to constructive feedback and learning from complaints and a “poor knowledge and information management culture”.

The probe was launched by the ombudsman after it became concerned about L&Q’s handling of complaints in December.

The ombudsman report said the findings “are indicative of a period of wider systemic failure”.

It said: “During this period the landlord failed to take sufficient action to address the root cause driving the issues it was facing, and act effectively on its own monitoring and reporting of service provision, as well as the warning signs that were evident in its complaints and independent reviews – leading to a prolonged period of decline in its services.”

It said rather than address core issues, L&Q “continued to firefight individual issues”, resulting in “policies, initiatives and reports” that failed to resolve its failures.”

The report said: “Residents have experienced prolonged periods of distress and confusion, having to chase the landlord to act on what should at times be straightforward requests, leading to them raising complaints, repeatedly trying to get the landlord to understand the seriousness of the situation and often being met with inaction.

“The landlord stopped hearing its residents’ voice and became desensitised to the issues its residents were facing. Instead of recognising complaints as an indicator of declining performance and using them as an opportunity to improve the service the resident received, the landlord was at times abrupt in its response. It failed to communicate effectively or appropriately with residents over a prolonged period of time”

The ombudsman found failings in complaints handing, in awards of compensation, in adapting approach for vulnerable tenants, carrying out repairs, combating damp and mould and tackling anti-social behaviour. It has issued a series of orders and recommendations to L&Q on how to improve the situation. (see box) 

Key orders and recommendations 

The Housing Ombudsman has told L&Q to carry out a series of improvements, see below: 

Complaint Handling

• Review its complaint handling procedures and staff guidance to ensure

complaints are handled in line with the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code

and its own complaint policy, particularly in relation to:

o Escalations

o Addressing all of the complaint

o Clearly identifying failings

o Establishing learning points

o Suspending complaints

o Adhering to policy timescales

o Handling complaints with associated disrepair claims

o Allocating complaints

o Calculating redress

o Closing complaints

o Updating residents during complaints

• Carry our staff training on effective complaint handling and lessons learned

exercises on complaints.

Vulnerable Residents

• Promote and retrain staff on its Vulnerable Residents Policy and markers

system to ensure vulnerability issues are identified and escalated as needed.

• Carry out a review of its Vulnerable Residents Policy.


• Review its record management so it can accurately monitor the progress of

repairs to completion and track outstanding repairs.

• Review its property inspection process to allow for early and accurate

identification of disrepair.

• Provide an update to the Ombudsman regarding the replacement of the current

housing management system and confirm that this will be able to meet specific

accessibility needs.

• Implement a new procedure of giving reasonable notice to residents when its

employees or contractors need to enter either the communal areas or residents’

rooms within the premises.

• Check the repairs history for a property when logging new reports.

• Ensure that staff are aware of the need to escalate a matter where there is a

history of repeat or similar reports.

Damp and mould

• Review its approach to responding to reports of disrepair, in particular damp

and mould, particularly with reference to the Spotlight report and HHSRS.

• Review its contractor arrangements to ensure better management of damp and

mould cases from end-to-end.

• Consider remedies when condensation is considered to be the root cause of

damp and mould.

Anti-Social Behaviour

• Carry out an exercise to understand why its procedures around ASB were not

followed and then carry out any training identified as a result.

• Read and self-assess against the Spotlight report on Noise.

• Review the policies and procedures surrounding the handling of domestic

abuse reports. 

Richard Blakeway, housing ombudsman, said: “Resident concerns were repeatedly dismissed or poorly handled, without the respect they or their issues deserved. Crucially, the needs of vulnerable residents were not always identified, and too often this caused serious detriment and risk to them.

“The landlord consistently failed to take sufficient action on its own monitoring and warning signs that were evident in its complaints and independent reviews – leading to a prolonged period of decline, especially in areas like repairs and complaints handling.”

Blakeway however acknowledged that L&Q, which built a sector record 4,157 homes in 2021/22, makes a “significant contribution to housing”

Responding to the report, Fiona Fletcher-Smith, chief executive of L&Q, said the landlord recognised that it had “got things wrong”, and is personally contacting residents whose complaints have been judged to involve service failure of maladministration.

>> See also: From global banking to social housing with Hyde boss Andy Hulme

>> See also: ‘Bigger and complicated is what we enjoy’: an interview with Clarion’s Richard Cook

>> See also: Leading the pack: an interview with L&Q’s Fiona Fletcher-Smith

She said L&Q has already “made significant progress to address the operational issues highlighted in this report” .She said L&Q has a £3bn 15-year major works investment programme, is working to transform the ‘quality and responsiveness’ of its repairs service and is working to tackle damp and mould, installing 14,000 humidity sensors. She said L&Q’s new, localised housing management approach implemented last year is putting 30% more frontline workers in local neighbourhoods, and has invested £40m in a new housing management system.

She said: “We are overhauling our complaints handling, investing in additional staff, training and other resources, prioritising efficiency and good communication, and embedding learning from complaints in our process. We’re already seeing a reduction in the time it takes to resolve complaints”

The ombudsman shared its decisions with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). RSH has been approached for comment about any action it may take in response.

The report comes at a time of renewed focus on consumer regulation social housing following last week’s passing into law of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act. The act gives the RSH powers to routinely inspect landlords, issue unlimited fines and access properties at short notice.

The RSH on Tuesday published details of its new consumer standards.