England’s big social housing landlords ignoring official complaint warnings

<span>Photograph: Marcin Rogozinski/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Marcin Rogozinski/Alamy

Some of England’s biggest social housing landlords are ignoring official warnings to handle tenants’ complaints better and the problem is getting worse, the ombudsman for the sector has said.

Landlords including L&Q, Southwark council and A2Dominion Group – which together let out 142,000 low-cost homes – failed to act despite being told to tackle complaints response delays and provide information to the watchdog.

Richard Blakeway, the housing ombudsman, said in just three months the watchdog issued landlords with 43 “complaints handling failure orders” and 18 were not complied with, the most yet.

“It is exceptional for us to issue a failure order,” he said. “For a landlord to receive several and not comply, indicates its complaints procedure is not working as it should. The result is residents continually waiting for redress and landlords missing opportunities to put something right sooner.”

There was nationwide anger at social landlords’ failure to listen to tenants in the years before the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 and before the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in December 2020 from lung failure caused by untreated mould.

Tenants say a functioning complaints process is the key to tackling endemic problems ranging from mould to antisocial behaviour.

Three landlords in London repeatedly failed to comply with orders from the watchdog between April and June this year. They were Barking and Dagenham council, whose leader Darren Rodwell is a Labour candidate for the next general election, Haringey council and Southwark council, which are also in the party’s control.

Tenant group the Social Housing Action Campaign (Shac) said the findings supported its research.

“Our experience is there has been no improvement or the standard of complaints handling has actually declined,” said Suzanne Muna, the Shac secretary. “If they are ignoring the ombudsman, the government needs to act to get tougher.”

The National Housing Federation, which represents social housing providers, and L&Q declined to comment on the ombudsman’s warning.

Southwark council’s leader, Kieron Williams, said it had this week “published our plans for improving our repairs service”, but criticised “decisions made by government ministers” that had “taken hundreds of millions of pounds out of the funds councils have to maintain our tenants’ homes”.

Michael Reece, the executive director of operations at A2Dominion, said the ombudsman’s interventions did not “reflect the level of service and complaint resolution” it expected to deliver and that it had “unreservedly apologised to customers affected by this”.