Gove slams council for ‘unacceptable’ housing failings

The secretary of state wrote to Waltham Forest Council chief executive Linzi Roberts-Egan about three ‘severe’ housing failings, reports Marco Marcelline

Waltham Forest Town Hall and (inset) Michael Gove (Image credit: UK Parliament)

Michael Gove has asked Waltham Forest Council to update the government on changes it has made after it was made to pay £18,800 in compensation to tenants it had failed.

In February, the Housing Ombudsman charged the council with three findings of “severe maladministration” in regards to its handling of three separate housing cases.

The failings include a damp and mould case involving a vulnerable resident who had to wait eleven months for the council to arrange an inspection of their mould-infested home, and another resident experiencing anti-social behaviour (ASB).

In a letter addressed to council chief executive Linzi Roberts-Egan, the secretary of state for housing said the council’s handling of three housing cases was “well below the standard residents should expect”.

He added that he will be taking a “personal interest” in the changes the council makes towards improving the quality of service it delivers to residents, and asked that council representatives meet with the social housing minister Lee Rowley to discuss work to address failings.

Referencing the damp and mould case, Gove wrote he was “shocked and disappointed to read that the family, including an autistic son, had to move into a caravan during repairs” on their home. He added that the “tragic death of Awaab Ishak has shown there is no room for complacency about issues that risk residents’ health”.

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Gove described the council’s handling of a case regarding a resident who complained about ASB outside her home for five years as “unacceptable”.

The resident was forced to sofa surf and stay in temporary accommodation after having genuine fears for her own safety. In February, the council was made to pay the complainant £11,300 in compensation for failing to provide an adequate risk assessment or action plan and for referring her to the police instead of taking responsibility.

In its learning statement, the council said it “fully accepts” the Housing Ombudsman’s findings and apologised “unreservedly to the residents who were affected” by the three documented failings. 

The statement continued: “A significant service transformation programme has been underway for the past year. The learnings from these cases have been used to make sure we are listening to our residents’ voices and have informed the improvement to services that we have made.”

Responding to the first finding, cabinet member for housing and regeneration Ahsan Khan acknowledged the council did “not meet the resident’s expectations” and apologised for the “poor service” they received.

Improvements taken in response to the case, he said, includes “better communication with contractors to ensure repairs are done on time and to a high standard” and the establishment of a dedicated damp and mould taskforce.

Cllr Khan additionally apologised “unreservedly” to the resident who experienced ASB outside her home for five years, and said the council was “determined” to make sure a similar case could not happen again.

The council had acted by introducing a new ASB procedure for officers, and a requirement that officers write action plans to residents outlining what they are doing on the issue.

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