Peter is celebrating his vindication by the Ombudsman, which has upheld his complaint of mistreatment by Leeds Jewish Housing Association (LJHA).
The case however highlights weaknesses in this part of the justice system for tenants and residents, and the need for more powerful enforcement when landlords fail.
The complaint concerned service charges, diminished services as well as the procurement of the caretaker service (repairs and maintenance), the costs of which were then passed onto residents. Peter won an apology and a total of £600 in compensation for the distress he endured. He comments:
“The Ombudsman has found four service failures against LJHA, and has ordered them to pay me £50 for each, along with five recommendations and a further £400 fine for maladministration in complaint handling. This has been a long battle and I am glad to have some of my complaints upheld”
This remedy is minimally satisfactory for Peter, but the case highlights a major fault in the justice system. Even though the delays and failings by LJHA affected only Peter in his quest for answers to his concerns, the initial queries and matters he raised several years ago also affected a number of other residents in his scheme.
The related paperwork held by LJHA was only kept until the rule requiring it to be stored for six years expired. This means that others will never receive remedies or compensation from LJHA.
The Fight for Information
One example is that LJHA admitted to the Ombudsman that it had no formal contract with a caretaker and maintenance company that was supposed to deliver services between 2013 and 2016, and that procurement had been a less formal mutual arrangement.
The Ombudsman rightly noted that without a written contract, LJHA could not properly monitor or manage the sub-contractor’s performance, or demonstrate to residents that it was being transparent in its decision making.
Leeds Jewish Housing Association was founded in 1953 and has around 550 homes
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requires a landlord to consult with leaseholders if they propose carrying out works or services for which residents are to be charged. No such consultation ever took place for the mutual agreement between LJHA and the sub-contractor.
Despite receiving vast subsidies from the taxpayer, housing associations are not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) which allows anyone to make reasonable requests for data from public bodies. The FoIA provisions are administered by the Information Commissioner which has considerable powers of enforcement.
Housing campaign groups have for years highlighted the imbalance created by the housing association sector’s exclusion from FoIA, yet government continues to resist empowering tenants and residents by reducing the asymmetry in information.
When Government recently passed the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, it once again demonstrated its loyalty to landlords by rejecting an amendment to bring housing associations in line with other public bodies. Instead, new legislation introduced a much weaker ‘access to information scheme’ for social housing tenants.
Mark Grandfield, Chief Executive and Jayne Wynick, Chair of the Board oversee the work of LJHA
Full access to FoIA enforced by the Information Commissioner remains an important prerequisite for rebalancing the power relationship between tenants and housing associations.
LJHA’s handling of Peter’s complaint was a catalogue of disregard. They did not acknowledge his complaint initially and took 15 months to conclude the first stage of their process. Peter then had to go through a second complaints stage and endure a further wait for his case to be assigned an investigator by the Ombudsman. Peter sums up his experience saying:
“There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. That has happened to me and it’s happening all the time to residents with complaints against their landlords”
The vast majority of complaints against housing associations seen by SHAC continue to powerfully underscore the truth of this saying. As Awaab Ishak’s death and the loss of lives in the Grenfell fire showed, the results can be fatal.
Changes in the law are needed to give much swifter redress in housing cases precisely because protracted injustices and the battles they give rise to create so much harm to tenants’ and residents’ mental and physical well-being.
Tenants and residents generally have no alternative but to remain where they are, no matter how badly they are treated by their landlord, nor how awful their living conditions.
SHAC has supported Peter and others to collectivise their struggles, coming together to demand justice and better rights for housing association tenants and residents.
As we approach the next general election, likely to be in 2024, a significant reform of public housing must be on the agenda for the next government.
Join us to help raise this demand, and our voices.
11 September 2023
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