Mould, damp and infestations: rare Housing Ombudsman investigation raises ‘significant concerns’ about Clarion

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A group which represents social housing residents told NationalWorld that a quarter of all its complaints come from Clarion tenants

The UK’s largest housing association has been criticised over its handling of damp and mould and pest control at a number of homes.

In a special report, the Housing Ombudsman highlighted issues with damp, mould, pest management and complaint handling, which “seriously impacted” residents.

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It is only the second time that the ombudsman has conducted a special investigation.

Clarion has been the subject of several high-profile investigations by ITV News exposing poor conditions in social housing, and has had its failings highlighted a number of times by social housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa.

A housing campaign group has told NationalWorld that a quarter of all the complaints it receives relate to Clarion properties.

‘Unfit for human habitation’

A special investigation carried out by the Housing Ombudsman into Clarion identified “significant concerns” about the housing association’s response to reports of damp and mould, and rodent infestations.

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It also found flaws in the association’s complaint handling, record keeping and issuing of compensation. The ombudsman looked at 13 cases where residents had filed complaints against Clarion over a six month period.

One resident reported leaks in her roof which had led to damp, mould and other internal damage which had seriously impacted her and her family’s health and living conditions. The resident was left in poor and deteriorating conditions for over a year, while the housing association failed to maintain contact with her throughout the process of the repairs being organised and eventually carried out.

In another case, a resident with vulnerabilities endured delays of 15 months for necessary repair work, often going months without contact from Clarion. The same resident also suffered from leaks in the property and a rodent infestation so severe that she had to sleep on her living room sofa for months and an independent surveyor stated the property was “unfit for human habitation”.

The resident made multiple complaints about the infestation over the course of a year, but the Ombudsman found “no evidence of the landlord responding to these reports at the time”. The woman was eventually offered compensation totalling around £2,000.

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Of the 13 cases in the investigation, the ombudsman found Clarion to be at fault in all but one.

Public housing system is ‘broken, but can be fixed’

The Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC), a network of tenants campaigning for better rights and conditions in social housing, has been highly critical of Clarion.

Suzanne Muna of SHAC said that while the ombudsman’s report exposes extreme examples of maladministration, similar issues are widespread across the housing association sector, which she said has “for too long been merger-obsessed, and hyper-commercialised, with a focus on growing bigger and building new homes. Only a declining proportion of these homes are for social rent.”

Muna told NationalWorld that a quarter of all the complaints SHAC receives are from Clarion tenants, and that members of the campaign group have repeatedly called for the housing association’s board to stand down.

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She said: “Clarion is the UK’s largest housing association with around 135,000 homes owned and/or managed, and around 300,000 people living in their properties. It has grown so big that it seems to be beyond accountability to any of the institutions that are meant to ensure they deliver decent homes, and critical services, such as the Regulator of Social Housing, the Housing Ombudsman, and the court system.

“They ignore them all. They also get millions of pounds worth of funding from the taxpayer, either for building new homes or by way of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit.”

SHAC has argued for major reform to the social housing sector, including a mass house building programme and rent caps, as well as strengthened tenant rights. “The public housing system in the UK is broken,” she said, “but it can be fixed. We need investment in a mass programme of council housing which is properly grant funded. It has been done before after World War II.”

In a statement, Clarion said it collaborated fully with the Ombudsman and said it had learnt from the mistakes highlighted in the 13 cases covered in the report and made changes to its processes as a result.

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It said: “Clarion carries out over 1,300 repairs per day. Our dedicated team are highly trained problem solvers who take accountability for resolving issues. This year we have invested in new equipment to support the early detection of damp and mould and have taken advantage of new technology to support the management of data, in order to track property interventions, measuring and reporting results.

“We regularly review our investment priorities to ensure that our planned investment is targeted where it is needed most. This is reviewed with residents through our resident involvement panels, including the National Property Engagement Group, and their feedback drives our decisions. Our independent satisfaction surveys results show high levels of satisfaction amongst our residents with our repairs services. This report has rightly highlighted that in a small number of cases, we did not provide the service our residents deserve - we can and will do better.”

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