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Housing Ombudsman finds council’s failings worsened resident’s mental health

The Housing Ombudsman has found that a council’s significant failings under the Equality Act exacerbated a resident’s poor mental health.

The Ombudsman found severe maladministration for Tandridge District Council in Surrey after a housing officer failed to appropriately follow its duties under the Equality Act 2010 and its own safeguarding policy.

two cars parked in front of a building with graffiti on it

The period around the complaint started when the housing officer with responsibility for the resident was told she had recently attempted to end her own life.

The resident’s case had already been referred to the Community Harm and Risk Management Meeting (CHARMM), and she had asked an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA) to act on her behalf a few months into the period of the complaint.

But instead of referring her to a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, the housing officer instead asked if the attempt to end her life was “accidental” and added he was “inundated” with concerns about her and her sister’s behaviour.

It was not until nine months later, and once the housing officer had left the landlord’s employment, that the case services team leader referred the resident to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, adult social care, the Community Mental Health Recovery Service and her GP.

When asked by the IMHA not to contact the resident by phone, the housing officer said that was “unrealistic” and did not take it on board.

A couple of months after, the housing officer turned up unannounced with police presence to inspect the resident’s CCTV, causing distress to the resident. This was done ‘in fairness’ to a neighbour who had theirs looked at too. Following this, an email from the housing officer was accusatory and lacked respect.

The housing officer’s insistence that the resident could not refuse to engage with them and that they needed to be able to address concerns as they arose was a further example of the housing officer either not understanding, or not applying their duty under the Equality Act 2010.

The IMHA soon asked to have the resident’s housing officer changed, saying contact from him was exacerbating the resident’s mental health. There was no evidence that the senior members of staff spoke to either the resident or the IMHA as part of the investigation.

The resident and IMHA described the housing officer’s approach as “aggressive and intimidating” and said she had never been spoken to in that manner in all her years in the role. This carried on until the housing officer left three months later.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident in person, pay £1,000 in compensation and review its Vulnerabilities and Reasonable Adjustment policies.

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “Under the Equality Act, the landlord had the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, such as how it provided information to the resident and communication through a representative or intermediary.

“At the heart of this case, there were three different officers involved, but none took appropriate action.

“Failure to appropriately respond to the resident’s requests for reasonable adjustments or to act in accordance with its own safeguarding policy caused serious detriment.

“The failure by the landlord to demonstrate that it had taken steps to ensure it understood the needs of the resident also led to missed opportunities which adversely impacted the resident.

“On top of this, there was a complete absence of recognition, acknowledgement or apology from the landlord for its failings, or to take any action to put things right.”

Tandridge council said it had provided staff with refresher training on these issues, undertaken a review of its staffing structure and would implement a new Enforcement Policy later this year.

Image: Benjamin Elliott

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