Rats, urine leaks, and ‘insincere’ apologies: Watchdog lifts lid on Islington’s housing horrors in scathing review of council repair service

‘We’re deeply sorry’: Islington’s executive member for homes, Cllr Una O’Halloran. Photograph: Julia Gregory

A resident started sleeping in her car when she “could not take it anymore” after Islington Council failed to sort out nightly noise from her neighbours.

The Housing Ombudsman found it took the council four months to suggest the woman download a noise application on her phone.

She also reported rats coming in from the flat above and there was also a urine leak from a faulty property upstairs.

Things got worse for the woman, known as Ms W, and she reported getting “intimidating and threatening letters” from her neighbour.

She asked to move and contacted the council 25 times in 16 months.

The case was so bad that the Ombudsman ordered the council’s chief executive to make a personal apology.

The Town Hall also had to pay Ms W £3,920 for the way it handled her complaints.

Ms W’s is just one case from a dossier produced by the Ombudsman as part of its investigation into how the council fixed housing problems.

The housing watchdog met with residents to hear their concerns and review the council’s repairs cases, including damp and mould issues.

The Ombudsman said the council was “reactive, rather than proactive”, and found it was not tackling complaints within its own target timescale.

The watchdog also criticised some apologies as “insincere” and said one “does not take the opportunity to mend a damaged relationship”.

It ordered the council to pay out £66,441 in compensation to 30 residents, and made 186 recommendations for how it could improve.

In one case, Islington Council paid £8,468 in compensation to a disabled resident, Ms O, after a year’s delay in inspecting problems which were affecting her health.

These issues included damp and mould, damaged windows, leaks to her house and shed, and kitchen disrepair.

The council had not recorded her disability, despite fitting a stairlift for her. She needs a representative to help her communicate with the council, but this was not noted.

The Housing Ombudsman found severe maladministration in the council’s “lack of consideration of Ms O’s vulnerabilities and wellbeing”, its lack of communication with her, and the way it handled her complaint.

Another council tenant endured an 18-month wait for repairs to a leaking bathtub, and another was paid £4,300 compensation after a 14-month delay for repairs to a faulty entry door fob.

It took the council 14 months to install radiators to deal with damp at Ms H’s flat, where she lives with a young child. The cold makes Ms H’s skin condition worse.

She faced a six-hour wait for help when sewage leaked into her home. She had to use a bucket to bail it out, and had to remove her floor covering because of the sewage smell, which made her flat colder.

The council was told to pay her £2,270 in compensation.

The Ombudsman announced its investigation into housing cases in Islington after the council featured among a list of 32 social housing landlords criticised for their failings in more than half the cases brought to the watchdog.

Housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa had also highlighted concerns about residents living in damp homes. In one case, a family could not use several bedrooms because of damp and sewage leaking through the ceiling.

Councillor Una O’Halloran, Islington Council’s executive member for homes and communities, apologised for the cases highlighted by the Ombudsman.

She said: “Our tenants and leaseholders deserve a high-quality service, and we’re deeply sorry that we haven’t always delivered this in the past.

“We’ve already been working to put things right and have committed to making significant improvements.”

She said the council is setting up “a new localised approach to housing management, based on where people live, so residents have a single point of contact and staff take ownership of their patch”.

“Alongside our work to give residents more power in how we run our services, this will help us transform our housing services over the next two years,” she added.

O’Halloran said the council is committed to making improvements and ensuring residents have “a safe, decent, and genuinely affordable place to call home”.