Gove Takes Aim at Hammersmith & Fulham Over Housing

Summons Chief Executive to discuss damning Ombudsman report

Michael Gove. Picture: Chris McAndrew

March 27, 2024

The Housing Secretary Michael Gove has written to Hammersmith and Fulham Council setting out ‘grave concerns’ following a damning report by the Ombudsman.

Mr Gove wrote the local authority’s approach to repairs and complaint handling documented in the review was ‘unacceptable’, and requested the council’s Chief Executive meet with the Minister for Social Housing to discuss next steps.

A Hammersmith and Fulham spokesperson said: “We look forward to meeting with the Minister for Social Housing at the earliest possibility.”

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway launched his investigation into the Labour-led council in May 2023 over concerns of ‘systemic failure’.

In his report, published in February and which assessed cases determined between May 29 2023 and September 29 2023, Mr Blakeway recorded a total of 72 maladministration findings across 33 cases, at a maladministration rate of 88 per cent.

In one instance, an elderly woman with health issues had damp and mould in her home. She raised a complaint with the council due to the problems not being resolved, though repeated delays meant the repairs were pushed back. They were finally completed after two years, with the residents’ complaint taking 16 months to progress through the council’s internal process. The woman was eventually paid £3,300 in compensation.

In his report, Mr Blakeway listed a number of recommendations for the council, including creating a clearer process for dealing with repairs, and reviewing its Corporate Complaints policy.

Commenting on the report following its publication, Cllr Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler, Leader of the Conservative opposition, said: “It is thanks to the Ombudsman becoming involved in LBHF, that the council has been forced to deal with our tenants feeling unsafe in their homes due to failures of repairs and appalling mismanagement. Residents have suffered and the council has been rightly blamed by the Ombudsman. This council claims to be compassionate when it is clear they’re not.”

In Mr Gove’s letter, dated March 22, the Housing Secretary wrote: “The effect of your failings on your residents cannot be underestimated, together with the distress and frustration they must have suffered. Many were left feeling unsafe in their own homes, fearful not only for their safety, but that of their children.

“You failed to recognise or understand the detrimental impact ongoing issues had on both the mental and physical wellbeing of your residents. You failed to consider the impact of not only poor-quality repairs, but extensive delays, inadequate responses, and broken promises, particularly on vulnerable residents.”

Noting the council has accepted the findings, is working to put them right and has apologised and compensated residents, Mr Gove added he understands the Ombudsman has brought the report to the Regulator for Social Housing to determine whether standards had been breached.

“My officials will monitor developments,” he added. “We cannot allow this wholly unacceptable situation to recur.”

Mr Gove concluded by asking the council’s Chief Executive and recipient of the letter, Sharon Lea, to meet with the Minister for Social Housing, Lee Rowley, “to discuss the findings of the Ombudsman’s report and the steps you are taking to improve your performance”.

Writing on X (formerly Twitter), the Conservative Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg hands commented: “Labour H&F Council has been an appalling landlord to its social housing tenants.”

“Fulham deserves better!” he added.

In a previous statement responding to the Ombudsman’s report, Hammersmith and Fulham Council apologised to those impacted. “We are truly sorry and reiterate our deepest regrets to those residents affected. We have apologised, compensated, and worked hard to rectify where we let people down.”

Ben Lynch - Local Democracy Reporter