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Housing Ombudsman calls for stronger focus on ‘right first time’ and contract management in heating and hot water complaints

16 February 2021

We have today published a report focused on complaints about heating and hot water

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We have today published a report focused on complaints about heating and hot water, identifying unnecessary delays in resolving issues together with landlords’ management of contractors as particular issues of concern. The report highlights the serious impact these complaints can have on residents, especially when dealing with vulnerable households.

The report, Spotlight on complaints about heating, hot water and energy in social housing, is based on more than 200 cases investigated over an 18 month period from April 2019. It includes complaints about heat networks, gas servicing and energy efficiency to support decarbonisation. The highest number of complaints investigated concerned general heating and hot water issues, but there was a disproportionately high number of maladministration findings in the cases which involved heat networks – or district heating – and complaint handling.

The review shows:

  • maladministration in 31 per cent of cases, increasing to 38 per cent for complaints about gas safety investigations, 60 per cent for complaints about heat networks and 60 per cent for those involving complaint handling
  • we made 158 orders to put things rights, including 108 orders to pay compensation totalling £58,486

The report makes several recommendations for improved practice including:

  • putting things ‘right first time’, particularly where contractors are involved through effective management of contracts
  • providing clear information for residents at the start of the tenancy or lease on properties with heat networks, and again if the arrangements change
  • planning gas safety inspections well ahead of the due date to allow for appointments to be made at a convenient time for residents and avoid missing renewal dates.

The real life experiences of ten residents are featured. In one, an 89 year old man was left without heating and hot water for five weeks when his boiler broke down. The landlord failed to acknowledge the extent of its failure in handling the repairs and offered compensation which was not proportionate to the resident’s vulnerability and length of time he was left without hot water or adequate heating.

Another case involved a communal biomass boiler system in flats with many elderly or disabled residents. The boiler repeatedly broke down and the fuel supply ran out causing distress and discomfort to residents. The landlord had a long term agreement with a contractor for the system but it had no penalty clauses and there was no performance monitoring.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “A warm home and hot water are basic needs for any household and especially so during the colder winter months given the very serious risk to health and well-being. Our investigations repeatedly found a failure to put things ‘right first time’, which in some cases involved contractors working on behalf of the landlord. These failures are unacceptable. Where contractors are involved the responsibility and accountability rests with the landlord – it is their maladministration.

“We have made 40 recommendations of best practice and I hope landlords will use this learning to improve their services and complaint handling.”

This is the third report in our Spotlight series which share the learning from complaints and provide best practice to help landlords improve their services and complaint handling.