Anchor Hanover Group
1 July 2021
The Housing Ombudsman’s approach to investigating and determining complaints is to decide what is fair in all the circumstances of the case. This is set out in the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme). The Ombudsman considers the evidence and looks to see if there has been any ‘maladministration’, for example whether the landlord has failed to keep to the law, followed proper procedure, followed good practice or behaved in a reasonable and competent manner.
Both the resident and the landlord have submitted information to the Ombudsman and this has been carefully considered. Their accounts of what has happened are summarised below. This report is not an exhaustive description of all the events that have occurred in relation to this case, but an outline of the key issues as a background to the investigation’s findings.
- The complaint is about:
- The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of antisocial behaviour (ASB).
- The landlord’s handling of reports of ASB made about the resident.
- What we can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme). When a complaint is brought to the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the case as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
- After carefully considering all the evidence, in accordance with paragraph 39(a) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the following aspect of the complaint is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction:
- The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of ASB.
- Paragraph 39(a) of the Scheme states that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which are made prior to having exhausted a member landlord’s internal complaints procedure. This is to allow the landlord a reasonable opportunity to address the issue. It is noted that the resident’s dissatisfaction with the landlord’s handling of his reports of ASB have not been progressed through its complaint process; therefore, this matter will not be considered in this investigation.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is a tenant of the landlord. On 6 January 2021, it received a report of him using abusive language when shouting at a neighbour.
- On 8 January 2021, the resident received a letter from the landlord concerning his use of “inappropriate language” used in “an aggressive manner” directed at his upstairs neighbours on 6 January 2021 in response to their dogs barking. It advised that it had investigated a report he had made on 4 January 2021 about his dissatisfaction with his neighbour’s dogs barking and found that the dogs did not bark continually or during unsociable hours and would stop when told by their owner.
- The landlord confirmed that it had spoken to the resident on 6 January 2021 when he denied using offensive language as he was not in the habit of using such language. It recounted a previous incident where it had observed him shouting and swearing. The landlord informed the resident that his behaviour had caused “upset and concern” to other residents and their visitors and reminded him of the terms of his tenancy which prohibited him from causing a “nuisance” in the local area. It requested that he cease this behaviour and advised that further incidents would be viewed as breaches of his tenancy agreement.
- The resident called the landlord on 21 January 2021 to request that the letter be changed to reflect that he did not swear at anyone.
- The resident raised a complaint with the landlord on 11 February 2021 about the “wording of the warning letter”.
- The landlord issued a stage one complaint response to the resident on 24 February 2021 after a telephone conversation with him to discuss the complaint. It acknowledged his assertion that he had not used abusive language and would not do so. However, it stated that its investigation had not found evidence that the report of him doing so was untrue.
- The landlord noted he had made reports of ASB being perpetrated by other parties and that he had a repair issue; it assured him that these issues would be addressed, but it did not uphold his complaint about the wording of the warning letter he received on 8 January 2021.
- The resident subsequently contacted this Service on 12 March 2021, when he expressed his dissatisfaction with the landlord’s response. We then contacted the landlord to request that it escalate his complaint.
- The landlord issued a final-stage complaint response to the resident on 1 April 2021. In this, it concluded that it had investigated the matter satisfactorily at stage one and advised that it would not uphold the complaint. The landlord confirmed that this was its final response.
Assessment and findings
Policies and procedures
- The landlord’s antisocial behaviour helpsheet states that “persistent noise and rowdy behaviour” and “intimidation or verbal abuse” may constitute ASB. This also states that “where [it finds] that there is a case to answer as a result of an investigation” it may take proportionate action in response to such ASB which may include sending warning letters.
- The tenancy agreement confirms that the resident “must not cause a nuisance or inconvenience to: any of our tenants… or any other person in the neighbourhood”.
The landlord’s handling of reports of ASB made about the resident
- It should be clarified that the role of the Ombudsman is not to determine whether an event actually occurred, i.e. whether something particular was said. Our role is to determine whether a member landlord responded appropriately or reasonably to reports of an issue in line with its obligations. Moreover, the nature of ASB issues means that events are often hard to substantiate in the absence of independent evidence.
- Therefore, as it is not possible to confirm whether the resident said certain words during the incident on 6 January 2021, the Ombudsman will consider whether the landlord’s response was reasonable and proportionate under the circumstances.
- While the exact wording is disputed, it is not disputed that the resident shouted at his neighbour; as per the antisocial behaviour helpsheet above at point 14, this may constitute ASB. Furthermore, the tenancy agreement, above at point 15, confirms that he is not to cause a nuisance to his neighbours. Shouting may be considered a nuisance. The landlord has also noted a previous incident in which it had observed the resident shouting and swearing, and on this basis provided evidence that the resident had demonstrated similar behaviour previously. It reasonably considered this previous incident when taking a view as to whether the incident had occurred as reported, including the swearing element. Therefore, in accordance with the helpsheet, it was appropriate for the landlord to take action to address the report of ASB it received.
- Considering the available evidence, the sending of a warning letter to the resident was a proportionate response. It demonstrated a consideration of all the circumstances of the case, including the impact of the alleged ASB, the evidence of the resident’s previous behaviour and the impact the letter could be predicted to have on him when he received it. It was reasonable for the landlord to inform him that his behaviour may be regarded as a nuisance and therefore was a potential breach of his tenancy agreement. However it also did not go so far as to enact tenancy enforcement action, noting that it would only be in the case of similar incidents recurring in future that it would consider the terms of the resident’s tenancy to have been breached. In light of there being no further action taken by the landlord at the time, this was a reasonable and proportionate response in the circumstances of the case and there is no evidence of a failure by the landlord in its response.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in its handling of reports of ASB made about the resident.
- It was not disputed that the resident engaged in behaviour which may be considered a nuisance and the landlord responded appropriately in sending a warning letter to him in line with the terms of its ASB policy.