Applications are open to join the next Housing Ombudsman Resident Panel - find out more Housing Ombudsman Resident Panel.

Aspire Housing Limited (202206457)

Back to Top

REPORT

COMPLAINT 202206457

Aspire Housing Limited

30 January 2024


Our approach

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

  1. The complaint is about:
    1. The landlords handling of repairs to the residents outbuilding.
    2. The Ombudsman has decided to investigate the landlord’s complaint handling.

Background

  1. The resident is an assured tenant of the landlord since 2010. The property is a 1-bedroom flat with an attached outbuilding. The landlord is a housing association.
  2. In July 2016, the resident reported cracking and damage of the outbuilding to the landlord. The landlord inspected the area but took no further action.
  3. In 2020 the resident contacted the landlord to inform it that no works had been carried out and personal belongings stored in the area had been damaged. The landlord inspected the area and organised work to start on 27 March 2020.
  4. Due to the lockdown order, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the works did not take place.
  5. In March 2022, the resident complained to the landlord that no works had taken place. The landlord attended again and took photographs of the area.
  6. On 17 May 2022, the resident made a stage 1 complaint that she had not received any updates and works had not started. She informed the landlord that her belongings had been damaged and requested details of the landlord’s insurer.
  7. In June 2022, the landlord carried out a further inspection and informed the resident the outbuilding needed to be demolished and rebuilt.
  8. On 6 July 2022, the resident contacted this service to inform that the landlord had not responded to her stage 1 complaint. On the same day, this service wrote to the landlord and asked it to respond within 10 working days.
  9. On 8 July 2022, the landlord provided its stage 1 complaint response to the resident. It apologised for providing a poor service, informed her that it had referred the matter to its insurer, it would treat the matter as urgent and it had reviewed its internal processes to prevent the situation occurring again.
  10. The resident was dissatisfied with the landlord’s response and contacted this service on 18 July 2022. She said she was unhappy that compensation had not been offered. This service asked it to provide its stage 2 complaint response by 15 August 2022.
  11. In its complaint response, it acknowledged the situation had been going on for an unreasonable length of time and it had not communicated enough with her. It apologised and offered £200 in compensation for the time it had taken to carry out the works.
  12. On 13 September 2022, the resident contacted this service to state she remained dissatisfied with the landlord’s final compensation offer. This service informed the landlord the resident had escalated her complaint for consideration. In January 2023, the landlord offered the resident £3000 in compensation for damage to her belongings.
  13. The resident’s position is the compensation offered did not take into account the inconvenience experienced in contacting the landlord about the repair since 2016 or the inconvenience experienced during the works when the outbuilding was being rebuilt.
  14. The works to the outbuilding were completed on 14 September 2022. This was 6 years and 2 months since the resident first reported it to the landlord.

Assessment and findings

The landlords handling of repairs to the outbuilding.

  1. The landlords Repairs, Maintenance, and Improvements policy states: ‘ We are responsible for keeping in repair the structure and exterior of a customer’s home and building. This includes garages and stores that are part of the property.’
  2. The policy states it will carry out major repairs within 90 working days.
  3. The resident first reported cracks to the outbuilding in July 2016. The landlord’s initial response to this was to inspect the area. It noted structural damage to the outbuilding with the probable cause of being struck by a car.
  4. The landlord noted the resident’s gas and electric supply pipework, and meters were situated in the area and arranged for the suppliers to carry out safety inspections of the meters. This was appropriate in the circumstances.
  5. The utility companies confirmed no damage had been caused to the meters or pipework supplying the property. The landlord’s records indicate the matter of the structural damage was then passed to the landlords asset management team.
  6. There is no evidence the landlord took any action after this, and it appears not to have explained its decision not to take any action to the resident. This was unreasonable in the circumstances and meant the resident did not know what would happen next or when.
  7. The records show the resident contacted the landlord again in January 2020 to question why nothing had been done and to inform the landlord that she wanted to make a claim for damage to her goods stored in the outbuilding.
  8. The Ombudsman finds the landlord did not ask any questions about what had been damaged. No evidence has been provided that the resident was given information or signposted to the appropriate department to make an insurance claim for her damaged goods. This was not fair or appropriate.
  9. The landlord did organise an inspection of the structural damage to take place in the days ahead. The Ombudsman considers the landlord missed an opportunity during this visit to understand more about the residents damaged goods.
  10. As a result of the landlords second inspection, it appointed a contractor to begin works to the outbuilding on 27 March 2020. This date coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown order and the works did not take place.
  11. It is understandable that the works did not go ahead at that time, however, the Ombudsman has not seen any evidence the postponement of the works was explained to the resident.
  12. The Ombudsman expects when a landlord becomes aware of a reason it cannot complete works the resident is expecting, it should explain this. The records show the landlord did not reschedule the works and did not communicate with the resident any further about the matter. The landlord’s approach caused upset and frustration to the resident.
  13. On 29 April 2022, the resident contacted the landlord and complained that no action had been taken since 2016. The resident stated she felt fobbed off by the landlord and the cracks in the building had become larger. The resident expressed clear dissatisfaction about the situation, but the landlord did not log a complaint. (The landlords complaint handling has been investigated later in this report).
  14. The landlord’s response was to organise a third inspection. Before the inspection was due to took place, the resident contacted the landlord and informed it that her home contents insurance only covered theft and not damage to goods. She requested the landlord’s insurance details for the second time.
  15. There is no evidence the landlord acted on this request or signposted her to the correct department. This was unreasonable and unfair and hampered the resident in exercising her right to make an insurance claim. Information about her request to make an insurance claim was not passed on to the officer assigned to carry out the inspection. The Ombudsman considers the landlord missed another opportunity to understand the resident’s losses and agree a suitable course of action.
  16. On 17 May 2022, the resident telephoned the landlord to complain that nothing had happened after the third inspection. The landlord logged a stage 1 complaint and organised a fourth inspection to take place on 16 June 2022.
  17. On 8 July 2022, the landlord provided its stage 1 complaint response. It apologised for providing a poor service, informed her that it had referred the damage to the building to its insurer, that it would treat the matter as urgent and it had reviewed its internal processes to prevent the situation occurring again.
  18. The resident was dissatisfied with the landlord’s response and contacted this service on 18 July 2022. She informed this service that she was unhappy that compensation had not been offered.
  19. This service wrote to the landlord setting out the reasons for the resident’s dissatisfaction and asked it to provide its stage 2 complaint response by 15 August 2022.
  20. In its complaint response the landlord offered £200 compensation for the resident’s inconvenience, carried out another inspection and ordered works to start on 7 September 2022.
  21. The landlord informed the resident the gas and electric supply would be disconnected during the work. The records show the electricity supply to the property was disconnected for 2 days. During this time, the resident relocated to a family member.
  22. The resident advised this service that the situation of staying away from home was stressful, inconvenient, and presented other issues that she had to manage. These were emptying her fridge freezer of perishable goods (due to the electricity disconnection), transporting these elsewhere to prevent spoiling, organising to be away from home and travelling to and from the family member’s home.
  23. No evidence has been provided that the landlord assisted with the process of relocation or the matters arising from the disconnection of the electricity supply for 2 days. It also does not appear to have considered whether it should cover any of her reasonable costs. This was unfair and unreasonable.
  24. The work was completed on 14 September 2022. This was 6 years and 2 months after the resident had first reported it.
  25. The Ombudsman finds the landlord unreasonably delayed in carrying out repairs to the outbuilding. It did not comply with its 90-day timescale for major repairs and failed to communicate with the resident about the matter for long periods of time. This caused disappointment and uncertainty for the resident.
  26. It only organised the repair after the resident formally complained in 2020. When this repair was cancelled due to COVID-19, it failed to reschedule it until the resident complained again in 2022. It then took a further 6 months to complete the repair and did not explain this delay to the resident. This caused an unacceptable delay in getting the matter resolved for the resident.
  27. The Ombudsman understands some repairs can be complex, especially when involving insurers but residents should be kept updated and informed at all stages.
  28. The resident had to spend an unreasonable amount of time and effort chasing the landlord and seeking updates about when work would happen. This undermined the resident’s confidence in the landlord and caused inconvenience and distress to the resident.
  29. The documents show the landlord recognised some of its failings and carried out an internal review of its processes. While this is positive the Ombudsman considers the landlord should have undertaken this at a much earlier stage. The Ombudsman finds there was maladministration in the landlords handling of repairs to the residents outbuilding.
  30. The documents show that after the resident’s complaint was escalated to this service, the landlord visited the resident at home to discuss the issues. This resulted in the landlord’s final offer of £3000 in compensation in January 2023.
  31. The Ombudsman finds the landlords final offer of £3000 was for damage to the resident’s belongings but did not include the resident’s overall  inconvenience and distress between 2016 and 2022. It also did not include the inconvenience experienced because of the disconnection of electricity to the property for 2 days.
  32. The Ombudsman considers it was unfair and unreasonable for the landlord not to have included an amount for inconvenience in its final compensation offer because through its discussions with the resident in January 2023 it was aware of the inconvenience experienced since 2016 and during the works.
  33. Additionally, the landlord’s final compensation offer was made several months after its complaints process was exhausted. This means the landlord did not follow the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code which states “A complaint should be resolved at the earliest possible opportunity.” The landlord should have offered compensation at the appropriate stage of its complaints process. When compensation offers come after the landlord’s complaint process is exhausted it is harder for the landlord to demonstrate it will act fairly and consistently in all cases.
  34. In August 2022 the landlord offered £200 for the residents inconvenience. When it reviewed its compensation offer in January 2023 it would have been appropriate to consider if any further compensation was due for inconvenience. Looking at the resident’s inconvenience reporting the issues between 2016 and 2022 and the additional inconvenience experienced when the electricity supply was disconnected, and having regard to the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance, the Ombudsman considers an additional £100 would be an appropriate remedy in the circumstances.

The landlord’s complaint handling

  1. The landlord operates a 2-stage complaint policy. It states it will respond to stage 1 complaints with 10 working days and stage 2 complaints within 20 working days.
  2. It also states, ‘A complaint is defined as an expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the standard of service, actions or lack of actions by us affecting and individual.’
  3. The resident telephoned the landlord on 29 April 2022. The landlord documented that she wished to complain but it did not log a formal complaint. Instead, it treated the complaint as a service request and organised an inspection of the outbuilding. This was not appropriate in the circumstances. The landlord should have recognised that it should log a formal complaint for the resident.
  4. On 17 May 2022, the resident contacted the landlord again to complain. On this occasion the landlord logged a stage 1 complaint. The landlord should have provided its stage 1 complaint response by no later than 30 May 2022, but it did not do this.
  5. On 6 July 2022, the resident contacted this service to express concern the landlord had not responded to her complaint and no works had been carried out. On the same day, this service wrote to the landlord and asked it to respond within 10 working days.
  6. The landlord provided its stage 1 response on 8 July 2022. This was 6 weeks after the response was due. This was unreasonable and not in line with its own complaint handling timescale, or the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code. The landlord did not acknowledge or apologise for the lateness of its response. This lacked courtesy and undermined the landlord and tenant relationship.
  7. It wrote that it understood that one of the resident’s complaint points was ‘Request for compensation due to the length of time to resolve the issue and damage to your personal belongings,’ but it then failed to address the issue of damage to the resident’s belongings. This would have been frustrating for the resident and the landlord missed an opportunity to put things right at an early stage. The Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code states ‘ Landlords must address all points raised in the complaint and provide clear reasons for any decisions, referencing the relevant policy, law and good practice where appropriate.’
  8. On 13 July 2022, the resident contacted this service seeking assistance to escalate the complaint to stage 2. This service wrote to the landlord setting out the reasons for the resident’s escalation request. These were that the repairs had not been carried out and compensation for damaged belongings had not been offered.
  9. The landlord provided its stage 2 response in accordance with its published timescale. It apologised for the delays and offered £200 compensation for its delays and lack of communication about the repair but again failed to address the matter of the damage to the resident’s belongings. This was unreasonable and shows the landlord did not give due care and attention to the resident’s complaint points.
  10. Additionally, the Ombudsman finds the landlord only began to investigate the issue of damage to the residents’ belongings when this service informed the landlord that it had begun a complaint investigation. This was unreasonable given the landlords stage 1 response demonstrated it knew the damage caused to the residents’ belongings was part of the resident’s complaint.
  11. Looking at everything together;
    1. The landlord’s failure to log a complaint on 29 April 2022.
    2. The 6-week delay in providing its stage 1 response and lack of explanation or apology for this.
    3. The failure to engage with a key complaint area at both stages of the complaints process leading to an inappropriate compensation offer.
  12. The Ombudsman considers the landlords complaints process did not work effectively. This meant the resident had to spend additional time and trouble in pursuing her complaint, repeating the issues, and had to engage this service to get a complaint response from the landlord.
  13. The landlord’s complaint handling undermined the resident’s confidence in the landlord and caused inconvenience and distress to the resident.
  14. The Ombudsman finds there was maladministration in the landlord’s complaint handling.

Determination

  1. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was maladministration in the landlords handling of the repairs to the residents outbuilding.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was maladministration in the landlord’s complaint handling.

Orders

  1. Within 4 weeks of the date of this report the landlord must pay the resident £3450 in compensation. This is broken down as:
    1. £3000 for the damage to the resident’s belongings (if this has not already been paid)
    2. £300 for the overall inconvenience caused to the resident dealing with the issue between July 2016 and September 2022.(This includes the £200 offered at stage 2 if it hasn’t already been paid)
    3. £150 for the delays and inconvenience caused to the resident by the landlord’s complaint handling.
  2. The landlord should carry out complaint handling refresher training with its staff team to include the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code.
  3. Within 4 weeks of the date of this report, provide evidence of compliance with the above orders.

Recommendations

  1. The landlord should consider staff training or develop an approach to dealing with a request for insurance details from a resident.