Bromford Housing Association Limited
22 August 2023
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:
- response to the resident’s report of a leak;
- complaints handling.
- The resident is an assured shorthold tenant at the property of the landlord. The landlord is a registered provider of social housing.
- The resident experienced a leak through the ceiling of his property on 3 October 2022. The landlord attended on the same day to fix the leak. Its electrician and a plasterer attended the following day to fix a light fitting which had had been affected by the leak and assess the condition of the ceiling.
- The resident raised a complaint on 10 October 2022. He advised that there was now damp, staining, and damage to his laminate flooring from the leak. The landlord discussed the complaint further with the resident on 18 October 2022.
- The landlord provided its stage one response on 24 October 2022. It noted that the resident was unhappy with his housing officer’s (HO) inability to provide a schedule of remedial works. It explained that this was not in the HO’s remit and this was its repairs team’s responsibility. It asserted that it had attended his report of the leak and water in his lights within 24 hours of the reports, and it would raise follow-on works to assess the damage to the ceiling on 25 October 2022.
- The landlord noted that the resident considered that the leak had occurred because of it not attaching an overflow pipe correctly and that the HO had agreed with this. It explained that it would not compensate him for damage to his flooring as it could not find evidence of it being responsible for the cause of the leak. The landlord directed him to his home contents insurer to make a claim for the damage.
- The resident escalated his complaint on 24 October 2022. He maintained that both the HO and the attending operative had said that the leak was caused by the landlord’s “neglect.” He was unhappy that he had not received a visit to assess the damage to his possessions and that he had experienced difficulty in reporting the leak on the day. The resident maintained that the landlord was also responsible for the damage to his flooring.
- The landlord provided its final response to the resident on 30 November 2022. It reiterated that there was no evidence of its operative finding that there was a fault in the pipework which was caused by the landlord. It referred to records from a service of his heating system carried out on 26 April 2022, which had found no faults. The landlord confirmed that it would not be reimbursing the resident for the damage to his flooring and again directed him to his home contents insurer. It offered the resident £20 compensation for its final stage response being issued late.
Assessment and findings
- The tenancy agreement confirms that the landlord is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the structure and exterior of the property, which includes the walls and ceilings. This agreement also states that the resident is responsible for insuring his “furniture, personal belongings, and the internal decoration” of the property.
- The landlord’s repairs and maintenance policy confirms that repairs “which may lead to injury or property damage if left” are considered ‘immediate’ repairs, which require attendance within 2 hours to make safe and repair if possible. Other repairs “that pose a risk or significant impact to the safety and/or welfare of the customer and/or the property” are considered to be ‘emergency’ repairs that are to be attended to on the same day.
- The landlord’s repairs records showed that it attended within 24 hours of the resident’s reports to remedy the leak, address the water penetration into the light fitting, and assess the ceiling. These were timely responses by the landlord and were in accordance with its policy.
- The resident said that he was informed by the landlord’s operative that the leak could have been avoided if the overflow pipe had been correctly connected. While the Ombudsman does not doubt the resident’s position, in the absence of any specific evidence of this conversation, the Ombudsman is unable to conclusively determine what was discussed. In the absence of evidence of this discussion, the only evidence available is the operative’s job report from the day of the leak. This report does not attribute the leak to any specific cause. Therefore, the landlord’s position that it did not have evidence that it was responsible for causing the leak was reasonable.
- The purpose of compensation is to proportionally remedy any detriment experienced by a resident resulting from a failure by a landlord. Compensation is not a replacement for insurance; its purpose is to ‘put right’ any failure by the landlord and to restore a resident to the position they were in prior to the failure. The landlord’s compensation policy confirms that compensation may be paid when there has been a “quantifiable and evidenced financial loss as a direct result of any service failure on its part.” Given that there was no evidence of a failure by the landlord in its response to the resident’s report of a leak, there was no obligation on its part to pay compensation to him or reimburse him for any damage sustained by his possessions. It was reasonable that it instead signposted him to his insurers in order to make a claim.
- The landlord’s complaints policy provides for a two stage complaints procedure. At stage one of this procedure, it should formally respond to the resident within 10 working days. At the final stage, it should respond within 20 working days. At either stage, the policy states that the complaint or escalation request should be acknowledged within five working days. Furthermore, if the landlord is likely to exceed its response timeframes, the policy confirms that it should agree on a new timeframe with the resident. These procedures mirror those set out in the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code, which all member landlords are required to adhere to.
- The resident raised a complaint with the landlord on 10 October 2022. It discussed the complaint with him on 18 October 2022, and it issued its stage one response to him on 24 October 2022. These timeframes were reasonable and broadly in accordance with its complaints policy.
- The resident escalated his complaint on 24 October 2022, and resubmitted it on 26 October 2022 after speaking to the Ombudsman. When he did not receive a response within 20 working days, he approached this service again. The Ombudsman requested on 30 November 2022 that the landlord provide its final response to the resident by 7 December 2022. It issued its final response to him that same day. This was after 27 working days had elapsed since his complaint escalation request, and this was a failure by the landlord to adhere to the timeframe specified in its policy.
- The landlord acknowledged in its final stage complaint response that its response was unreasonably delayed. It subsequently offered £20 compensation to reflect the inconvenience this delay had caused.
- The Ombudsman recognises that this delay caused inconvenience to the resident as they had to expend time and effort chasing an update via this service. Nevertheless, the response was not significantly delayed, and the delay did not impact the final outcome. The landlord also appropriately recognised this delay and offered compensation at the earliest opportunity. In the Ombudsman’s opinion, the landlord’s apology and offer of compensation were reasonable and proportionate and amounted to reasonable redress in the circumstances.
- In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Scheme there was no maladministration by the landlord in respect of the complaints regarding its response to the resident’s report of a leak.
- In accordance with paragraph 53(b) of the Scheme, and in the Ombudsman’s opinion, there was reasonable redress offered by the landlord for its service failure in respect of its complaints handling.
- The landlord is recommended to:
- Reiterate its offer of £20 compensation relating to its delayed complaint response if this is yet to have been accepted.
- Follow through with its proposed works to remedy any damage to the ceiling and loft insulation affected by the leak.
- Carry out post-inspections of any works completed to remedy damage from the leak.