Clarion Housing Association Limited
13 June 2022
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 request to be removed from the tenancy.
- The subsequent complaint.
- The resident is an assured tenant of the landlord. The resident holds a joint tenancy with his former partner.
- The resident sent a letter to the landlord on 12 January 2019, signed by both tenants advising that they were separating and the resident would be moving out of the property, so wanted to be removed from the tenancy. The landlord advised that the resident could not be removed from the tenancy whilst there were arrears on the rent account, The resident has provided evidence to the Ombudsman that he paid the rent arrears in full on 18 January 2019.
- The resident raised a complaint to the landlord on 18 June 2021, as his name was still on the tenancy despite the fact he had paid the arrears and had not lived at the property for almost two years. He said that the landlord had given contradicting information about ending his tenancy. In his complaint escalation, he informed the landlord he was unable to begin a new tenancy while the joint tenancy was still existing and was having to stay with relatives until he could start a new tenancy elsewhere. He added that the current arrears on the rent account had accrued following his request to be removed from the tenancy.
- The landlord responded to the complaint in July 2021 and explained it was unable to change the tenancy until the rent arrears were paid in full. The resident escalated the complaint on 22 July 2022 as he disputed that he was responsible for the arrears.
- In its final complaint response on 29 September 2021, the landlord said that it had sent two letters to the resident on 15 July 2020 and 17 September 2020 and as it had not been able to get in contact with him, it had closed the request to end his tenancy. A further request was raised following the resident’s complaint but was closed as there were arrears on the rent account. The landlord said it was unable to make a discretionary decision to remove the resident’s name from the tenancy. It acknowledged that “there was no action to communicate or set the expectations with you between 10 January 2019 and 9 May 2019 about the joint responsibility of the arrears” and that it failed to fulfil call back requests. It offered £70 compensation as it did not follow the correct process regarding calling the resident back and £50 for the delay in issuing its response to his complaint.
- Following the completion of the complaints process, the landlord advised the resident on 9 March 2022, that at the time of his tenancy change request, it was unable to complete home visits, due to COVID restrictions. It had since reviewed the rent account, confirmed the arrears had been cleared in 2019 and said it would remove his name from the tenancy.
- In the resident’s complaint to this Service, he said he remained dissatisfied as he had followed the landlord’s guidance to remove his name from the tenancy in 2019 but the landlord’s communication had been poor and sporadic. He added that all written communication was sent to the property which he had no access to despite him providing a correspondence address to the landlord at the time of his request to end the tenancy. He also said the compensation was insufficient and was offset against the rent arrears which he was not responsible for.
Assessment and findings
The resident’s request to be removed from the tenancy
- The landlord’s changes to tenancy policy states it “will not unreasonably withhold permission for changing a joint tenancy to a sole tenancy but it should be noted that the arrangements for completing these will vary according to the type of tenancy”. No further information has been provided to the Ombudsman regarding the conditions for being removed from the tenancy or the landlord’s relevant procedure, so it is unclear what actions the resident would have been expected to take to be removed from the tenancy.
- The landlord’s changes to tenancy policy states that it “will not normally allow changes to tenancy if there are rent arrears”.
- In line with industry best practice, it would be reasonable for a landlord to remove a resident from a joint tenancy if the resident could provide evidence that they were no longer living in the property and there were no rent arrears for the property at the time of the request. If there are rent arrears, the resident should be given the opportunity to clear these so they could be removed from the tenancy.
- Following the resident’s initial request to be removed from the tenancy on 12 January 2019, he has provided evidence to this Service, to show that he paid the rent arrears in full on 18 January 2019. There is no evidence to suggest that the landlord responded to his request after the arrears were paid or explained what further information or actions it required to complete the tenancy change. It therefore failed to manage the resident’s expectations regarding the process and failed to adequately respond to his request.
- In its stage one complaint response, the landlord stated that it had sent two letters to the resident on 15 July 2020 and 17 September 2020 about his request to end the tenancy, which as the resident did not respond to. As he did not respond, the request was closed. The Ombudsman has only been provided with a copy of the letter sent on 17 September 2020, which was addressed to the resident’s ex-partner, at his former address. We have not seen a copy of the second letter. This does not demonstrate a reasonable attempt to contact the resident, particularly as the landlord was aware that the resident was not living at the property and he had provided alternative contact details and his new address. There was also a significant amount of time that elapsed following the resident’s request to be removed from the tenancy, before the landlord attempted to contact him. In its later stage two complaint response, the landlord “identified that there was no action to communicate or set the expectations with you between 10 January and 9 May 2019”. However, no records have been provided of any other communication, so the Ombudsman is unable to determine that such communication took place.
- A second tenancy change request was raised, following the resident’s complaint, and the landlord subsequently closed it due to arrears on the rent account which had accrued since the previous arrears were paid in 2019. It was unreasonable for the landlord to open a new request, rather than assess the resident’s initial request, given that its poor communication had led to the request being closed, and the resident had adhered to the landlord’s policy. The landlord has since acknowledged on 9 March 2022, that the arrears were paid in full in 2019, and the resident should have been removed from the tenancy. The landlord confirmed it would remove him from the tenancy immediately. However, in recent correspondence with the Ombudsman, the resident has advised that his name is still on the tenancy. Therefore, it appears the landlord has failed to remove the resident for several months despite acknowledging that he should have been removed from the tenancy in 2019.
- In an email to the Ombudsman on 9 March 2022, the landlord explained that the resident was not removed from the tenancy at the time of the initial request due to COVID-19, as it was unable to undertake property visits. The landlord did not provide an explanation of why a property visit would be necessary, and there is no evidence to suggest the resident was informed a visit was required, at the time of his request. The landlord would also be expected to make reasonable adaptations, and consider temporarily changes to its processes during the pandemic such as allowing telephone or zoom calls instead of home visits. Furthermore, the resident’s initial request was made in January 2019, over a year before COVID-19 restrictions, so if a property visit was required, then this would not have been prevented due to the pandemic.
- Overall, the landlord’s handling of the issue was unacceptable and was not in accordance with its tenancy change policies. The landlord’s correspondence was delayed, sporadic, and impractical as it was sent to the resident’s previous address. As a result, there has been an excessive delay in removing the resident from the tenancy agreement, which has caused a significant detrimental impact on the resident, as he had been unable to move into a new property, so had to live with relatives for two years. The landlord has not acknowledged this within its complaint responses and has therefore not responded to the complaint appropriately.
- In line with this Service’s remedy guidance (published on our website), awards of £250-£700 are appropriate in cases where there has been considerable failure by the landlord. This can include the landlord “giving contradictory, inadequate or incorrect information about a complainant’s rights”, failures to act in accordance with its policy over a significant time period and the resident having to repeatedly seek correction of mistakes. While the landlord has offered £130 compensation, it has not reasonably compensated for its failings to address the complaint. As the landlord has demonstrated several failings, a higher level of compensation is appropriate, in acknowledgment of the significant impact on the resident through not being able to start a new tenancy meaning he did not have a secure home for two years and the time and effort caused in pursuing the issue. The landlord should pay the resident an additional £700 compensation in view of the distress and inconvenience caused by its errors.
- This Service’s complaint handling code (published on our website) sets out the Ombudsman’s expectations for landlords’ handling of complaints. The code says that when investigating a complaint, the landlord should demonstrate that it has fairly considered all evidence. In this case, it would have been appropriate for the landlord to assess the resident’s initial request to be removed from the tenancy when he complained in 2021, rather than open a new request.
- The landlord has also not demonstrated that it investigated whether the resident had paid off his rent arrears in 2019 and was unable to provide this information when prompted by this Service. Furthermore, over six months after the completion of its complaint procedure, the landlord has identified that the resident should have been removed from the tenancy at the time of his initial request in 2019. The resident had not provided any further information for consideration, which therefore indicates that the landlord did not substantially investigate the complaint during its complaints process, as it did not originally come to the same conclusion despite having the same evidence. As a result, the resident was put to additional time and effort in pursuing the complaint, and it prolonged the stress and inconvenience to the resident due to having to wait for his tenancy issue to be resolved.
- As part of the complaint resolution, the landlord awarded £130 compensation, for poor communication and a delay in its complaint response, which was awarded to the rent account. The landlord’s compensation policy states that “Compensation and discretionary compensation payments will be used to offset rent or other arrears”, but each case will be considered individually. In this case, it would have been appropriate for the landlord to use its discretion to award the compensation to the resident, rather than offset it against the arrears, given that the resident had explained he had paid off the arrears prior to moving out of the property and no longer had access to the rent account. The resident was not responsible for the arrears accrued after he moved out in 2019 and therefore it was demonstrably unfair for the landlord to offset his compensation against these arrears.
- This Service’s complaint handling code states that the landlord should consider any vulnerabilities when formulating a remedy for the complaint. In his stage one complaint, the resident explained that as he has autism, he “accepts the information he is told and becomes stressed when the promised actions don’t happen”. The landlord failed to acknowledge or make any accommodations for this vulnerability. It has continued to not carry out promised actions, as the resident is still named on the tenancy, and the landlord has not demonstrated any consideration to the impact this would have on the resident in view of his condition.
- This Service’s remedy guidance (as referenced above) states that compensation is appropriate in cases where there is “repeated failure to meaningfully engage with the substance of the complaint, or failing to address all relevant aspects of complaint, leading to considerable delay in resolving complaint”. The landlord’s failure to properly investigate the resident’s complaint has led to a substantial delay in resolving the issue and the landlord has failed to offer appropriate compensation. It is therefore appropriate to award £170 compensation in light of its complaint handling failings.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was severe maladministration by the landlord in way it handled the resident’s request to be removed from the tenancy.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration by the landlord in the way it handled the complaint.
- The landlord is ordered to remove the resident from the tenancy within four weeks of the date of this report and provide written confirmation of this to the resident and this Service.
- The landlord is ordered to pay the resident:
- £700 for the delay in removing him from the tenancy agreement and the distress and inconvenience this caused.
- A further £170 for failing to properly investigate the resident’s complaint.
- £130 that was initially offered to the resident through the landlord’s complaints process. This payment should be made to the resident directly by cheque or bank transfer rather than being credited to the rent account for his former property.
- Evidence of this payment should be provided to this Service within four weeks of the date of this report.
- It is recommended that the landlord reviews its policy for tenancy changes and develops a clear procedure for removing a tenant from the tenancy agreement.
- The landlord should provide training to staff handling requests for tenancy changes to ensure that the correct process is followed and residents are given clear information at each stage.
- It is recommended that the landlord reviews its record keeping practices to ensure that it properly records all communication with its residents.