Futures Housing Group Limited
14 April 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 concerns:
- The landlord’s handling of repairs to the resident’s heating system.
- The landlord’s handling of the associated complaint.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is a tenant of the landlord.
- The property is a semi-detached house with an air-source heating system.
- The resident mentioned that she had been experiencing issues with the property’s heating system since this was installed. Based on the landlord’s internal records, the resident raised a complaint regarding issues with the heating system in 2019 and this was resolved at the time.
Summary of events
- The resident contacted the landlord on 1 March 2020 to report a leak coming from the property’s boiler. The resident advised that there was a “wet patch on [the] ceiling below [the] boiler and water running down the walls”. The landlord advised the resident to either place towels under the boiler or to turn off the boiler or water supply to isolate the leak. The landlord then raised a work order with its contractor on 2 March 2020.
- The landlord’s contractor attended the property on 2 March 2020, identified that a part needed to be replaced and noted that they offered the resident temporary heaters. However, the resident refused the offer of the heaters. The contractor then attended the resident’s property again on 3 March 2020, “altered pipework to allow” the cold-water supply to be “turned back on”, confirmed that there was no hot water or central heating supply from the boiler but that the resident had an electric shower, and that one of the boiler’s cylinders was “split”. The contractor’s report dated 23 March 2020 confirmed that they were still waiting for the part to arrive on that date.
- The resident subsequently contacted the landlord to raise a stage one complaint on 13 May 2020. The resident advised it that she had “no hot water [other] than via the [im]mersion heater” and no heating. Furthermore, the resident mentioned the following:
- She was “relying upon portable fan heaters”.
- The heating issues had been ongoing since “the new boiler” was fitted.
- The impact that these issues had on her son’s ill-health.
- The kitchen ceiling was “badly stained and warped from the leak”.
- The landlord’s internal communication from the same date stated that the resident’s broken boiler part had been replaced, but that the boiler was “still needing a service.”. Subsequently, it was also confirmed on 13 May 2020 that: the heating and hot water had been “off for some time” and backed up by temporary and immersion heaters only; that it had experienced some difficulty with obtaining the necessary part due to the Government Covid-19 restrictions; and that the works were due to be completed on 15 May 2020.
- The resident then emailed the landlord on 14 May 2020 regarding an error in her initial complaint and to report further repair issues with the bathroom, lounge and dining area lighting and an electrical socket in the lounge area.
- On 28 May 2020, the landlord contacted the resident to advise that its complaint investigation was taking longer than expected and that it would issue a stage one complaint response “as soon as possible”.
- The landlord then issued a stage one complaint response to the resident on 4 June 2020. It apologised to her for “a considerable amount of disruption in relation to heating and hot water…only having the use of temporary heaters and immersion heaters”, which it explained had required it to order a new cylinder that had proven difficult to obtain due to pandemic restrictions and staff furlough. The landlord also confirmed that the repair works to the resident’s boiler were now complete, and offered her compensation for the inconvenience of the loss of this amenity calculated at £178 in total for 78 days, between 2 March and 18 May 2020, at the rate of £2 per day based on the cost of immersion and temporary heaters.
- The resident replied to this correspondence on the same day and refused the landlord’s offer for compensation. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that this was a recurring issue and advised that she felt that the landlord did not compensate “for the additional use of the cooker” or “extra use of kettles” to heat up water including for dishwashing, or the inconvenience experienced for “months and months”. Furthermore, the resident noted that the landlord did not offer compensation for nor address the “damage to the kitchen ceiling”.
- The resident emailed the landlord again on 5 June 2020 to advise that “there was no back-up immersion heater f[o]r the most part since the system broke down in January”, that she felt the landlord did not consider all her concerns and circumstances, and to query how the landlord “reached” the “figure of £2 per day”.
- On 11 June 2020, the landlord issued a stage two final complaint response to the resident. It confirmed that it had reviewed the repairs history and had found that the resident had reported issues with the heating system on 26 February 2019, for which she had previously raised and it had resolved a separate complaint, and on 2 March 2020. Therefore, the landlord confirmed that it was satisfied with its initial offer of compensation of £178 to the resident as being “sufficient based on approximate national averages.”
- The resident then complained to this Service that the landlord had not sufficiently taken into account the timescale and severity of the impact of the loss of her boiler, explained how it had reached its decision or how it would rectify this, or responded to the other repairs that she had complained about above. She added that she had experienced continual breakdowns, a lack of contractor expertise to complete timely repairs, her kitchen ceiling being “damaged badly twice now from leaks linked to the heating system”, and concerns with the landlord’s complaints handling and repairs services.
Assessment and findings
- Although the resident’s original complaint to the landlord mentioned the impact of its handling of her heating system repairs on her son’s medical conditions and she informed this Service that she had experienced several years of heating problems in the property, these matters are outside of the scope of this investigation. This is because the assessment and award of damages for ill-health in the way that a court or insurer might is an outcome that is not within our authority to provide. We are also unable to investigate complaints that have not been brought to the landlord’s attention within a reasonable period of normally within six months of the matters arising or that have been brought to our attention normally more than 12 months after exhausting its complaints procedure. This investigation therefore focuses on matters that arose within six months of the resident’s stage one complaint to the landlord of 13 May 2020.
The landlord’s repairs policy
- The landlord prioritises repairs based on urgency as per below:
- In instances where there is an “uncontainable water leak” the landlord categorises this as a priority repair and commits to attend the property on the same day. Although it may need further visits to completely fix the problem, while always leaving residents’ properties in a safe condition.
- In instances where the resident is left without heating or hot water the landlord categorises this as a “fast repair” and commits to attend the property within four working days.
- If the repair issue pertains to the heating system and a replacement part is required, the landlord categorises this as a “standard repair” and commits to “either repair or come out to inspect” within 10 to 25 working days; however, it states that “further visits may be needed to resolve some problems”.
The landlord’s compensation policy
- The landlord’s compensation policy states that in instances where a service failure is identified it may “remedy the issue” by apologising, rectifying the mistake or by making a compensation payment.
- The landlord’s compensation policy states that a quantifiable loss payment may be offered to compensate “for losses which can be assessed and have a financial value placed upon them and which have been caused by a service failure.” It also has discretion under the policy to award compensation in recognition of difficulty or inconvenience caused to residents.
The landlord’s handling of repairs to the resident’s heating system
- The resident contacted the landlord on 1 March 2020 to report a leak coming from the property’s boiler. It then provided her with advice on how to contain the leak. On 2 March 2020, the landlord arranged to attend the property on 3 March 2020, which was in line with its repairs policy above at paragraphs 17 to 18. This states that, in instances where the resident is left without heating or hot water, the landlord categorises this as a “fast repair” and commits to attend the property within four working days.
- Because the leak then became uncontainable, the landlord attended the property on 2 March 2020 to make this safe. Its contractor confirmed that they subsequently altered the pipework on 3 March 2020 to stop the leak and to reinstate cold water supply. This was also in line with the landlord’s repairs policy, which states that in instances where there is an “uncontainable water leak” it categorises this as a priority repair and commits to attend the property on the same day. Furthermore, the landlord’s contractor offered to supply temporary heaters to the resident on 2 March 2020, which was reasonable and expected, given that she was without heating and hot water, while the contractor obtained the parts necessary to complete the repairs to the boiler.
- Considering that the leak was made safe and that a replacement part was needed, the landlord categorised the issue as a standard repair, which was to be carried out within 10 to 25 working days. It is noted that, on 23 March 2020, its contractor was still waiting for the replacement part and, while the landlord was still within the timeframe of 10 to 25 working at that time, certain delays would have been outside of its control due to the Government Covid-19 restrictions. In respect of the above, the landlord therefore failed to adhere to the timescales set in its repairs policy for standard repairs; however, this was due to reasons outside of its control. Furthermore, the landlord replaced the faulty part and serviced the resident’s boiler by 18 May 2020, which was reasonable, considering the restrictions still imposed at that time.
- To conclude, this Service appreciates the inconvenience caused to the resident by this situation; however, the delays in completing the repair to her boiler were outside of the landlord’s control. It is noted that it took responsibility for the repair, adhered to the timeframes set in its repairs policy regarding priority and fast repairs, and then took reasonable steps to reinstate the resident’s heating and hot water supply as soon as possible, given the circumstances. The landlord also explained to the resident on 4 June 2020 that it proven difficult to obtain a replacement part to enable it to do so due to the above restrictions and staff furlough.
- Furthermore, the landlord acted in a reasonable manner because it offered the resident temporary heating, as a hot water alternative was already in place in the form of her electric shower and immersion heater, and it acknowledged the amount of time that she was without a full heating and hot water supply. It also offered compensation of £2 per day, over a period of 78 days, between 2 March and 18 May 2020, at a total of £178, for the inconvenience of the loss of this amenity.
- The landlord’s compensation policy above at paragraphs 19 to 20 does not state the exact amounts of compensation that it would award in these circumstances, but this gives it discretion to decide this and to compensate residents for their assessed financial losses. However, as per the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance, the amount of £178 that it offered the resident was proportionate in this instance. This is because the service failure identified impacted the resident but its duration was not entirely within the landlord’s control, it took the above steps to reduce the impact of this, and no evidence was provided to it of additional assessed financial losses from this for it to consider compensating the resident further.
- Taking the above into account, the landlord offered reasonable redress in respect of its handling of repairs to the resident’s heating system.
The landlord’s complaints and compliments policy
- The landlord operates a two-stage complaints procedure; however, it “aims to resolve complaints first time”. Furthermore, the landlord commits to “acknowledge all complaints either over the phone or in writing”, “indicate how long we believe [the] investigation will take”, “understand what outcome the [resident] is seeking”, and “discuss the outcome of the investigation with the [resident] and provide a written record of this”.
- The landlord’s complaints and compliments policy states that “the first request for any service” would not be considered as a complaint.
The landlord’s complaint handling
- The resident contacted the landlord to raise a formal stage one complaint on 13 May 2020 in respect of the issues that she had been experiencing with her heating system. In addition to the above, she raised concerns in respect of a leak from and damage to the kitchen ceiling, the bathroom, lounge and dining area lighting, and an electrical socket in the lounge area. The landlord then issued a stage one complaint response to the resident on 4 June 2020, in which it only addressed the repair issues relating to the heating system.
- The landlord’s above complaints and compliments policy states that “the first request for any service”, including repairs, would not be considered a complaint. However, considering that the resident expressed dissatisfaction with the above repairs in addition to her heating system, its lack of acknowledgement went against the policy’s commitment to “aim to resolve complaints first time”.
- Furthermore, is it noted that, in the resident’s final stage two complaint escalation request on 4 June 2020, she reiterated the above and noted that the landlord did not address all of the issues that she had previously raised in her stage one complaint. It then issued a stage two final complaint response to her on 11 June 2020, in which it failed to address any of the concerns that she had raised except for the repair issues with the heating system. Taking the above events into account, the landlord failed to act in a reasonable manner and adhere to its complaints and compliments policy because it did not:
- acknowledge the resident’s concerns
- attempt to resolve them at the first point of contact
- discuss or at least propose an outcome to the additional concerns raised.
- To conclude, the landlord’s complaints and compliments policy states that it would not consider an initial service request as a complaint. However, based on its stage one and final stage two complaint responses, it failed to acknowledge and address all of the concerns raised by the resident on multiple occasions, which would have caused unnecessary distress, inconvenience, time and trouble to her.
- Taking into account the events detailed in this report, the landlord should have acknowledged the resident’s concerns and at least advised her whether it could investigate all of the points raised, in line with the complaints and compliments policy. It has therefore been ordered to compensate her for this below at the level suggested by this Service’s remedies guidance for such a failing, as well as being recommended below to review its policy and provide further staff training.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration by the landlord in respect of its handling of the associated complaint.
- In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has offered redress to the resident prior to investigation which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint concerning its handling of repairs to the resident’s heating system satisfactorily.
- The landlord failed to acknowledge and address all relevant aspects of the resident’s complaint on multiple occasions.
- The landlord adhered to the timeframes set out in its repairs policy regarding priority and fast repairs, completed the repair to the heating system as soon as it was possible, considering the Government Covid-19 restrictions, offered alternative sources of heating and hot water, and offered compensation for the loss of amenity that was reasonable and in line with the Housing Ombudsman’s remedies guidance.
- The Ombudsman orders the landlord to apologise to the resident and pay her £250 compensation within four weeks for any distress, inconvenience, time and trouble caused to her by its failure to acknowledge and address all aspects of the resident’s complaint.
- It is recommended that the landlord:
- Re-offer the resident the £178 compensation that it previously awarded her, if she has not received this already.
- Contact the resident to confirm whether she still has outstanding kitchen ceiling, bathroom, lounge and dining area lighting, and lounge electrical socket repairs and, if so, to address these, if it has not yet done so.
- Review its complaints and compliments policy to ensure that this specifies its response timescales for stage one and final stage two complaints, in line with The Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code, and provide further complaint handling training to its staff to ensure that complaints are accurately acknowledged and addressed moving forward. This should include the completion of this Service’s free online dispute resolution training for landlords at https://www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/landlords-info/e-learning/, if this has not been done recently.
- The landlord shall contact this Service within four weeks to confirm that it has complied with the above orders and whether it will follow the above recommendations.
- The Ombudsman accepts that, because of the present restrictions due to the corona virus pandemic, the timing of the above actions will depend on what is reasonable in the light of Government guidance regarding the health of the resident and of the landlord’s staff.