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Habinteg Housing Association Limited (202016207)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202016207

Habinteg Housing Association Limited

30 June 2021


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 the landlord’s response to the resident’s:
    1. Request to repair the cladding on the property.
    2. Request to repair the fan in the downstairs toilet in order to prevent smells entering the property.
    3. Request to install a lever tap and a handrail following an Occupational Therapist’s recommendation.
    4. Concerns regarding the conduct of its contractors.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident is the tenant of the property (the property) which the complaint concerns.  The landlord owns the property.
  2. The property is a two-bedroom house.

Summary of events

  1. On 2 October 2020 the resident registered a formal complaint with the landlord about “outstanding repairs [from] last year”.  In summary the resident said:
    1. The cladding and lead flushing on the property was damaged.  The resident noted that despite several repair appointments last year the issue was not resolved.  The resident suggested that the repair was not completed as the job was not raised properly.  The resident set out that the landlord had contacted her in September 2020 confirming that the repair would been undertaken however it was still outstanding.
    2. The landlord had not addressed “smells coming into [the property]”.
    3. The landlord had not installed a lever tap in the kitchen as recommended by her Occupational Therapist (the OT).
    4. She would like compensation for all the “stress [she had] been put through”.
  2. On 14 October 2020 the landlord provided its stage one response.  In summary the landlord said:
    1. All repairs have been ordered and would be completed within the relevant timescales.
    2. It was common practice to re-inspect damage prior to raising new orders to ensure that all relevant repair details were captured.
    3. It was sorry that contact was not made in September 2020 in relation to the cladding and lead flashing.  The landlord confirmed that an inspection was carried out on 5 October 2020 following contact with the resident on 2 October 2020.  The landlord confirmed that the outstanding works had been ordered. 
    4. The lever tap was installed on 12 October 2020.  The landlord noted that a handrail to the stairwell was also fitted during the appointment.
    5. It was aware that the resident was “self-isolating” during the early stages of the pandemic, but she had not informed it of the date she was coming out of isolation.
    6. During the pandemic only urgent and emergency repairs were being carried out.  The landlord confirmed that routine repairs were now being scheduled for completion.
  3. On 25 October 2020 the resident requested to escalate her complaint.  In summary the resident said:
    1. The repair to fix the cladding and lead flashing was originally raised in October 2019.  The resident confirmed that the repair was not completed at that time as the contractor did not have the correct equipment or skill.
    2. The landlord contacted her in June 2020 to visit the property to inspect the cladding and lead flashing.  The resident confirmed that she informed the landlord that she was in “isolation”.
    3. She contacted the landlord on 21 August 2020 to request that the repair to fix the cladding and lead flashing was completed.  The resident confirmed that she also requested that the landlord fix the fan in the downstairs toilet.  The resident confirmed that the landlord did not reply.
    4. On 10 September 2020 she emailed the landlord for an update on the repairs – cladding, lead flashing and fan – however she received no reply.
    5. On 17 September 2020 the landlord wrote to her confirming that an appointment had been scheduled for 19 October 2020 in relation to the repairs.  The resident noted that she informed the landlord, on 18 September 2020, that she did not want to wait until October 2020 for the appointment as winter was coming and due to the potential for more Covid-19 restrictions.
    6. The inspection on 5 October 2020 was “unannounced”.  The resident set out that during the appointment the landlord confirmed that “jobs would now be raised”.
    7. The OT had to resend their referral to the landlord, for lever taps and a handrail for the stairs, as it reported that it did not receive it when it was originally sent (date not given).
    8. The contractor was not clear what jobs they were due to complete when attending the property on 12 October 2020.  The resident confirmed that after discussion the lever tap and handrail were installed during the appointment.  The resident noted that the contractor had to leave during the appointment to collect materials to complete the handrail.
    9. The appointment on 19 October 2020 in relation to the fan was unsatisfactory as the attending contractor arrived believing that the appointment was to assess the fan rather than to replace it.  The resident explained that the fan was installed on 20 October 2020 instead as the contractor had to order a replacement.  The resident stated that following the appointment she discovered that the wrong fan was installed and therefore a further appointment had been booked for 9 November 2020.
    10. During the appointment on 20 October 2020 the contractor had requested to charge their laptop in the property. The resident advised that she declined the request and the contractor went off in a “huff”.  The resident noted that the contractor also smoked outside the property.
    11. The repair to fix the cladding and lead flashing was outstanding and no appointment had been booked.  The resident noted that she had moved ornaments in the garden, as per the landlord’s request, to accommodate the equipment (scaffolding) needed for the repair.
    12. The landlord had not explained its poor communication.
  4. The resident concluded by reiterating that she required compensation for “all the stress” including contractors turning up late for appointments, arriving without correct parts and unannounced appointments.
  5. On 6 November 2020 the landlord provided its stage two response.  In summary the landlord said:
    1. It wished to clarify that “during the period of these repairs [its] service delivery was changed to take account of the initial national lockdown in March 2020 and the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions”.  The landlord added that during the period it had only been completing emergency repairs and for all non-essential repairs it had introduced “Habfix days” to complete outstanding repairs.
    2. It had attempted to contact all its residents to identify any outstanding works for the Habfix days.  The landlord confirmed that the resident was contacted on 8 July 2020 as part of the “first Habix round” and she advised that “no works [were] required”.  The landlord advised that it did “not manage” to contact the resident as part of the second round, however she contacted it separately to report repairs.
    3. It was its view that all the repairs which were raised as part of the resident’s complaint on 2 October 2020 had been completed within “an acceptable timescale”.  The landlord confirmed that:
      1. The handrail renewal was completed on 12 October 2020.
      2. The lever tap installation was completed on 12 October 2020.
      3. The extractor fan renewal was completed on 20 October 2020.
    4. In relation to the cladding and lead flashing repair, the recent inspection identified that the damage was “in the vicinity of the 2019 repair but was a separate defect”.  The landlord confirmed that the repair had been classified as non-urgent and would be completed by the end of November 2020.
    5. It was sorry where its communication had fallen short.
  6. The landlord concluded by confirming it did not uphold the resident’s complaint regarding the delivery of the repairs service, but it did uphold that “some communications were not responded to effectively”.  The landlord confirmed that it would therefore like to offer £25 as a good will gesture.
  7. On 9 November 2020 the resident requested to escalate her complaint to stage three.  In summary the resident said:
    1. She had enclosed an email dated 1 October 2018 raising a request for the cladding to be repaired. The resident confirmed that it was therefore unsatisfactory that the repair had only been recently completed – 6 November 2020.
    2. The replacement cladding did not match the original cladding on the property as it was a different colour.  The resident suggested that the landlord had plenty of time to source matching cladding, noting that the cladding was inspected during the appointment on 5 October 2020.
    3. The appointment to complete the repair to the cladding on 6 November 2020 was unsatisfactory.  The resident stated that this was due to a delay in the scaffolding arriving.  The resident noted that the landlord did not inform her of the delay in starting work despite a contractor being on site at 8am.  The resident also stated that it was inappropriate that the contractor had smoked when she had approached him for some paperwork which required signing.
    4. The handrail was not a renewal as reported in the landlord’s stage two response.  The resident stated that the handrail which was installed on 12 October 2020 was “incomplete” as it did not extend the entire length of the staircase.
    5. The fan which had been installed had not resolved smells coming into the property as it was intended to do.  The resident reported that she was told that the original fan was removed as it was faulty and thus should have been changed a long time ago.  The resident stated that it was unacceptable to “have your home smelling”.  The resident noted that the smells were not good for her health.   
    6. She had CCTV on her property which showed when contractors had arrived late, and without appropriate materials and equipment, in addition to them smoking.
    7. She did not accept the landlord’s offer of compensation, adding that the contractors had “probably used more than [£25] using their electric tools plugged in [her] sockets”.
  8. On 21 December 2020 the landlord provided its final response, following a panel hearing on 18 December 2020, which the resident attended.  In summary the landlord said:
    1. The resident had declined to meet with the Head of Asset Management as part of the complaint process to “agree a resolution to the issues [she] raised”.
    2. The resident had confirmed at the hearing that she would like the following outcomes to her complaint:
      1. Repairs completed to an appropriate standard.
      2. Contractors to treat tenants with respect.
    3. Repair to cladding:
      1. It would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused to the resident by the repeated visits that had been needed to complete the repair.
      1. It planned to post inspect the work and any further works identified would be completed.
      2. Complaint partially upheld.
    4. Conduct of contractors:
      1. All contractors were expected to adhere to its values.  It would ensure all of the issues the resident had highlighted would be “raised in a formal manner at future management meetings with all of [its] contractors and [it would] refresh them of [its] expected standards of work and behaviour” including in relation to health and safety processes when on site.
      1. Complaint partially upheld.
    5. Handrail:
      1. The resident reported during the panel that she was “now happy” with the installation of the handrail.
      1. Complaint not upheld.
    6. Fan:
      1. It had supplied and installed a fan which “performed more effectively”.
      1. Eradicating all invasive smells from entering the property would “not be possible to achieve”.
      2. Complaint not upheld.
  9. The landlord concluded by confirming that the resident may refer her complaint to this Service if she was not satisfied with its response.
  10. As the resident was not satisfied with the landlord’s response she referred her complaint to this Service in March 2021.  Within her referral and subsequent updates to this Service the resident states:
    1. The cladding has still not been completed.
    2. The fan did not remove the “pungent smells from the neighbour next door”. 
    3. The smells were impacting on her eye condition.
    4. The landlord did not address her concerns regarding contractors smoking.

Assessment and findings

The landlord’s response to the resident’s request to repair the cladding on the property

  1. An internal record by the landlord, dated 7 November 2019, recorded “spoken with resident, resolved issue with cladding, will inspect in May 2020… [property] is secure and no water penetration”. 
  2. In considering this aspect of the complaint the Ombudsman will not consider the landlord’s previous handling of works in 2019 to address the cladding on the property.  This is because the Ombudsman has not seen any evidence that the resident challenged the landlord’s position to put the works on hold or raised concerns about its approach in late 2019.
  3. The Ombudsman appreciates that the landlord was unable to take steps to resolve the issue with the cladding in May 2020 as it committed to doing so in late 2019.  This is because the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on the normal services that a landlord was able to provide.  The Ombudsman can also see that the resident informed the landlord in April 2020 that she had to “self-isolate” due to the pandemic thus restricting its access to the property.
  4. The evidence shows that the landlord and resident began communicating about the cladding in September 2020.  The Ombudsman notes that the resident reported that she made contact regarding the cladding in August 2020.  The resident reported that the cladding was “warped” and had “come loose” and the landlord confirmed that it would arrange an inspection.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion the landlord’s decision to inspect the cladding prior to undertaking a repair was a reasonable approach, in order to determine the extent of the damage and to see if the cladding had deteriorated further since November 2019.    
  5. While the Ombudsman has not been provided with a report following the inspection on 5 October 2020 the landlord’s repair records show that a work order was raised to address the cladding on 8 October 2020, noting that a “tower [was] required” to complete the work.  Following the inspection on 5 October 2020 the Ombudsman has identified the following appointments in relation to the cladding:
    1. 15 October 2020 – “attended site and just looked at job – spoke to tenant – all 13 pieces of cladding are warped”.
    2. 17 October 2020 – contactor “attended site and picked up materials from supplier – back on site there is very heavy rain, not possible to go on roof – tried to reach from bathroom window but not possible”.
    3. 25 October 2020 – “only secured the old cladding back to the wall as the roof is very slippery and we can’t stay on it – it needs a scaffold platform to be able to do the works”.
    4. 6 November 2020 – “got up on roof and removed old cladding, safely removing down pipe clips to reuse and removed down pipe – we removed all cladding – we cut the new UPVC black cladding to size, passed it up and we fitted the cladding in place using polytope nails – then sealed both side of the cladding – we fitted the lead back in position and used the lead mate to seal lead to roof – we then cleaned off the new cladding with a cloth – dismantled tower platform and returned”.
  6. As part of its final response the landlord acknowledged that the works to address the cladding had been inconvenient to the resident due to “repeated visits”.  The Ombudsman agrees the landlord’s own assessment following a review of the chronology of the repair.  Most notably the Ombudsman can see that despite a tower being identified as necessary to complete the repair on 8 October 2020, scaffolding was not provided until 6 November 2020, which was following several other attendances.  Where a landlord acknowledges a service failure the Ombudsman will then consider if the landlord has awarded appropriate redress.  In this case the landlord apologised.
  7. While the apology was appropriate to demonstrate that the landlord acknowledged that the resident had been impacted by its actions, in the Ombudsman’s opinion the apology alone does not amount to reasonable redress.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion it would have been reasonable for the landlord to have engaged its compensation policy, which sets out that it will consider compensation where there is a service failure, and to award a sum of compensation to recognise the time and trouble, and inconvenience the resident would have experienced as a result. 
  8. The Ombudsman can see that in response to the resident’s on-going concerns regarding the cladding, as reported during the panel hearing, the landlord agreed to post inspect the work undertaken on 6 November 2020.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion this was a reasonable response in order to bring the matter to a close.  The Ombudsman notes that in a recent update to this Service the resident reports that there are still problems with the cladding.  In order to bring this matter to close the Ombudsman will make a recommendation that the landlord inspect the cladding and carry out any repairs identified. 
  9. As part of the resident’s stage three escalation request, the resident commented that the new cladding was a different colour from the original cladding.  While the resident’s comments are acknowledged the Ombudsman notes that the landlord was not obliged to ensure that the cladding matched in appearance, its responsibility was to ensure that the repair was completed to a satisfactory standard.
  10. Following a review of the communication between the resident and landlord from September 2020 onwards the Ombudsman has identified some instances of poor communication where the landlord did not respond to some of the resident’s contacts in relation to the cladding, and other repairs.  The landlord recognised this as part of its stage two response and therefore awarded £25 compensation.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion this was a reasonable offer in recognition that its service had fallen short.

The landlord’s response to the resident’s request to repair the fan in the downstairs toilet in order to prevent smells entering the property

  1. From review of the available evidence the Ombudsman can see that the resident’s request to repair the fan stemmed from her concerns regarding smells entering the property from her neighbour’s property.  The records further show that the resident had been reporting smells since at least January 2020, with the resident suggesting that the smells were worst in the downstairs toilet due to the extractor fan which was installed. 
  2. In response to the resident’s concerns regarding smells, the landlord’s records confirm that in February 2020 it set out that it would seek to change the fan in April 2020.  The Ombudsman is not clear why the replacement could not take place before April 2020.  The Ombudsman considers that this is a protracted timeframe for a repair.  The Ombudsman cannot see that the fan was replaced in April 2020, but notes that the resident reported that she was in isolation at that time.
  3. An internal record by the landlord dated July 2020 noted that the resident reported that the smells had “subsided” however some smells were still getting into her property.  The landlord committed to reviewing the situation when a “surveyor can visit” and when the resident had finished self-isolating.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion it was appropriate that the landlord committed to investigate the resident’s concern in order to see if any action was required. 
  4. The evidence shows that following the inspection on 5 October 2020 the landlord raised a work order on 8 October 2020 to “overhaul WC extractor fan and investigate ducting as resident has issues with back smell coming into property”. 
  5. Following the inspection on 5 October 2020 the Ombudsman has identified the following appointments in relation to the fan:
    1. 19 October 2020 – “attended site and checked to see what fan we need to get – went to supplier but they did not have in stock – had to place order for it to be delivered next day”.
    2. 20 October 2020 – “attended site and supplied and rewired new bathroom fan – fit new fan on the wall with wooden plate – checked exhaust pipe – all ok”.
    3. Undated – “tenant complained that the fan does not have the effect she wants and does not stop the smell coming into her property – we ordered online a different type of fan as agreed with [the landlord]”.
    4. 11 November 2020 – “attended site – replaced normal fan with shutter one”.
  6. In responding to the complaint it was the landlord’s position that there was no service failure in respect of its response to the resident’s request to repair the fan to prevent smells entering the property, as it had supplied and installed a fan which performed more effectively.  While the landlord did replace the fan in November 2020, the Ombudsman is not satisfied that its handling of the resident’s request was satisfactory overall.  This is because:
    1. It is not clear why the fan was not replaced in early 2020, noting the landlord’s record in February 2020.
    2. Despite the inspection on 5 October 2020 approving a replacement fan, and the work order on 8 October 2020 raising a work order for the job, the landlord attended the appointment on 19 October 2020 without the replacement thus requiring the need for a follow up appointment.
  7. The landlord’s handling of the repair therefore resulted in uncertainty for the resident in respect of when a replacement would be provided, in addition to inconvenience and distress.
  8. The Ombudsman can see that following the end of the complaint procedure the resident reported a fault on the fan to the landlord and has continued to raise concerns regarding smells entering the property.  While the Ombudsman cannot comment on the landlord’s response to events occurring after the end of the complaint procedure, as it is not within the scope of this investigation, the Ombudsman does note the following actions by the landlord:
    1. On 7 January 2021 the landlord “attended site and replaced the fan with a more performant one – we sealed the fan and the board as well at the tenant’s request”.
    2. On 8 March 2021 the landlord inspected property following “reports of a strong smell coming into the property”.  The note of the inspection recorded “on inspection we could not smell anything at the time but the tenant reports that when the tenant next door cooks there is always a strong smell of garlic – we looked to see if we could see any ventilation outlet in kitchen to property next door but there was no signs…”
    3. An internal record by the landlord dated 27 April 2020 confirmed that it had inspected the neighbour’s property and found that there was “adequate ventilation” in the kitchen.
  9. The resident has suggested that as a result of her smells entering the property and the landlord’s inaction, her eye condition has deteriorated.  Whilst this may be the case, it is beyond the expertise of this Service to reasonably determine a causal link between the smells and the deterioration of the resident’s health. The Ombudsman has therefore made no comments in relation to this. Should the resident wish to pursue this matter, legal advice will need to be sought.

The landlord’s response to the resident’s request to install a lever tap and a handrail following an Occupational Therapist’s recommendation

  1. From the evidence the Ombudsman has not been able to confirm the exact date of the OT’s referral to the landlord recommending a lever tap and handrail, however the Ombudsman understands that the referral was made sometime between 18 September 2020 and 8 October 2020 – the date a work order was raised for both items. 
  2. The landlord’s records show that both the lever tap and handrail were installed on 12 October 2020.  The Ombudsman considers that this was within a reasonable period of time from 18 September 2020 and noting that the landlord was only completing non-emergency repairs on a limited number of days due to the pandemic.
  3. In response to the resident’s concerns regarding the length of the handrail against the stairs, the evidence shows that the landlord reattended on 11 November 2020 and replaced it with a longer one.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion this was appropriate as it sought to rectify the problem and to allay the resident’s concerns that the original handrail did not provide her with an appropriate level of assistance.
  4. As part of her complaint the resident raised concerns over the contactor’s understanding of the work to be completed during the appointment on 12 October 2020.  While the resident’s concerns are noted, the Ombudsman does not consider that a service failure occurred on 12 October 2020 as both items were installed during the appointment as she requested.  

The landlord’s response to the resident’s concerns regarding the conduct of its contractors

  1. It is clear that the resident was unhappy with the conduct of the contractors in relation to various repair appointments.  This included smoking, requesting to use electricity, missing equipment/ materials and unannounced visits.  In providing its final response the landlord did not dispute the resident’s allegations, rather it confirmed that it “partially upheld” the complaint. 
  2. In order to put matters right the landlord confirmed that it would raise the resident’s concerns with its with its contractors and would refresh them of its expected standards of work and behaviour.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion this was reasonable and proportionate.  In line with the Ombudsman’s principles (in particular, Learning from Outcomes), the landlord demonstrated its intention to learn from its error and to ensure that the appropriate behaviour is observed moving forward.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was:
    1. Service failure by the landlord in respect of its response to the resident’s request to repair the cladding on the property.
    1. Service failure by the landlord in respect of its response to the resident’s request to repair the fan in the downstairs toilet in order to prevent smells entering the property.
    2. No maladministration by the landlord in respect of its response to the resident’s request to install a lever tap and a handrail following an Occupational Therapist’s recommendation.
  1. In accordance with paragraph 55b of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, the landlord has offered redress to resolve the resident’s concerns regarding the conduct of its contractors.

Reasons

The landlord’s response to the resident’s request to repair the cladding on the property

  1. While the landlord acknowledged that the works to address the cladding on the property had been inconvenient, and subsequently offered an apology, this did not amount to reasonable redress alone.  This is because it does not fully recognise the time and trouble and inconvenience the resident would have experienced as a result of the multiple appointments.

The landlord’s request to repair the fan in the downstairs toilet in order to prevent smells entering the property

  1. While the landlord did replace the fan in November 2020, the Ombudsman is not satisfied that its handling of the resident’s request was satisfactory overall.  This is because it is not clear why the fan was not replaced in early 2020 despite the landlord confirming in February 2020 that a replacement would be installed.  Further it was unsatisfactory that the landlord attended the appointment on 19 October 2020 without the replacement part which resulted in the need for a follow up appointment and further inconvenience to the resident.

The landlord’s response to the resident’s request to install a lever tap and a handrail following an Occupation Therapist’s recommendation

  1. Both the lever tap and handrail were installed on 12 October 2020 which the Ombudsman considers was within a reasonable period of time following receipt of the OT’s referral and taking into account that the landlord was only completing non-emergency repairs on a limited number of days due to the pandemic.
  2. The landlord reattended on 11 November 2020 to replace the handrail with a longer one which was appropriate in order to allay the resident’s concerns that the original handrail did not provide her with an appropriate level of assistance.

The landlord’s response to the resident’s concerns regarding the conduct of its contractors

  1. In order to put matters right the landlord confirmed that it would raise the resident’s concerns regarding inappropriate conduct with its contractors and would refresh them on its expected standards of work and behaviour.  In the Ombudsman’s opinion this was reasonable and proportionate, demonstrating the landlord’s intention to learn from its error and to ensure that the appropriate behaviour is observed moving forward.

Orders and recommendations

Orders

  1. The landlord should pay the resident the following compensation within four weeks of the date of this determination:
    1. £100 in relation to its handling of repairs to fix the cladding.
    2. £100 in relation to its handling of works to replace the fan.

Recommendations

  1. The landlord should inspect the cladding on the property within four weeks of this determination.  If any repairs are identified the landlord should schedule for the repairs to be undertaken promptly.
  2. The landlord should pay the resident the £25 compensation it awarded in consideration of the resident’s complaint within four weeks of the date of this determination, if it has not already done so.