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Hammersmith and Fulham Council (202100011)

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COMPLAINT 202100011

Hammersmith and Fulham Council

20 October 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 handling of repairs to a communal waste pipe serving the resident’s property.

Background and summary of events

  1. The resident is the leaseholder of the property, which is a flat, and the landlord is the freeholder for the building.
  2. On 27 February 2021 the landlord raised a repair for an issue with the communal drains in the building. It noted that the soil stack needed jetting because there was waste backing up into the resident’s property from other flats in the block. 
  3. On 1 March 2021 the landlord raised a repair to descale the soil stack pipe.
  4. A contractor attended on 3 March 2021 and noted “there was no evidence of any blocked and overflowing drains. Resident was told her toilet was blocked and it is evident the blockage in her primary pipework as there is no signs of backsurging from other flats. I then entered the property to find mass amounts of tissue in the toilet… The blockage was cleared. Flow was then tested multiple times with full flow restored which was visible coming through into the manhole chamber (mis-use of toilet paper). Unable to remove rodding cap as this would have caused damage. Recommended plumber to attend and remove toilet and inspect pan connector for obstructions.”
  5. On 3 March 2021 the resident called the landlord while an operative was on site. She said the communal pipe needed to be replaced and the operative could not carry out the job.  The landlord advised the resident that it needed to wait for a report from a contractor.
  6. The resident forwarded the landlord a report from a contractor (it is not clear from the evidence provided to the Ombudsman if this was the landlord’s contractor, or a separate contractor instructed by the resident) on 3 March 2021. In this report the contractor advised that it attended in relation to issues with the resident’s toilet blocking. It noted that the toilet waste and main communal stack pipe needed descaling. The landlord confirmed acknowledgement of the resident’s email on the same day and said it would respond within 48 hours.
  7. On 11 March 2021 the landlord approved the descale of the communal soil stack. The landlord noted on 23 March 2021 that the resident called for an update.
  8. On 24 March 2021 the resident called the landlord to complain about its handling of her reports of repairs needed to the building’s stack pipe that was affecting her toilet. The landlord noted on its system “her property is on the ground floor next to the base of the stack meaning that all the waste ends up coming up into her toilet.” The resident complained that, after many calls with the repairs team, the landlord finally acknowledged that the repair was its responsibility.  She asked for the repair of the stack pipe to be completed as soon as possible and to be compensated for the distress and inconvenience caused. The landlord acknowledged the complaint on the same day and said it would respond by 14 April 2021.
  9. The landlord advised internally, on 30 March 2021, that the works to descale the stack were booked in for 8 April 2021.
  10. On 1 April 2021 the resident forwarded the landlord correspondence she sent to her member of parliament (MP), complaining about the landlord’s handling of the repair. In it, she said that, as a consequence of the landlord’s delay in resolving the issue with the soil stack, her home was “swamped by waste which will not flush away and is backing up in my household”.
  11. In the landlord’s stage one complaint response, dated 1 April 2021, it detailed the repairs which had been carried out so far. The landlord apologised for any inconvenience that this caused but said authorisation was needed before the works could proceed. The landlord confirmed that works were raised on 11 March 2021 for the descale to be completed. However, nobody contacted the resident, and although she contacted the landlord to pursue this, nobody came back to her. The landlord apologised for this service failure.
  12. The landlord confirmed the works were booked in for 8 April 2021 to descale the stack pipe. It acknowledged that there was a misdiagnosis and a delay in the issue being diagnosed, which it apologised for. It confirmed it would provide feedback to its contractor and offered the resident £50.00 for the inconvenience and delay that she experienced.
  13. On 8 April 2021 the landlord’s contractor descaled the communal soil stack. It recommended that a plumber remove the WC pan in the resident’s property and inspect the private section of pipework which was not within the communal soil stack.
  14. On 15 April 2021, the resident informed the landlord that the issue had not been resolved because the base of the communal soil stack pipe, which connected to the resident’s WC, had not been accessed. She said that there was a plate on the base of the pipe which the contractor would need to access by removing the plate.
  15. The landlord corresponded with its contractor on 20 April 2021, who confirmed that the pipework that joined the WC to the main stack pipe was potentially blocked. It confirmed that this was a horizontal pipe within the property and joined the WC to the communal pipe. It was confirmed the resident would be responsible for having this pipe fixed as it was primary pipework within her property.
  16. On 20 April 2021 the resident reiterated her email of 15 April 2021 to the landlord.
  17. The resident’s contractor attended the property on 28 April 2021. Its report said it had cleared the toilet and it believed the issue weas reoccurring due to scale on the communal stack pipe. The contractor could not check this as the cap for the pipe had been previously repaired with putty which could not be easily removed and replaced. The resident provided the report to the landlord and said this was “following ongoing call outs, as the [landlord] has failed to resolve its maintenance obligations”. She said that she was severely inconvenienced and affected by the situation.
  18. On 4 May 2021, following contact from the resident, this Service asked the landlord to respond to the complaint within ten working days.
  19. In the landlord’s stage one complaint response, dated 13 May 2021, it said it arranged for two operatives to attend and carry out a CCTV survey into the manhole at ground floor level. There was no visible blockage, but a light build-up of lime scale and the works recommended were completed on 8 April 2021. It offered the resident £200 compensation for the inconvenience she experienced.
  20. The resident responded on 14 May 2021. She said a contractor attended on 7 May 2021 and the contractor advised a plumber was needed and both operatives would return together. The resident said the plumber attended on 11 May 2021 without their tools and without an operative from the drainage section. When she contacted the landlord on 14 May 2021, it said the plumber attended on 12 May 2021, but they were unable to gain access to the resident’s property. The resident said this was untrue and the external works, which she referred to as a leak to the communal stack pipe, did not require her to give access. She confirmed she had now been given an appointment for the outstanding repairs.
  21. On 14 May 2021 the landlord apologised to the resident and said there was internal miscommunication regarding the complaint.  It advised that it would reopen the case. The resident replied that the stack pile had been left leaking for over a week.
  22. The landlord’s internal notes from 14 May 2021 say that the leak the resident referred to was a separate issue from the leak referenced in her original complaint. It attended to carry out work to a leaking pipe outside the property and was scheduled to return on 19 May 2021 as materials were required.
  23. On 17 May 2021 the landlord reassured the resident that the work would be carried out on 19 May 2021.
  24. In the landlord’s further stage two complaint response, dated 18 May 2021, it confirmed that descaling work was completed on 8 April 2021. It said that plumbers would attend to change a section of pipe that was leaking, and a drainage operative would also attend to ensure there were no external blockages. The landlord reoffered the resident £200.00 compensation for the inconvenience she experienced.

Assessment and findings

Landlord’s obligations

  1. In line with the resident’s lease, the landlord is responsible for structure of the building, including the gutters; rainwater, soil, and waste pipes; and other common parts (communal areas of the building for the benefit of more than one household). of the building. The lease says the resident is responsible for the repair, decoration, and condition of their individual property. The resident’s individual property includes all conduits (meaning water, gas, oil, and electricity supply pipes; waste pipes; sewers; wastewater pipes etc.) which solely serve their property or any part laid in, on, under, or over any part of the individual property.
  2. The landlord’s repairs and maintenance handbook gives the following timescales for repairs:
    1. Priority 1/Priority 2: The landlord aims to carry out emergency repairs within two to 24 hours depending upon the seriousness of the problem.
    2. Priority 3/Priority 4: The landlord aims to complete urgent repairs within three to five working days.
    3. Priority 5: The landlord aims to carry out and complete routine repairs within 20 working days.


  1. The landlord carried out the descale of the soil stack, in line with its repair obligations under the lease. It initially attended within three working days of the report on 27 February 2021, on 3 March 2021. There is no evidence to suggest that the issue should have been considered an emergency repair. Emergency repairs are generally needed for issues which are considered to pose a significant and immediate risk to health and safety. Although the leak was not considered to be an emergency, it did need to be fixed urgently. The landlord attended within the timescales in its repairs and maintenance handbook for urgent repairs, which was reasonable given the circumstances.
  2. It is not always possible to complete repairs in one appointment and emergency or urgent repair appointment are often intended to make the area safe and prevent further damage, for example by carrying out a temporary repair. Further, more permanent repairs may then be carried out at a later date, in line with the landlord’s timescales for routine repairs.
  3. The landlord raised follow-on works for the descale of the soil stack on 11 March 2021. The works to descale the stack pipe were completed on 8 April 2021 (within 25 working days of the inspection on 3 March 2021). The landlord completed the descale of the stack just outside of its timescales for a routine repair, which was reasonable because as above, follow up repairs are generally regarded as routine repairs. However, the landlord did not contact the resident, who pursued an update, between 11 March 2021 and 8 April 2021. It would have been reasonable for the landlord to have updated the resident on the progress of the repairs, in line with good practice. However, the landlord has acknowledged and apologised for not updating the resident at this time. In line with this Service’s remedies guidance (published on our website), given the level of inconvenience caused, and that the lack of updates did not have an overall bearing on the outcome of the complaint, an apology was sufficient redress for this aspect of the complaint.
  4. The resident advised the landlord that she believed the descale of 8 April 2021 did not resolve the issue because the base of the soil stack pipe, which connected to her WC, had not been cleared.
  5. In line with the terms of the lease because the pipe connecting the resident’s WC to the communal soil stack serves only the resident’s property, this pipe would be the resident’s responsibility to repair and maintain. This is confirmed in the landlord’s internal correspondence of 20 April 2021. However, it would have been helpful for the landlord to have explained this to the resident, and there is no evidence demonstrating that it did so.
  6. Overall, the landlord acted in line with its obligations as set out in the lease and repairs and maintenance handbook by completing the repairs it was responsible for within a reasonable timescale. The landlord’s communication with the resident at some points could have been better; however, the landlord has partially acknowledged this and offered £200 compensation to the resident for any inconvenience caused. This offer of compensation was in line with this Service’s remedies guidance, which recommends awards of up to £250 for service failures where there has been service failure which had an impact on the complainant but was of short duration and may not have significantly affected the overall outcome for the complainant.
  7. Further repairs were also raised in relation to a leak to the communal soil stack; however, this appears to be a separate issue from the original leak and the landlord seemed to be unaware of this when it reopened the complaint at stage two of its internal process. Nonetheless, the landlord arranged for an appointment to address the repair, in line with its routine repair timescales, and confirmed this in its final complaint response. If the resident has further concerns about the landlord’s handling of the recent leak, she can raise a new complaint to the landlord about this. She may be able to refer the matter to the Ombudsman if she remains dissatisfied once it has exhausted the landlord’s internal complaints procedure.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 55 (b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has made an offer of redress prior to investigation which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint satisfactorily.


  1. The landlord acted in line with its obligations by completing the repairs it was responsible for within a reasonable timescale, broadly in line with its repairs policy. The landlord’s communication with the resident could have been better; however, it has apologised and offered a reasonable amount of compensation for any distress and inconvenience this caused, in line with this Service’s remedies guidance and the landlord does not need to do anything further in this regard.