Harrow Council (202014348)

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COMPLAINT 202014348

Harrow Council

27 September 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:
    1. response to the resident’s reports of a leak at his property;
    2. complaints handling.

Background and summary of events


  1. The resident is the leaseholder of the property of the landlord. The Ombudsman notes, however, that while a copy of the lease was requested, it has not been provided to this service. The landlord is a local authority.
  2. The property is a top floor flat, immediately below the roof. It is not disputed that the external structure of the building, including the roof, are the responsibility of the landlord, and that the lease provides that the resident is responsible for a relevant proportion of the costs associated with the upkeep of the external structure.
  3. The resident sublets his property to a sublessee. The resident also uses a letting agent to manage the sublease. For the purposes of this investigation, the letting agent will be referred to as the resident unless it is otherwise necessary to distinguish between them.
  4. The landlord operates a two stage complaints procedure.
  5. The landlord operates a repairs policy. The policy notes that where works are likely to exceed £250 per leaseholder, a ‘Section 20’ consultation will be undertaken. The policy also notes that leaseholders are responsible for internal decorations. In instances where a repair is an emergency repair, i.e. that it may endanger life, the landlord will carry out the repair prior to the completion of the Section 20 notice period.

Summary of events

  1. In or around 18 January 2011, the resident reported a roof leak to the landlord, and the landlord subsequently arranged for repair works. The resident made a further report on or around 20 October 2016, following which the roof gully was renewed.
  2. On 24 July 2017, the resident made another report that there was a roof leak and requested that the landlord carried out the necessary repairs. He also expressed his concern that each time the leak occurred, he had to cover the costs of the internal redecoration. The landlord acknowledged the report on the same day and its contractor subsequently inspected the roof. The source of the leak was not discovered and, on 6 September 2017, the landlord’s contractor advised that they considered that the roof was in “poor condition” and that they would continue to monitor the roof for any further leaks. The relevant proportion of the cost of the inspections was subsequently charged to the resident as part of the service charge, following which on 10 October 2017, the resident advised he would be disputing any further costs relating to the roof should the issue reoccur.
  3. On 12 December 2017, the resident reported a further leak. He requested that the landlord arrange repairs urgently and queried whether the contractors would be covering the cost of further internal redecoration, given that the leak had not been fixed. He also queried whether the further contractor costs would be charged to him in the service charge. The contractors attended the property on or around 15 December 2017 and subsequently advised the landlord that they considered the most recent internal wall stain to have been related to the previous leak and that there was no active leak. On the same date, the resident disputed this assessment, and advised the property had been redecorated following the previous leak, indicating this was a new leak. He further advised he had witnessed water dripping in the property from the new leak.
  4. The landlord subsequently arranged for its surveyor to attend the property. The surveyor attended the property on 19 December 2017, however, they did not discover an active leak and so arranged a further inspection. On 11 January 2018 the surveyor, the resident, and his letting agent jointly inspected the roof, but did not discover a leak. It was noted that it had rained the previous day, but that there was no water in the loft and that paper sheets laid to detect leaks were dry. The surveyor recommended, however, that the gutters should be cleared in case that was a possible cause of the leak.
  5. On 23 January 2018, the resident reported that the leak had reoccurred, and advised he had video evidence. The landlord acknowledged the resident’s comments on 24 January 2018, but did not follow up this report. On 31 January 2018, the resident requested an update on the gutters being addressed. He also expressed concern that the previous inspection was not sufficient and requested that the whole roof be inspected. He again noted that he had video evidence of the leak and offered to attend the landlord’s offices to show it.
  6. On 8 February 2018, the resident made a further request for an update. On the same date, the landlord’s surveyor advised that they were yet to have a confirmed date for the gutters to be cleared. They also advised that they aimed to carry out a further inspection and would be erecting scaffolding the following week, but that the adverse weather conditions may cause delays. On 9 February 2018, the resident expressed his dissatisfaction at the time taken to resolve the issue. He again queried if the landlord would cover the cost of redecoration and also advised that the leak was now occurring in multiple rooms in the property.
  7. On 23 February 2018, the landlord advised that the scaffolding had now been erected and a further inspection would commence on 26 February 2018. Following the inspection, it was determined that a number of works were required, including replacing tiles, repointing the ridge, etc. On 6 April 2018, the landlord sent the resident a waiver form to allow it to commence works prior to the Section 20 notice period elapsing. On 9 April 2018, the resident advised he was not happy to pay for these works as he considered the previous attempts to repair the works, for which he was charged, to have been unsatisfactory.
  8. On or around 24 May 2018, the landlord provided the resident with a detailed timeline of the works that had occurred to date. It also advised that following the commencement of the most recent works, the leak was identified to be coming from a different area to that where the works had commenced, and so an updated Section 20 notice was required notifying residents of the amended works. The resident replied on 29 May 2018 and advised that the leaks were ongoing and requested they be repaired as a matter of urgency. He also provided the landlord with video evidence depicting the same.
  9. On 4 June 2018, the resident requested an update. On 8 June 2018, the landlord’s surveyor reiterated that a new Section 20 notice was required and that a start date would be advised soon. The resident made another request for an update on 11 June 2018, and again on 26 June 2018. He made a further request on 16 July 2018 and advised that further leaks had occurred. On 18 July 2018, the landlord accepted that there had been significant delays to its repairs and said that it had requested its contractors advise the start date urgently.
  10. On 19 July 2018, the landlord issued its new Section 20 notice, along with a waiver of the statutory time period to allow it to immediately commence the works. On 20 July 2018, the resident sent correspondence to the landlord noting their recent telephone conversation, specifically that he was dissatisfied with the delays to the repairs and the ongoing costs for the repairs. The landlord replied on 23 July 2018 and advised that it would “agree to a discount due to the cost of historical repairs plus also to take into account the length of time taken.” The specific discount was not mentioned in this correspondence, but the landlord noted that it would “ensure that a reasonable and fair adjustment is made.” Regarding the costs for redecoration, the landlord advised a claim must go through its insurer and that they would contact him directly.
  11. On 1 August 2018, the resident queried when the work would be starting. On 6 August 2018, the landlord replied that its scaffolding had been delayed due to a parked car, but that work would be commencing that day. On 14 August 2018, the resident reported that there had been only two days of works on 7 and 8 August 2018, but that since then, the roof had been left open and no further works undertaken. On the same date, the landlord replied that its work had been postponed on health and safety grounds due to weather conditions, but that the roof was watertight, and work would recommence on 15 August 2018.
  12. On 4 September 2018, the resident noted that work was still not underway and requested an update. The landlord replied on the same date and apologised for the delays. It advised it had instructed its contractors to provide ongoing communication to residents, but that this had not occurred. It advised that the works would be completed by 6 September 2018.
  13. It is evident that the landlord subsequently presented the resident with its service charge which included the applicable proportion of the cost of the repair works. Subsequently, the resident raised a formal complaint on 6 October 2020 regarding the landlord’s repairs and the amount charged to the resident. This service has not been provided with a copy of the resident’s formal complaint, nor is it clear why there was a significant period of time between these works and the formal complaint.
  14. The landlord provided its stage one response on 5 November 2020. It acknowledged the resident’s position that he considered the landlord to have negligently carried out its initial inspections leading to the leak reoccurring, however, the landlord advised that it had “no evidence to support your claim of repeated repairs for the same issue regarding the roof.” It advised that it had given the resident a 20% reduction for the most recent repair costs to recognise the delays and inconvenience. It disputed that it had agreed to waive an amount equivalent to the previous repair costs already paid but advised it would review any evidence he may have.
  15. The resident subsequently requested an escalation to stage two, which the landlord provided on 8 December 2020. The landlord’s response noted the resident’s service charges for the previous six years, giving an explanation for each. It advised that under his lease, he was required to contribute his relevant proportion towards such repair costs as part of the service charge. It reiterated that in recognition of the delays and inconvenience, it had given him a 20% reduction for the most recent costs, and also reiterated it would review any evidence that it had agreed to further reductions.
  16. On 18 December 2020, the resident advised he considered that the 20% reduction was in recognition of the delays to the works only, and not for what he considered to have been repeated works due to failing to discover the leak on previous occasions. He referred the landlord to its communication dated 23 July 2018, as detailed above. On 1 February 2021, the resident noted he was yet to receive a response and on 5 February 2021, the landlord advised that he had completed its complaints procedure and referred him to this service.

Assessment and findings


  1. While a copy of the lease agreement has not been provided to this service, it is not disputed it provides that the landlord is responsible for the exterior of the building, including the roof, and that the resident is required to make proportional contributions to the costs of repairs through the service charge. The Ombudsman notes that in his communication with the landlord, the resident had expressed concern at the amount charged via the service charge when compared to the amount estimated by the landlord in its Section 20 notice. The Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is set out in the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, paragraph 39(g) of which notes that the Ombudsman cannot consider complaints which concern the level of a service charge. Should the resident wish challenge the level of the service charge, he should refer the complaint to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), who may be able to consider this issue.
  2. Additionally, the Ombudsman notes that the events that form the subject of the complaint occurred more than 12 months prior to the formal complaint being made. In such instances, the Ombudsman may consider it reasonable for a landlord to refuse to investigate the events through its internal complaints procedure. However, given that the landlord has formally responded to the resident regarding these events, that the leaks were sporadic, and the issue over service charge may only have arisen once the service charges were finalised, this service does not consider the complaint to be outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
  3. The Ombudsman recognises that there were a number of similar leaks over an extended period, which would have caused great frustration for the resident. Following each instance of the resident reporting the leak, the landlord appropriately carried out an investigation of the issue. Following its investigation into the reports from January 2011 and October 2016, it carried out repair works with the aim of rectifying the issue. While the resident has expressed his opinion that these repair works were unsuccessful and therefore carried out to a poor standard, based on the evidence available, and taking into consideration the significant gaps between reports and the reported age of the roof, this service cannot conclusively say whether or not the repairs were carried out correctly or not.
  4. Following the resident’s further report of a leak in July 2017, the landlord also carried out an investigation into the issue. While its investigation did not uncover the source of the leak, this is not evidence that the investigation was carried out negligently as the Ombudsman is of the understanding that, while a leak is not actively dripping, its source is not always obvious. It was appropriate, therefore, that the landlord’s contractor resolved to continue to monitor the situation, although it is not clear what its monitoring efforts would include. An explanation of this to the resident would have been helpful so they were aware of how the issue was being handled, however, the landlord did not provide this.
  5. Similarly, following the further report of a leak in December 2017, the landlord carried out an investigation of the issue, and reported its findings to the resident that it considered the wall stain reported to have been caused by the earlier leak. Given that the resident disputed this, and articulated his reasons why, it was appropriate that the landlord arranged for a further inspection by its surveyor. While the resident noted that he had video evidence, given that the landlord had arranged for the surveyor to carry out an inspection alongside the resident, it was reasonable that the landlord did not request this footage.
  6. Given that the surveyor’s inspection did not uncover a leak, it was appropriate that he arranged for a further inspection. Following no leak being discovered during this further inspection, the landlord arranged for the guttering to be cleared, however, it did not provide a timeframe for this to occur. The landlord’s repairs policy notes that clearing gutters are a ‘non-urgent’ repair, which it will aim to complete within 20 working days. The resident made multiple requests for an update on when this would occur, and by 8 February 2018, the landlord was still unable to provide a timeframe for the gutters to be cleared. While the Ombudsman understands that unforeseen delays can extend such a timeframe, it is considered best practice for a landlord to keep a resident informed when such a delay occurs, which the landlord did not do when it passed its initially targeted timeframe. This would have caused the resident inconvenience in needing to chase up a response.
  7. While the landlord’s repairs policy considers roof leaks to be an ‘urgent’ repair, which it would aim to address in 5 working days, the Ombudsman understands that it is reasonable for this timeframe to be extended where multiple inspections are required, and scaffolding is necessary. Additionally, given that this is a leasehold property, it may not be possible for a landlord to achieve this timeframe where the cost of the repair works necessitates a Section 20 notice, which requires a statutory 30-day notice period. While the resident expressed in his communications with the landlord that he considered there to be a risk of ceiling collapse associated with roof leaks, it is not evident from the surveyor’s investigations that such a risk was present in this instance. It was therefore reasonable that the landlord did not consider this to be an emergency repair that it would undertake outside of the Section 20 notice period, and that following the landlord’s inspection in February 2018, it initially issued a Section 20 notice prior to commencing works.
  8. Following the discovery that further unexpected works were required, the landlord appropriately informed the resident of the requirement for a further Section 20 notice to be issued. While it is not evident that the landlord was at fault in not discovering the further cause of the leak in its initial investigation, it would have been helpful for the resident had it set out a timeframe for it to undertake the updated works, which it did not do in this instance. Following this, the resident made three requests for an update, to which he did not receive a response. This would have caused him distress at the significant delay, and inconvenience in having to chase the issue on multiple occasions. The landlord appropriately acknowledged the delays were unacceptable and that it would address this following the works, as discussed further below.
  9. There were subsequent delays to the works, which the landlord has advised were due to adverse weather conditions causing health and safety concerns. Given that the resident had expressed considerable concern over these works, it would have been helpful had the landlord provided updates as to why there were delays prior to him having to chase updates. While the landlord noted it had requested its contractors keep the residents informed, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure the works and surrounding communication is conducted correctly, which it failed to do in this instance. This would have again caused the resident distress at not knowing when the issue would be resolved and inconvenience in having to chase updates.
  10. The resident initially expressed that he would dispute any further costs relating to further roof works in October 2017. Given that there were no further roof works at this time, it was reasonable for the landlord not to have immediately responded on this point. Following the further works, the resident again raised this issue, and had a telephone discussion with the landlord on this point in July 2018. The parties confirmed this discussion in writing and the landlord noted that it would “agree to a discount due to the cost of historical repairs plus also to take into account the length of time taken.” It is not disputed that it subsequently gave the resident a 20% discount on the final roof repair costs, however, the resident has advised he considers this discount to relate to the delay only and does not take into account the historical costs he has paid. In its formal responses, the landlord gave a timeline and account of all the costs to date and noted that the resident’s lease agreement requires him to pay the relevant proportion of such costs. As it had agreed, the landlord applied a discount. While the resident has contested this did not include any attempt to refund past costs, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, it has not been demonstrated that the past costs could have been avoided, and as such, it was reasonable for the landlord not to include them in the calculation of its discount.
  11. As acknowledged by the landlord, there were significant delays to it commencing the most recent roof works. Additionally, the landlord’s communication as to when works would be carried out, and updates as to why there were delays was not sufficient. This constitutes service failure, and it is appropriate that some form of compensation was offered to the resident. The discount offered to the resident amounted to approximately £408.47, which in the Ombudsman’s opinion amounts to reasonable redress in the circumstances.

Complaints handling

  1. As noted above, the landlord indicated to the resident in both its stage one and stage two responses that it would consider any evidence in relation to the resident’s position that it would offer a discount in relation to the cost of past roof works. Following the stage two response, the resident referred the landlord to their discussion on this point and requested that the landlord advise its position, however, the landlord did not offer any further comments, instead referring the complaint to this service. Given that it had repeated its offer to provide further comments, the resident had a reasonable expectation that it would do so. Its failure to subsequently do so would have caused distress to the resident and left him unclear how this part of the complaint would be resolved. This constitutes service failure, and it is appropriate that an amount of compensation be awarded. As noted above, the Ombudsman also does not consider that the landlord had agreed to refund the resident for the costs of past works. In the circumstances, therefore, an amount of £50 compensation is appropriate.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, and in the Ombudsman’s opinion, there was reasonable redress offered by the landlord for its service failure in respect of the complaints regarding its response to the resident’s reports concerning a leak at his property.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was service failure by the landlord in respect of its complaints handling.



  1. While there were multiple investigations for leaks at the property, there is no evidence to suggest the investigations and subsequent repair works were carried out poorly. It is clear, however, that the works arranged in 2018 were significantly delayed and that the landlord’s communication was poor. This amounted to service failure and so it was appropriate that it offered a discount to the costs of the repair works, which in the Ombudsman’s opinion, amounted to reasonable redress in the circumstances.

Complaints handling

  1. The landlord repeatedly offered to review additional evidence provided by the resident beyond the completion of its internal complaints procedure, however, when the resident requested it provide its position on additional discounts in light of an earlier conversation referred to by the resident, it did not offer any further comments. This constituted service failure, and an amount of compensation is appropriate.

Orders and recommendations


  1. The Ombudsman orders the landlord to pay compensation of £50 for its ineffective complaints handling.
  2. This amount must be paid within four weeks of the date of this determination.


  1. The landlord to take steps to ensure it provides residents with timely updates for any works carried out and monitor its contractor’s communications if it has instructed the contractor to make such communications.