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Havering Council (202101048)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202101048

Havering 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:
    1. The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of damp and mould in his property.
    2. The landlord’s response to the resident’s concerns about redecoration and refurbishment works in communal areas of his building.
    3. The landlord’s handling of the associated complaint.

Jurisdiction

  1. What we can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Scheme. When a complaint is brought to the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the case as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
  2. After carefully considering all the evidence, in accordance with paragraph 39(e) of the Scheme, the following aspect of the complaint is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction:
    1. The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of damp and mould.
  3. Paragraph 39(e) of the Scheme states that the Ombudsman will not consider complaint that were not brought to the attention of the member landlord as a formal complaint within a reasonable period, which would normally be within six months of the matters arising. This is equally applicable to the escalation of complaints when a resident is dissatisfied with the landlord’s response; it would not be reasonable to expect the landlord to reconsider a complaint after a significant interval had passed since its previous response.
  4. The resident raised his concerns about damp and mould to the landlord on 5 November 2019 and received a stage one complaint response from it on 14 November 2019. There was no evidence that this was escalated to the next stage of the landlord’s complaints procedure before the resident confirmed to this Service on 13 April 2021 that he remained dissatisfied with its response. As such, this aspect of the complaint will not be considered in this investigation as the continued dissatisfaction with the landlord’s response was not raised within a reasonable period after the response was issued.

Background and summary of events

  1. The resident is the leaseholder of the property, and the landlord is the freeholder. The property is a flat within a block of flats.
  2. The resident made a stage one complaint to the landlord on 8 August 2019 in which he said that the communal hall and front door had not been decorated or refurbished in over ten years. He highlighted that other blocks of flats owned by the landlord had received this maintenance work but not his. The resident asked the landlord to explain why his block had been “ignored”.
  3. The landlord issued its stage one complaint response to the resident on 19 September 2019 in which it said that it was unable to confirm when the communal hall and front door were last decorated or refurbished. It advised that its approach was to only repair or renew something once it could no longer be repaired; a “just in time” approach. The landlord therefore reasoned that, while it was “likely” that the communal refurbishment had not occurred in over ten years, this was its normal process. It confirmed that the block was on its estate improvement plan and the communal hall and door would be considered as part of this, which the resident would be consulted about.
  4. The landlord explained that other blocks of flats may have received refurbishments sooner due to these being necessary following repair reports from residents. It confirmed that some repairs had been carried out, such as replacement locks and hinges to the communal door. The landlord assured the resident that his block had not been “ignored”. It advised that it would arrange for its surveyor to attend the block to ensure that the doors were working correctly.
  5. The landlord partially upheld the resident’s complaint on the basis that it had provided its response late. It apologised for any inconvenience this may have caused.
  6. The resident emailed the landlord on 11 October 2019 to say that he had been informed that a planned maintenance visit had been due to take place on 29 August 2019, but he had heard nothing on the outcome of this. It replied on 16 October 2019 to confirm that there was no planned maintenance due to take place. The landlord asked the resident to provide the details of who informed him of the visit so that it could investigate further.
  7. The resident emailed the landlord later on 16 October 2019 to convey his disappointment that there was no planned maintenance work due as he felt that refurbishment and decoration work was urgently needed. He questioned why there had been no planned maintenance to the communal areas of the block for over ten years. The resident asked why the landlord was unaware of the inspection completed on 29 August 2019. If this inspection had not gone ahead, he asked why it had “lied” to him about this.
  8. The resident provided photographs which he felt demonstrated that communal redecoration and refurbishment was necessary. He said he could not remember who had informed him about the inspection on 29 August 2019. The resident confirmed that he wished to escalate his complaint to the second stage of the landlord’s complaint’s procedure, saying that he sought an explanation for why there was no planned maintenance due.
  9. After the landlord acknowledged the resident’s complaint escalation request on 17 October 2019, he contacted it on 18 and 22 October, and 2 November 2019 to chase a response to his questions.
  10. The landlord’s investigation notes on 21 October 2019 recorded that the surveyor had inspected the communal door and found no issues; therefore, no works were required.
  11. On 13 November 2019, the landlord provided its stage two complaint response to the resident, in which it reiterated that it had operated a responsive approach to essential decoration since 2016. It explained that it received information about potential repairs from various sources which included tenants, its surveyors and its officers and then prioritised these against its available budget. The landlord directed the resident to its website for details of its estates improvement programme but was unable to provide an estimate as to when consultation would take place with leaseholders about proposed work to his block.
  12. The landlord noted the photographs provided by the resident and his dissatisfaction with the decorative state of the communal area but disagreed that immediate remedial work was necessary. It relayed that its surveyor had visited the block to assess the security of the front door but “did not comment on its decorative state”.
  13. The landlord noted that the resident had not provided details of the person who had informed him that there was an inspection carried out on 29 August 2019. Without this information, it said that it could not investigate this incident any further. The landlord explained that it carried out annual inspections of the living areas of some of its properties but this inspection did not include the communal areas. It referred to the sources by which it received information on the decorative state of the communal areas, which it reasoned, removed the need for an annual maintenance survey. The landlord said it was sorry if a misunderstanding had arisen but was confident that it had not deliberately misled the resident.
  14. The landlord’s surveyor carried out an inspection on 22 November 2019 to address other complaints raised by the resident. In the course of this, they noted his concerns about the communal areas including decoration and the communal front door. The surveyor’s report stated that they were “unable to defend the fact that the block appears to have been left off any historic improvement programs” and noted that blocks either side of the resident’s block had received decoration to their communal doors. They also noted that the resident’s block lacked controlled access which was “not secure as anyone is able to walk right through”. The surveyor relayed the details of their inspection to the landlord’s capital works team for consideration for communal refurbishment works in the “near future”.
  15. The resident requested the escalation of a number of his complaints to the final stage of the landlord’s complaints process on 1 December 2019. Amongst these complaints he conveyed his dissatisfaction with “no ownership from any representative [of the landlord] of refurbishment projects”.
  16. The landlord issued its final response to the resident on 17 December 2019. In this, it advised that the complaints he had raised would not be addressed at the final stage of its complaints process. Amongst its reasons for declining to consider the resident’s complaints at the final stage of its process, the landlord said that his complaint about general maintenance had not been escalated to stage 2. It confirmed this was its final response to the matter and directed him to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if he wished to pursue his complaints.
  17. The resident confirmed to this Service on 13 April 2021 that he continued to be dissatisfied with the landlord’s response to his complaint, however there appeared to be confusion over which stage his complaint had been considered at through the landlord’s process.

Assessment and findings

Policies and procedures

  1. The landlord’s lease agreement with the resident confirms that the landlord is to maintain, repair and renew the main structure and the exterior of the property. It is also to decorate the exterior of the building to a good standard as often as reasonably required as part of the landlord’s normal programme for maintenance and decoration for the estate.
  2. The landlord’s repair policy confirms that it is responsible for repairs to communal areas “as documented within individual leases”. The policy is silent on the frequency of communal repairs.
  3. The landlord’s complaints policy provides for a three stage complaints procedure. At stage one of this procedure, the complaint should be responded to within ten working days. At stage two of the complaints procedure, it should issue a response to the resident within 25 working days and at the final stage, the landlord should inform the resident of the outcome of the complaint within 30 working days.  

The landlord’s response to the resident’s concerns about communal redecoration and refurbishment works.

  1. As specified in the lease agreement above, the landlord is to carry out exterior decoration as part of its normal programme for maintenance and decoration for the estate. This would, therefore, give rise to a reasonable expectation on the part of the resident that a programme of planned maintenance existed. The landlord confirmed that it had operated a responsive approach to communal decoration works since 2016 but it is unclear if this change was ever communicated to the resident. While the landlord was entitled to adopt a responsive approach to communal decoration in order to manage its resources effectively, it would have been good practice to ensure that residents were informed of this.
  2. This is especially important given that, as stated in the landlord’s stage one and stage two complaint responses, that it partly relied on reports from resident to ensure that it was aware of any decorative communal repairs being necessary.
  3. Given that communal decoration work was done partly in response to residents’ reports, it was unreasonable that the landlord did not investigate the resident’s reports of poor decorative repair fully. When a landlord receives a report of a fault or issue, its first response should be to investigate the matter. While its stage one complaint response to the resident confirmed that its surveyor would inspect the communal door, its notes on 21 October 2019 only noted that the door was operational; it did not comment on the decorative state of the door or the hallway. The landlord should have inspected the decorative state of the communal door and hallway in response to the resident’s report.
  4. Regarding the resident’s assertion that a planned maintenance inspection was to have taken place on 29 August 2019, which was contrary to the landlord’s statement that it did not carry out planned maintenance, it was reasonable that the landlord could not comment further on this as the resident was unable to prove further details on the source of his information.
  5. It was unreasonable that the landlord declined to investigate the complaint further at the final stage of its process, given that its surveyor’s report on 22 November 2019 stated that they were “unable to defend” the lack of refurbishment or a controlled communal door. Landlord are expected to respond to the opinions of  suitably qualified staff; therefore, it was unreasonable that the landlord did not investigate further when the surveyor reported that they could not explain why the resident’s block had not been refurbished.
  6. The landlord should pay £150 compensation to the resident for any distress and inconvenience he experienced because of its failure to investigate the resident’s concerns about the redecoration fully. The Ombudsman’s remedies guidance, available online at https://www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Remedies-Guidance.pdf, provides for compensation awards of between £50 to £250 for to recognise when “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. The landlord did not respond reasonably to resident’s concerns about its handling of communal redecoration and refurbishment works as it not fully investigate his reports of the need for redecoration and refurbishment. This was at odds with its assertion that it relied upon such reports from residents to determine when communal refurbishment was required.

The landlord’s handling of the associated complaint

  1. The landlord issued its stage one complaint response to the resident on 19 September 2019, 30 working days after he made his complaint on 8 August 2019. This exceeded the ten working day timeframe specified in its complaints policy above, which the landlord acknowledged in its stage one response.
  2. The landlord’s stage two complaint response was issued to the resident on 13 November 2019, 20 working days after his escalation request on 16 October 2019. This was within the 25 working-day timeframe specified in its complaints policy above.
  3. The landlord advised the resident of the outcome of his final stage complaint escalation request after 11 working days; this was within the 30 working-day timeframe specified in its complaints policy above. However, the landlord’s reason for declining to investigate his complaint was because the complaint had not been considered at stage two. This was incorrect as it had issued a stage two complaint response to the resident on 13 November 2019.
  4. The landlord, therefore, did not handle the complaint reasonably, as its basis for not considering the complaint at the final stage of its process was based on incorrect information. Furthermore, it did not consider the information provided by its surveyor on 22 November 2019 which should have been considered and responded to as part of the complaint investigation.
  5. Therefore, the landlord should pay £100 to the resident to reflect the time, trouble and inconvenience he experienced because of errors in the landlord’s handling of his complaint.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with the Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord in
    1. Its response to the resident’s concerns about communal redecoration and refurbishment works.
    2. Its handling of the associated complaint.

Reasons

  1. The landlord did not fully investigate the resident’s reports of the need for redecoration and refurbishment work to the communal areas of the block.
  2. The landlord unreasonably declined to investigate the resident’s complaint at the final stage of its process as its decision was based on erroneous information.

Orders

  1. Within 28 days, the landlord is to:
    1. Pay £150 compensation to the resident for its failures in its response to his concerns about communal redecoration ad refurbishment works.
    2. Pay £100 compensation to the resident for its failures in the handling of the associated complaint.
  2. The landlord is to contact this Service within 28 days to confirm it had complied with the above orders.

Recommendations

  1. The landlord should:
    1. Carry an inspection specifically of the decorative condition of the communal areas of the block.
    2. Provide feedback to the resident about what actions it will take as a result of the above inspection.
    3. If no action is to be taken as a result of its inspection, it should explain clearly to the resident when he may expect such redecoration or refurbishment work to commence.