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Hyde Housing Association Limited (202015952)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202015952

Hyde Housing Association Limited

22 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 response to the resident’s reports about:

a)     Her front entrance door.

b)     The communal entrance doors to the building.

c)     Fire safety.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident is an assured shorthold tenant of the landlord at the property (‘the property’), an adapted one-bed flat contained within the building (‘the building’). The landlord owns the property, however, it has confirmed that it does not own the freehold to the building and that a management company (‘the managing agent’) is responsible for the communal areas of the building.
  2. The tenancy agreement provided to this investigation commenced in July 2020, however, it is not disputed in the evidence that the resident’s issues with her front door commenced in 2017. It is reasonable to conclude from this that she has been resident at the property as a tenant of the landlord since at least 2017 and that the tenancy agreement provided replaced an earlier version.
  3. Though the landlord has confirmed that the managing agent is responsible for the communal areas of the building, the tenancy agreement states that the landlord is responsible for keeping ‘shared entrances, halls, stairways, lifts and passageways and other shared areas repaired’. The tenancy agreement also confirms the landlord’s responsibility to repair/maintain the structure and exterior of the property, including the external doors. This is in accordance with the implied obligations of the landlord under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
  4. The resident is registered disabled, with restricted mobility issues. She has confirmed that she has periods where she is reliant on use of crutches or a wheelchair. The property is on the ground floor and is step free, the resident has also confirmed that there is an access ramp leading up to the entrance to the building, but that she is unable to use her front door nor the three communal doors that she needs to access to enter/exit the building.
  5. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 confirms that the body that is responsible for the communal areas of a building must take necessary precautions to protect occupants in case of fire, including the completion of regular risk assessments. Risk assessments will include the identification of at risk individuals and preparing an emergency plan.
  6. 2011 guidance issued by the Home Office in relation to Fire Safety (‘Fire Safety in Purpose-Built Blocks of Flats’) confirmed that a ‘suitable plan’ for emergencies should be in place. Typically this will involve displaying an appropriate fire safety notice or conveying such information through other means, such as a resident’s handbook. This document also referred to specific guidance in relation to vulnerable persons. However, a consultation process (the Personal Emergency Evacuations Plan consultation) ended in July 2021 and analysis is ongoing prior to the implementation of an established policy position in this regard. In the meantime, this area of the guidance document has been redacted.
  7. The landlord has provided a copy of the Fire Safety protocols for the building. These state that the building has been purpose built to prevent the spread of fire and that, in the event of a fire, residents are only required to leave the building if the fire is within their individual property.
  8. The landlord’s complaints policy, at the time of the complaint, provided for a two stage complaints process, with target timescales of twenty working days at each stage. With more complex cases, the policy provides for additional time to be taken to provide its formal response, with the complainant to be asked how often they would like to be updated. Where the twenty working day timescale is reached without the landlord having been updated, then the complaint will be escalated to stage two.
  9. The landlord’s aids and adaptations procedure describes the process to be followed when aids and adaptations are to be installed in properties it owns or manages. The policy confirms that leaseholders are excluded from this process. For major adaptations (costing over £1,000), the Local Authority’s (LA) Occupational Therapist team (OT) will need to assess the needs of the occupant. The policy does not clarify the process that will be followed when the landlord does not own the freehold to a building, as is the case in this instance.

Summary of events

  1. It Is not disputed that the Police forced entry to the property in 2017 due to welfare concerns and their actions resulted in damage to the front door and surrounding area.
  2. The landlord has provided email correspondence, dated November 2019, that confirms that the OT contacted it requesting that three ‘auto door openers’ be installed to the communal doors of the building, with costs to be met by the landlord. The OT also provided photos of the front entrance door to the property, which required ‘replacement if repair is not possible’; the OT said that the front door also required an auto door opener, with the cost to be met from Disabled Facility Grant (DFG) funds. The landlord’s internal email correspondence confirms that it was aware that there was a managing agent at this site – it confirmed, in February 2020, that it approached the managing agent following the contact from the OT about contributing to the costs but heard nothing back.
  3. The Local Authority confirmed, on 2 April 2020, that DFG funding had been secured for the front entrance door, but that it was unable to provide such funding for the communal doors as they were not ‘within the boundary of the clients home’.
  4. The resident complained to the landlord in May 2020 (exact date unknown). She said that she had been in contact with it since 2017 about the front door and surrounding area. The fire strips were no longer intact, it had only one lock, a detached frame, was split and the plastering around it required repair. She said that the door presented a security and health and safety risk.
  5. The resident also clarified how her health conditions affect her mobility and how this meant that she was unable to open her front door, or the three communal doors she needed to access to enter/exit the building. She said that she had an OT assessment in October 2019 and had been informed that funding had been approved for the front door, with the OT liaising with the landlord in relation to both the front door and communal door issues, which she wanted resolved.
  6. The landlord sent a holding letter to the resident on 4 June 2020. It confirmed an earlier telephone discussion during which the resident had confirmed that she had received two visits regarding the front door. It also said that it would look into the other issues she had raised, including specific requests she had made about the new front door she would receive and the communal door access issues.
  7. Internal landlord email correspondence dated 10/11 June 2020 referred to a contractor having previously attended to complete temporary repairs, to make the front door ‘safe’. The date that these works took place was not clear however, with no contemporaneous records available to this investigation.
  8. The landlord emailed the managing agent on 11 June 2020. It explained the reasons for the resident requiring the communal doors to be automated, confirmed that the approximate cost would be £2,000 per door, requested permission for such works to proceed and asked if the managing agent would be prepared to provide some of the funding. The landlord also said that it understood that it would take responsibility for any ongoing maintenance costs. There is no evidence of a response from the managing agent on this issue, with the landlord chasing a response on 2 July, again, with no evidence of a response.
  9. The landlord’s contractor attended the property to measure for a new front entrance door on 12 June 2020. When it returned to install the fitted door (10 September 2020) it was incorrectly sized, requiring new measurements to be taken and a whole new door to be manufactured. The landlord has confirmed that it advised the resident that it would be attending on 27 October 2020 to complete the installation, but failed to attend and did not inform the resident about this.
  10. In the meantime, the landlord continued to send the resident holding letters in relation to the complaint (letters sent on 29 July, 26 August and 25 September 2020). These letters provided updates on the case, including an apology for the failure to accurately measure the door.
  11. The landlord has provided a quotation it received from a contractor, dated 3 November 2020, that included the supply and installation of automatic door closers to the front door and three communal doors.
  12. The landlord wrote to the resident on 9 November 2020 to confirm that the complaint had been escalated to stage two of its complaints process and that its final response should be provided by 4 December. This was in accordance with the landlord’s complaints policy. The letter also updated the resident, explaining that the front door was now ready to install and that it would soon make contact to arrange an installation date. It also said discussions were continuing in relation to the communal doors.
  13. The landlord updated the OT on 17 November 2020. It confirmed that it had completed emergency repairs to the front door during the first lockdown, with its contractor having recommended that it required replacement. It explained the difficulties it had encountered with the installation first time around but confirmed that it had the new door ready to fit and was now finding it hard to contact the resident to schedule an appointment. Regarding the communal doors, the landlord detailed the responsibilities for the communal areas and said that it had investigated options to get the works done at no cost to the other residents. It confirmed, however, that the funds were not available internally for the works to proceed. It also said that DFG funding was not normally available for such communal works but enquired as to whether the OT could advise further. The OT responded the following day, thanking the landlord for the update and stating that ‘there are no real points of contention’ with the explanation the landlord had provided.
  14. The landlord sent a further holding letter on 7 December 2020. It apologised for not having provided its final response by 4 December as agreed, however, it explained that it had been attempting to contact the resident’s representative to discuss the installation of the front door and the reasons for it not being able to install the automatic mechanisms on the communal doors. It said that it would explain more in its final response letter, which it said would be sent by 22 December.
  15. The landlord sent its final response on 22 December 2020. The landlord acknowledged that the resident had reported that she was ‘unhappy with the time it was taking to replace your own front door following an incident in 2017’. It confirmed that the police had forced entry at this time and the resident had then reported damage to the door, frame and surrounding areas. The landlord had attended to complete emergency repairs prior to the first lockdown and identified the need to replace the door. It had arranged to do this, however, when it attended to complete these works (September 2020), its contractor realised that it had taken incorrect measurements. The landlord apologised for this inconvenience and confirmed that the new door was ready to be installed, with an electronic closer as requested, though it had agreed to delay this installation upon the request of the resident’s sister.
  16. Regarding the communal door closers that the resident had requested, the landlord confirmed that it was unable to install these as the management company responsible for the communal areas of the building were responsible for arranging such alterations. It confirmed that it had discussed potential options for funding these works, in conjunction with the managing agent, so that the doors could be installed at no cost to residents, but that these discussions had not been successful. The landlord also confirmed that it had considered whether a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) might be possible to fund the works but had concluded that such grants are ‘not usually provided for communal works’.
  17. Regarding the resident’s concerns about fire safety, the landlord confirmed that the procedure within the building was for residents to remain in their homes, unless the fire was within their own property. Evacuation of the building would only be expected in the event that the fire service instructed this, in which case they would be on site to manage this evacuation process. The landlord confirmed that this process was in accordance with current safety guidelines.
  18. The landlord offered the resident compensation of £100, broken down as £50 for the delay in completing repairs, £25 for its poor communication and £25 for the time and trouble taken to report the issues.
  19. The resident submitted her case to the Ombudsman in March 2021. On 20 May 2021, she clarified that she wanted automated doors to all three communal doors and the replacement of her front door. She said that the existing arrangements amounted to a ‘breach of health and safety and a fire hazard’. She also said that her representative had contacted the landlord in March 2021 to schedule the installation of the front door but had been informed that there was a potential issue with the suppliers fire safety certification. She said that she had pursued this with the door supplier who had informed her that there was no issue with their fire safety certification.
  20. The Ombudsman requested evidence from the landlord so that the case could be formally investigated. In its response to this Service (17 June 2021), the landlord confirmed that the front door was scheduled for replacement on 14 July 2021 and that the OT team would ‘revisit’ the automatic closer to this door. Regarding the communal doors, the landlord said that it had been in contact with the managing agent and it had been ascertained that it (the landlord) was unable to pass any costs to leaseholders as they would not benefit from the door openers. The landlord had agreed to cover the costs if they were ‘able to fund it’ and the managing agent had agreed to discuss if permission could be granted. Following these discussions, the landlord had identified that no funding was available, as confirmed by the OT. The OT had asked if alternative means of exiting the building might be possible and the landlord has confirmed that it is in the process of looking into this.

Assessment and findings

Scope of the investigation

  1. It is of concern that the resident’s tenancy agreement does not reflect the position outlined within the landlord’s complaint response in relation to repair/maintenance responsibility for the communal areas of the building. The landlord has confirmed that the managing agent has this responsibility, whereas the tenancy agreement places this responsibility on the landlord. It is essential that tenancy conditions are clear and accurate as these terms form the basis of the landlord/tenant relationship. It is recommended that the landlord review this issue as a matter of urgency and consider appropriate next steps to ensure clarity over repair/maintenance responsibility of communal areas.
  2. This investigation has proceeded on the basis that the landlord’s position, as outlined during the complaints process, is accurate. As such, it has been accepted that the managing agent has the overall responsibility to ensure communal areas of the building are repaired and maintained, including the three communal doors under consideration. There is no dispute over responsibility for repair/maintenance of the resident’s front entrance door, which sits with the landlord.

Front entrance door

  1. The front entrance door was damaged back in 2017, when the Police forced entry to the property. Any actions taken by the resident or landlord at that time were not available to this investigation and, in any case, the Ombudsman would not normally investigate issues dating back several years. It is evident, however, that the OT contacted the landlord about the door in November 2019, requesting repair or replacement and referring to DFG funding to facilitate an auto-opener on the door.
  2. The landlord’s final response said that it had attended the property prior to the first lockdown (before 26 March 2020), completed interim repairs and identified that the door required replacement. This differed from the information contained within its email to the OT on 17 November 2020, which said that interim repairs had been completed during the first lockdown. Whilst this anomaly is not significant, it is of concern that the landlord was not able to specify the point at which it completed repairs and of further concern that there appear to be no records of these works. Such records would have clarified whether the interim works had raised the standard of the door to an acceptable level, for both security and fire safety purposes. The resident submitted her formal complaint to the landlord in May 2020, referring to concerns about security and fire strips to the door, suggesting that, in her view at least, any temporary repairs that had been completed had not resolved these issues for her.
  3. Having received the complaint, the landlord acted promptly. The area was measured for a replacement front door on 12 June 2020 and the landlord’s contractors then re-attended to fit the new door on 10 September. Whilst a delay of three months between measurement and fitting would no doubt have been inconvenient for the resident, it was understandable given the high specification such a door would need to meet. However, the landlord has acknowledged that the new door did not fit when it attended on 10 September to install it; it also confirmed that it made a new appointment with the resident on 27 October to fit a newly measured door but failed to attend this appointment or confirm to the resident that it would not be attending on that date.
  4. The landlord’s correspondence, with both the resident and with the OT, from November 2020, confirmed that the new door was ready to install, though it also alluded to the OT difficulties it was having arranging the installation with the resident. The landlord’s final response, dated 22 December 2020, referred to an agreement having made with the resident’s sister to delay the installation of the door. In May 2021, the resident informed the Ombudsman that the door replacement remained outstanding, that she had attempted to arrange this with the landlord in March and that she had concerns about the reasoning the landlord had provided for it not being able to do so at the time. In June 2021, the landlord confirmed to this Service that the front door replacement was scheduled for 14 July 2021, including the electronic door opener she had requested.
  5. The specific issue the resident raised in May 2021 is outside the remit of this investigation. It is of concern however, that a period elapsed of more than 19 months between the date that the OT first contacted the landlord about the front door, and the scheduled replacement date of 14 July 2021. Whilst interim repairs may have completed in this time, it is not known to what extent, if any, these addressed the security/safety concerns raised by the resident. There were delays in arranging DFG funding and it is unfortunate that the landlord’s initial attempt to complete the installation was unsuccessful. It is also not in dispute that a significant portion of the overall delay related to the landlord having difficulty arranging a date with the resident (between October 2020 and March 2021). Nonetheless, in the circumstances, the landlord’s offer of compensation on this issue, which amounted to £50 for the delay, plus £25 for its communication failures, is not considered reasonable or proportionate. In the circumstances, an increased amount of compensation is considered appropriate. It is also recommended that the landlord confirm to the resident and this Service, what works have been completed to the front door.

Communal doors

  1. The landlord made multiple attempts to engage with the managing agent in order to identify a solution to the funding issues relating to the auto-openers to the three communal doors. This was both reasonable and appropriate as the landlord retained a responsibility to the resident, from both an access and fire safety perspective. It is also not clear whether the resident has the right to make such enquiries directly of the managing agent herself. The absence of a landlord/tenant relationship between the resident and managing agent would suggest that her only suitable option was to go through the landlord with her concerns.
  2. Though the landlord had identified the managing agents responsibility to the communal areas of the building, it is clear that it (the landlord) was not seeking to place all the responsibility on the managing agent. It confirmed that it was looking into options for delivering the auto-openers at no cost to the resident, procured a quote for the works, said that it would consider meeting some of the cost and also said that it would look to take responsibility for repair/maintenance of these doors in future.
  3. Ultimately, the landlord did not succeed in identifying a resolution that would enable the auto-openers to be fitted to the communal doors. It liaised with the OT and the managing agent but was unable to secure funding. Whilst this was unfortunate and raises concerns about the suitability of the property/building for the resident, no service failure can be attached to the landlord as it is not the body responsible for the communal areas at the building.
  4. The reasons for the managing agent not being willing to take action are unknown. It is also not clear if such reasoning was ever provided to the landlord in this respect as no such evidence was made available. Though no service failure has been attached to the landlord on this case, it is recommended that it write to the freeholder, copying in this Service, the managing agent and the resident, clarifying the issues the resident has faced and registering its concerns about her health and safety.

Fire safety

  1. With respect to fire safety, it is clear that both the managing agent and the landlord have a responsibility to the resident. As the body responsible for the communal areas, the managing agent is required to risk assess these areas and put in place suitable plans in case of emergency. The landlord’s responsibility to the resident extends to ensuring that appropriate fire safety procedures are in place and that any safety feature for which it is responsible (including the front entrance door) are appropriate and suitably maintained.
  2. The landlord’s final response outlined the fire safety procedures at the property; though it is not clear why this information could not have been provided at a much earlier point (in one of the landlord’s update letters for example). It confirmed that residents would only be required to evacuate in the event that a fire had developed within their own home. This guidance is in accordance with current legislation, though it is not clear what would happen if the fire was within the resident’s property, as the door issues investigated above would presumably prevent her from exiting both the property and the building. The scheduled front door replacement of July 2021 has been confirmed as including the auto opener requested by the resident, so this would cover the resident’s exit from the property. Her concerns with leaving the building remain however.
  3. It is encouraging that the landlord has confirmed that, in response to the OTs enquiries, it continues to investigate the resident’s options with respect to accessing the building. Given the resident’s concerns, it is essential that the landlord promptly updates her on any developments in this respect.
  4. It is relevant to note that this subject area is subject to rapid and continuous change. The inquiry that followed the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017 recognised that relying on the structure of a building to keep a fire contained in a high-rising building might leave some occupants at risk unnecessarily. It is anticipated that new guidance will be introduced in the coming months that will clarify a landlord’s responsibility with the fire safety procedure, including the development of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) where appropriate. Whether this will apply to the resident is unclear, however, it is recommended that the landlord monitor her situation in light of any changes in legislation or guidance that develops.
  5. The Ombudsman understands that some landlords are already taking action to identify those residents that are most at need across their housing stock and taking steps to identify possible solutions to evacuation issues. This includes working with local fire services to ensure that they are aware of any specific issues in relation to a building, such as the property location of at need residents. The resident’s complaint represents an opportunity for the landlord to consider such action, both for the sake of this vulnerable resident and as a learning opportunity for how it might identify and act upon such cases across its property portfolio.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme), there was service failure in relation to the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports about the front entrance door.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Scheme, there was no maladministration with respect to the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports about the communal doors.
  3. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Scheme, there was no maladministration with respect to the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports about fire safety.

Reasons

  1. There was a delay of more than 19 months between the OT’s initial request to the landlord about repairing/replacing the front entrance door, and the July 2021 appointment it scheduled to complete the installation. Whilst a significant proportion of this delay related to difficulties in arranging the installation with the resident, it presents as an unacceptable delay, for which the landlord’s offer of compensation is not deemed reasonable redress.
  2. The landlord identified that the managing agent has the overall responsibility for carrying out the improvements requested to the communal doors. It attempted to engage with the managing agent in order to identify a solution; it also clarified its position with the OT and investigated whether funding could be obtained to enable the works to take place. Though it was decided that the works to the communal doors could not be carried out due to funding issues, the landlord’s attempts to achieve a resolution for the resident were reasonable.
  3. The landlord’s final response clarified the fire safety procedures in place at the time. The installation of the replacement front door was also confirmed as including the auto opener requested by the resident, thus ensuring that this property feature would meet the resident’s fire safety needs within the property. As the landlord is not the responsible party for the communal areas of the building, it was not responsible for ensuring that the communal doors meet the resident’s fire safety needs. In any case, the landlord has confirmed that it continues to investigate the available options for resolving the resident’s concerns, from an access perspective.

Orders and recommendations

Order

  1. The landlord to pay the resident an additional £175 in compensation to reflect the delay in resolving the repair/replacement issues to the front door of the property. This payment will be in addition to the compensation already outlined by the landlord in its complaints response.
  2. The landlord to confirm compliance with the above order by 19 November 2021.

Recommendations

  1. The landlord to review the responsibilities for communal repairs within the building and take appropriate steps to ensure these are accurately reflected within any relevant occupancy agreements/policy documents. This will include the resident as well as any other affected tenants.
  2. The landlord to confirm to both the resident and this Service the works that have been completed to the front entrance door. This will include the interim works that were completed around the time of the first national lockdown and the replacement works that were scheduled for 14 July 2021.
  3. The landlord to write to the freeholder of the building, confirming the issues it has faced in its attempts to achieve a resolution to the communal door issues, including its concerns about the resident’s access issues.
  4. The landlord to review the resident’s ability to use the communal doors as part of her day to day living and in terms of a possible evacuation plan in the event of a fire. The review to take place jointly with the managing agent, OT and with potential assistance from the local fire service.

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