Kingston upon Thames Council
29 October 2021
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 concerns:
- The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of the communal entry doors not closing.
- The landlord’s handling of the resident’s complaint.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is a secure tenant of the landlord which is also the local authority. The property is a maisonette within a four-storey block comprising a total of 14 self-contained 2 storey maisonettes. The block is served by a set of communal entrance doors.
- The resident previously brought a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding the communal front door which she had raised with the landlord in February 2020. This complaint was determined by the Ombudsman on 31 March 2021. Within this determination it referred to the resident raising a second complaint with the landlord regarding a communal door in July 2020. It also referred to the Housing Ombudsman Scheme and said that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which, in our opinion are made prior to having exhausted a member’s complaints procedure. The determination explained this complaint was outside of jurisdiction because the Ombudsman did not have any evidence of that complaint having exhausted the landlord’s complaints process.
- The resident’s complaint raised in July 2020 about the landlord’s handling of her reports of the communal entry doors not closing was subsequently brought to the Ombudsman under a new complaint which is the subject of this report along with the landlord’s handling of the resident’s complaint.
Summary of Events
- On 20 July 2020, the resident reported to her single point of contact (SPOC) at the landlord, a Team Manager, that the side entry communal door to the property building did not close; it was dragging on the ground and getting stuck. She asked for the landlord to send a carpenter to “cut the bottom of the door off”.
- In a further email sent later that day the resident also reported that the front communal door was also dragging on the floor and getting stuck. She said the property block now had no security entry doors that closed so asked that the landlord fix this as soon as possible.
- On 21 July 2020, the landlord’s SPOC advised her that the job had now been booked for 4 August between 12pm and 2pm. Later on the same day, the resident asked the landlord why it would take two weeks to fix this. She reiterated that both entry doors did not close and this would leave her block of flats unsecure and open for anyone to enter for two weeks. She asked that the landlord added this to her complaint.
- On 22 July 2020, the resident emailed the landlord advising that the front entrance door now closed however the side entrance door did not as it dragged on the ground and was getting stuck. She asked again about why it would take the landlord two weeks to fix this. She also reiterated that her block of flats would be unsecure and open for anyone to enter for two weeks and commented that her SPOC at the landlord seemed unconcerned by this.
- On 22 July 2020, the landlord’s complaint team advised the resident that her complaint had been registered at stage of its Corporate Complaints Procedure. It said her concerns were currently being investigated and she could expect to receive a response within 15 working days. It provided a weblink to its complaint process.
- On 24 July 2020, the resident asked the landlord again why it would take two weeks to fix the doors.
- In a response the same day, the landlord’s SPOC advised that it had several other jobs that required contractors to attend and some would be higher priority than this job. The landlord explained that as all flats had a personal front door as well, this job would not be categorised as urgent as all residents and their belongings were still secure behind their front doors. The landlord advised they would update the job request with its contractor as she had said that the front door was now closing correctly so only the side door remained faulty. In a further email from the resident sent the same day the resident asked that the contractor still check the front entry door as sometimes it closed and sometimes it did not. She asked what the point was of having a security entry door if left unsecure for two weeks.
- On 21 August 2020, the resident emailed the landlord referring to its 22 July 2020 acknowledgement of her complaint in which she was advised she would receive a reply to her complaint within 15 working days. She said she had not received a reply even though it was now 23 working days since she sent her complaint.
- On the same day the landlord provided a stage one response to the resident. Within its response it:
- Apologised for the delay in responding to her complaint.
- Referred to her email of 21 July 2020 in which she said she wanted to complain that the appointment made to repair the communal entry doors was booked for two weeks later on 4 August. The landlord acknowledged that she believed this repair should have been attended to earlier as it left the property building unsecure.
- It reiterated why the repair job did not meet the required standards for a more urgent repair. It said as the safety of residents and their possessions were still protected by their individual front doors, the standard repair time frame was suitable for this request. The landlord advised therefore that it did not uphold her complaint.
- It provided the resident with details of how to appeal if she was unhappy with its response.
- On 22 August 2020, the resident emailed the landlord raising a stage two complaint. She said that she was surprised her SPOC had replied to her complaint since it was about his failure to get the entry door fixed. She said that its complaints procedure does not state that the person being complained about should reply to the complaint themselves. The manager of her SPOC should have replied to her complaint raised.
- The resident said the landlord refused to comply with its own complaint process. She said stage two complaints were supposed to be replied to by a senior manager from a different department, but this never happened. Her stage one and two complaints were “constantly” replied to by the person she was complaining about. She referred to her SPOC and the landlord’s Customer Experience Manager whom she said was “of the same level, in the same dept.” The resident reiterated that it had taken the landlord a month to reply to her complaint although complaints were supposed to be replied to within 15 working days. She was dissatisfied with the landlord’s position given in its stage one response that it did not matter that the entry door was broken for two weeks because everyone had a front door. The resident asked again what the point was of having a security entrance door if the landlord was unconcerned about it not working for two weeks. She said it defeated the object of having a security entrance door in the first place.
- On 14 September 2020, the landlord’s Customer Experience Manager provided a stage two review response. Within the landlord’s response, it summarised the reasons the resident gave in her stage two complaint. Regarding the two week timeframe taken by the landlord to repair to the communal door of the resident’s block which she thought should have taken place more urgently, it said this was the landlord’s standard repair policy for all similar communal doors.
- Regarding the resident’s comment that stage one complaints were supposed to be replied to by the manager of the person she was complaining about, not the person she was complaining about themselves, the landlord said it was appropriate that its Team Manager sent her the stage one response. It explained this was because he was following this repair policy when advising her of the scheduled repair date and the complaint was not about a decision that they took independently.
- The landlord also referred to the resident’s complaint about stage two complaints were supposed to be replied to by a senior manager from a different department, but this never happened. In response, the landlord’s Customer Experience Manager stated that she was the Team Manager’s Senior manager so it was appropriate for stage two escalations to be allocated to her to reply to. The landlord explained that its complaints process did not state that a stage two complaint must be responded to by a manager from a separate service. It said it had nothing further to add to the stage one response and advised it was not upholding her complaint.
Assessment and findings
The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of the communal entry doors not closing.
- The landlord’s repair policy says repairs can by responsive, cyclical or planned and sets out target timescales for different categories of repairs. It states that in most cases it keeps to the targets, but will be flexible (if there are particular needs). The categories are Emergency Repairs– two hours, Urgent Repairs–24 hours routine repairs–20 working days.
- Following the resident’s initial report to the landlord that the communal side entry door was not closing on 20 July 2020, the landlord’s internal records show that it raised a works order for this repair with its contractor on 21 July 2020. On the same day the landlord advised the resident of the appointment repair date of 4 August 2020 at 12pm to 2pm. As the landlord promptly logged the repair reported by the resident and advised her of the appointment date, the landlord’s response was appropriate. Its records show that it also updated the job on 21 July 2020 to include the resident’s further report that the communal front entry door was also sometimes getting stuck when closing, which was reasonable.
- In response to the resident’s subsequent complaint that the repair date allocated meant the property block would be left unsecure for two weeks, the landlord advised the resident that it had several other jobs that required contractors to attend and some would be higher priority than this job. It explained that as all flats in the block all had a personal front door, the repair was not categorised as urgent. In its stage one and stage two complaint response, the landlord reiterated that as the safety of residents and their possessions were still protected by their individual front doors, its standard repair time frame was suitable for this request.
- The target timescale stated in the landlord’s repair policy for routine repairs is 20 working days and as such the repair date allocated to the communal door was in line with this. Whilst the resident was unhappy that the property building was left unsecure during this timeframe, the landlord’s categorisation of this repair as ‘routine’ as oppose to ‘urgent’ was appropriate. This is because the fault was with a communal door to the property building as oppose to the resident’s personal front door, which under the landlord’s repair policy would have qualified for a quicker urgent repair timescale due to the safety implications of this. Therefore, as the repair date allocated was in accordance with its repair policy and as the landlord’s works order indicates the landlord’s repair contactor attended on 4 August 2020 and that the full repair was completed on 25 August 2020, the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of the communal entry doors not closing, was appropriate.
- The landlord’s ‘Compliments, Complaints and feedback’ policy has a two stage complaints process which states at stage one it aims to provide a response to the resident within 15 working days. Further, it says if the resident remains dissatisfied with its response to their complaint, they can request a stage two review which will then be reviewed by the Customer Care service. Its complaint policy says this means that a senior council officer who has not been involved in the case before will reconsider the complaint and send the resident a response within 15 working days or tell them if it will take longer and when they can expect a full reply.
- In the landlord’s 22 July 2020 acknowledgement of the resident’s complaint it advised her that her concerns were currently being investigated and she could expect to receive a response within 15 working days. The landlord’s stage one response was provided to the resident on 21 August 2020 and this was only after the resident contacted it chasing for the complaint response. Therefore, the landlord’s response was not provided within the 15 working day timescale stated in its complaints process and that it told the resident it would provide a response by. As such, the landlord failed to follow its complaints policy in this regard. In its stage one response, the landlord acknowledged and apologised to the resident for the delay in providing its response. It would have also been appropriate for the landlord to offer the resident a measure of compensation in recognition of the slight delay particularly as it resulted in the resident having to chase it for a response. As it did not do so, the landlord did not sufficiently address this service shortfall in its complaints process.
- In her escalation request the resident said that stage one complaints were supposed to be replied to by the manager of the person she was complaining about therefore she was dissatisfied that the person at the landlord whom she was complaining about – her SPOC, provided the stage one response. In its review response the landlord said as its Team Manager (and SPOC) was following its repair policy and the resident’s complaint was not about a decision that they took independently, it was appropriate that he sent the stage one response to her to explain the reason for the decision. In her formal complaint to the landlord of 22 July 2020, the resident had commented that her SPOC “seemed unconcerned” that her block of flats would be unsecure and open for anyone to enter for two weeks. Nonetheless, the substantive issue being complained about was the timescale given for the repair to the communal doors which was based on the landlord’s repair policy– it was not about the behaviour of the SPOC. Therefore, the landlord’s stage one complaint response from its Team Manager, also the resident’s SPOC, was reasonable in the circumstances.
- The resident also said stage two complaints were supposed to be replied to by a senior manager from a different department, but this “never happened” and she said these were replied to by the Customer Experience Manager whom she said was “of the same level, in the same dept.” as her SPOC. This is general comment about landlord not following its complaints process however this review is limited to looking at whether the landlord followed its complaints process when dealing with this specific complaint made by the resident.
- The landlord’s complaints policy says review requests will be considered by its Customer Care service and a senior officer who has not been involved in the case will reconsider the complaint and send a response. Therefore, this does not say that the stage two reviewer will be from a different department from the officer providing the stage one response. The landlord’s review response was from its Customer Experience Manager and they confirmed to the resident in their response that they were the Team Manager’s Senior manager. They also said it was appropriate for stage two escalations to be allocated to them to reply to. Therefore, the landlord reasonably addressed the resident’s point raised about whom at the landlord should provide complaint responses. Furthermore, as the landlord’s complaint responses were from managers of appropriate seniority, there is no evidence of the landlord failing to follow its complaint policy by its Team Manager providing the stage one response and its Customer Experience Manager providing the stage two review response.
- In summary, the landlord followed its complaint process when handling the resident’s complaint except for when it delayed with providing the stage one response. The landlord has not provided any compensation policy however in the circumstances, it is reasonable for its to pay the resident £25 in which is commensurate to the inconvenience caused to the resident by the delay.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord when handling the resident’s reports of the communal entry doors not closing.
- In accordance with paragraph 55 (b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord when handling the resident’s complaint.
- The repair date allocated to the fault reported by the resident with the communal entry doors was in accordance with the landlord’s repair policy for routine repairs which gave a target date of 20 working days. The nature of the repair did not justify the landlord categorising it as an urgent repair and it explained the reason for this to the resident, namely that the safety of residents and their possessions were still protected by their individual front doors.
- Appropriately graded managers at the landlord provided the stage one and stage two responses to the resident and therefore it followed its complaint process when handling the resident’s complaint in this regard. There was a delay by the landlord when providing its stage one response prompting the resident to chase for a response. Whilst the landlord acknowledged and apologised for this, as it did not offer compensation for the inconvenience caused, it did to sufficiently resolve the shortfall in its service when handling her complaint.
Orders and recommendations
- The Ombudsman orders the landlord to:
- Pay the resident £25 in compensation for the delay in responding to her formal complaint at stage one of its complaints process.
- Comply with the above order within four weeks.