10 May 2022
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 is about the landlord’s handling of:
- Window repairs.
- The associated complaint.
- The resident is a secure tenant of the landlord. The property is a fifth-floor flat in a block of flats. The resident had a representative who corresponded with the landlord on the resident’s behalf. For ease of reference this Service will refer to both the resident and the representative as ‘the resident’ in this report.
- In June 2019, two panels from the bedroom windows in the resident’s property had fallen out of their frames, falling outwards onto the ground below. The resident immediately reported the incident to the landlord. The landlord attended to temporarily repair the windows by fitting wooden boards in each of the affected panels. It is not clear from the evidence provided when the landlord attended; however, there are repair logs to suggest the period fell between June 2019 to February 2020. The landlord’s repair logs also suggest that problems with the windows had been reported in 2013 to 2015, prior to the 2019 incident when the resident reported that the windows had fallen.
- The resident submitted a formal complaint to the landlord in February 2020 in respect of fitness for habitation and health and safety standards concerning the resident’s accommodation. The resident had stated that she had no choice but to live in a flat with a boarded bedroom window that let in rain and a cold draught which she said was intolerable in the autumn and winter months. The resident complained that the damp and mould had caused significant damage to the resident’s personal possessions over time.
- The repair logs suggest that the landlord sent its contractors to inspect the windows in February 2020. Following this inspection, the landlord had sent a letter to the resident in November 2020 confirming that the bedroom window should be replaced, but it explained that it would require scaffolding to be erected for the works to be carried out.
- It is not clear in the evidence provided to this Service when scaffolding was erected; however, there is mention from the resident that at the time when she referred her complaint to the Ombudsman, the scaffolding was put in place, but the works were yet to be carried out.
- The resident was dissatisfied with the delays in fitting replacement windows and expressed concerns that she had not heard back from the landlord since her formal complaint in February 2020. It was not until the landlord issued its final response to the complaint in November 2020. The landlord accepted that it did not follow its own procedures in handling the complaint by meeting its own and the resident’s expectations to address repair works. It apologised to the resident and confirmed a replacement window would be fitted. No timescales were given for when this would take place. It had advised the resident that the manufacturing and installation process can take between 6 to 12 weeks. Considering delays to repairs outstanding for a period of over a year, the landlord offered the resident £150 in compensation.
- The resident brought the complaint to the Ombudsman in October 2021. She remained dissatisfied that the scaffolding is still erected with no view of when works will be completed. The resident is also concerned that the landlord has failed to adhere to its complaints handling procedure. She has explained that the landlord made mention of the replacement of one window although two-bedroom windows are boarded and a third window is said to be in disrepair and in danger of falling out.
Assessment and findings
Policies and Procedures
- The landlord has provided a copy of its tenancy agreement and its ‘Housing Management Complaints Policy’. To the Ombudsman. Regarding repairs, maintenance and improvements, the landlord specifies that the resident must inform it of any repairs that are needed, providing the relevant channels to report these to.
- The tenancy agreement also states that the landlord is obliged to maintain the structure and outside of the resident’s property. The landlord should carry out routine repairs within a timescale of 20 working days.
- The landlord’s repairs policy does not specify separate timescales for emergency repairs.
- The landlord’s complaints policy provides for financial compensation is appropriate to remedy a service failure that has had an adverse effect on the resident.
- The landlord’s complaints policy states that the payment of compensation should be processed within four weeks of the date of the reply to the resident.
Scope of Investigation
- The resident made a claim to the landlord’s liability insurer as she had raised concerns that her personal possessions had been damaged due to the damp and mould. The Ombudsman is unable to comment on the outcome of an insurance claim as this Service can only consider the actions of the landlord. The Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the landlord’s insurer and therefore, the Ombudsman cannot look at insurance concerns raised by the resident.
- Under Paragraph 39(e) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, we will not consider complaints that were not brought to the attention of the landlord as a formal complaint within a reasonable period, which would normally be within six months of the matters arising. The resident had raised concerns regarding issues with windows which were first reported between the period of 2013 to 2015. Whilst the historical incidents provide contextual background to the current complaint, this assessment focuses on events from June 2019 onward, which is six months prior to the formal complaint being made to the landlord.
The landlord’s handling of the window repairs.
- The resident confirmed to this Service in October 2021 and again in April 2022 that the repairs to replace her bedroom windows remained outstanding. The landlord’s repair records provided to the Ombudsman are not comprehensive and it is not clear from the records why the windows have not yet been replaced. This indicates poor record keeping by the landlord as it should have detailed records of any repairs which are identified as necessary including the timescales for the repairs and an explanation of any delays.
- This Service recognises that whilst it may have taken longer to fit new windows given the national lockdown restrictions, the landlord should have kept the resident updated with timescales for the replacement of windows and it should have prioritised this work in view of the significant health and safety issues involved.
- The resident had reported the incident immediately in November 2019. This Service would have expected the landlord to respond swiftly considering the seriousness of the situation. However, six months had passed, during which the landlord did nothing other than to cover the area where the window had fallen with a sheet of wood. This occurrence had happened twice within a one-year period with no proper remedial work undertaken which shows poor repair handling by the landlord.
- The landlord has not provided a timescale for the windows to be replaced and the landlord has advised it will be replacing one window only, although there are two windows currently boarded up and a third window which the resident has said needs replacement. What is more, it is not clear when scaffolding was erected; however, this has seemingly been in place for over a year and no works have been carried out to date. Given the state of disrepair to windows, the landlord should have treated this repair as urgent and adhered to its repairs policy in carrying out remedial works. It sets out a timescale of 20 days for works to be carried out for routine repairs. It is clear this repair was not a routine repair but one that required urgent attention. At the time when the complaint was passed to the Ombudsman, the resident confirmed the window repairs were still outstanding.
- If the landlord was unable to carry out the window replacements urgently due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic on levels of staffing and the window manufacturer’s business then the landlord should have considered whether to offer the resident alternative accommodation until the windows were replaced. It is not acceptable to expect a tenant to live in a property which is unsafe. Having windows boarded up for a prolonged period would lead to a lack of light and poor insulation meaning the property would be more difficult and more expensive to heat. The resident has expressed concern in her complaint that her child may fall out of one of the windows as the boarded-up windows were not fully secure and a third window was in a state of disrepair and may fall to the ground as well.
- In addition to admitting its service failure, the landlord saw fit to offer the resident £150 in compensation. This was in line with its compensation guidance, as set out above but it was disproportionately low when the length of the delays to repairs and the overall living conditions of the resident are considered.
- Whilst this Service understands that there were some delays caused by the pandemic, this does not adequately explain a delay of over a year for a repair of this nature which posed a potential health and safety risk for the resident, her child and other residents in the area who may be injured by falling windows.
- The landlord should offer the amount of £700 compensation to provide adequate redress for the failures and shortcomings identified in respect of repairs to the windows.
- This is in line with the Service’s remedies guidance (published on our website). The remedies guidance suggests awards of between £250-700 where there has been service failure which had an impact on the complainant and may have significantly affected the overall outcome for the complainant. Examples include; failure to address all relevant aspects of the complaint, leading to considerable delays in resolving the complaint and significant failures to follow complaint procedures. In this case, the delays and repeated service failures by the landlord to adequately repair the windows were unacceptable.
- To put things right, the landlord should arrange for all three of the affected windows to be replaced as soon as possible. The landlord had made the resident aware that it can take 12 weeks to manufacture the windows which will need to be measured prior to manufacturing. It will also be necessary to arrange scaffolding so the new windows can be fitted. This Service considers that a total of four months to fit the windows would be a reasonable timescale as it will inevitably take time to manufacture the windows and the landlord cannot control the manufacturer’s timescales.
- If there are any unavoidable delays to fitting the windows for example due to delays in the windows being manufactured then the landlord should consider offering alternative accommodation to the resident until the windows are fitted. The landlord should take reasonable steps to prioritise the measurement of the windows and their fitting once they have been manufactured to minimise any further disruption to the resident.
The landlord’s complaint handling
- The landlord’s initial complaint response did not address the resident’s concerns raised in her complaint in February 2020. It provided more of an acknowledgement letter rather than a full response as it did not confirm the landlord’s position regarding the complaint, the reasons for this or the next steps. This is what this Service would expect the complaint response to include as referred to in the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handing Code (published on our website). The Code sets out the Ombudsman’s expectations for landlords with regards to their internal complaints procedures in line with the Ombudsman’s approach and industry best practice.
The delay to the landlord’s complaint response was not acceptable, and the landlord has not adequately explained why it took so long to issue its final response to the complaint.
- The Landlord should consider reviewing its complaints policy to have a clear, structured complaint procedure which explains how the complaint will be investigated at each stage, the timeframe in which the resident would expect to receive a response, and clear direction of how the complaint can be escalated should the resident remain dissatisfied. The Landlord should bring its complaints process into line with the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code (published on our website) which enables landlord’s to resolve complaints raised by their residents quickly and to use the learning from complaints to drive service improvements.
- To put things right, the landlord should offer to pay the resident £250 in compensation. This is in line with line the Service’s remedies guidance, as mentioned above. The Ombudsman’s remedies guidance suggests awards of between £50-250 where there has been service failure which had an impact on the complainant and may have significantly affected the overall outcome for the complainant. Examples include; failure to address all relevant aspects of the complaint and repeated failures to reply to letters or return phone calls.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Scheme, the Ombudsman finds that there was:
- Severe maladministration by the landlord in respect of its handling of the window repairs.
- Maladministration in respect of the landlord’s complaint handling.
- The landlord is ordered to pay the resident a total of £700 compensation for repairs to windows. This is inclusive of the landlord’s offer to pay the resident £150 for delays in carrying out repairs, which can be deducted from the total awarded by the Ombudsman. The payment should be made within four weeks of this decision.
- The landlord is ordered to pay the resident a total of £250 compensation for distress and inconvenience caused by errors in its complaint handling. The payment should be made within four weeks of this decision.
- The landlord is ordered to arrange for the windows to be replaced. The replacement should take place within four months of the date of this decision.
- The Ombudsman has previously ordered the landlord to consider its complaint handling policy and procedures, and it is recommended that the landlord should review this case to see whether these need to be strengthened further.