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LiveWest Homes Limited (202215615)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202215615

LiveWest Homes Limited

31 October 2023

 

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. Handling of and response to antisocial behaviour caused by the resident’s neighbour between May 2022 and October 2022.
    2. Complaints handling.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident is a shared owner of the property, which is a two-bedroom flat within a mixed tenure block of shared owners and general needs tenants. The landlord is a housing association.
  2. The landlord has no vulnerabilities recorded for the resident, however, has told the Ombudsman that the resident has told it she has myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome, which is a condition which can cause extreme tiredness.
  3. The resident has suffered from antisocial behaviour (ASB) caused by her neighbour who is very vulnerable, and who will be referred to as the neighbour in this report. Due to data protections reasons it has not been possible to fully explain the neighbour’s vulnerabilities within this report, however this prevented the landlord from considering some legal actions it might otherwise have been able to.
  4. The landlord’s ASB policy gives the legal definition of ASB as “conduct that has caused, or is capable of causing, harassment, alarm, or distress to any person… [or] nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises” from the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The policy says the landlord will “investigate and if appropriate, take action where anti-social behaviour is persistent, ongoing and preventable”. It says that residents should have a level of tolerance for lifestyle differences, but this will not always be appropriate. The landlord will work with perpetrators of ASB to try to stop the behaviour, and where it cannot it will work with other agencies to reduce the risk of harm from ASB.
  5. The policy says that the landlord will aim to resolve ASB through early intervention, coaching, warnings, use of ABCs, mediation, and referrals to other agencies. The landlord will carry out a case review if “something significant has happened” so it can reduce the risk of harm to residents. The landlord will work with partner agencies and will expect residents to “work with other agencies such as environmental health…to maximise the tools available.” The landlord will only consider eviction as a last resort where the ASB is very serious or other actions have been unsuccessful; it must also be proportionate and reasonable. Where there is not enough evidence to be able to convince a court, the landlord will not start legal action.
  6. Under s.80 Environmental Protection Act 1990 a local authority can serve an abatement notice on a person who is causing a statutory nuisance, which prohibits them from causing or continuing to cause the nuisance. Noise which is prejudicial to health is a statutory nuisance. Breach of an abatement notice is a criminal offence which can be prosecuted by the local authority thought its Environmental Health department.
  7. The landlord has a safeguarding policy which is in place to promote the safeguarding and protection of children and adults at risk. The policy defines an adult at risk as “any person 18 years and over who is, or may be, in need of community care services by reason of mental health issues, learning or physical disability, sensory impairment, age or illness and who is, or may be unable to take care of him/herself or unable to protect him/herself against significant harm or serious exploitation.” Under the policy any safeguarding concerns will be raised to the landlord’s safeguarding lead. The lead will decide whether the concern needs to be reported to the local authority or police. The lead will also provide advice to the landlord’s staff on next steps to take.
  8. The landlord’s complaints policy defines a complaint as “an expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the standard of service, actions or lack of actions by the organisation, its own staff, or those acting on its behalf, affecting an individual or group of residents.” The policy sets out when a complaint will not be considered under the complaints procedure, which includes “complaints in which court or tribunal proceedings are about to be issued or have been issued”. The policy distinguishes reports of ASB from complaints, although confirms “if the complaint is how we are dealing with an open/ongoing ASB case, we will deal with it through the complaints process”.
  9. The landlord operates a two stage complaints procedure. If it cannot resolve the complaint at the first point of contact, it will raise a stage one complaint. The landlord will try to resolve the complaint within 24 hours, however if it cannot it will respond within five working days. The policy says its response may confirm the actions it has taken to resolve the complaint or may confirm what actions it will take to investigate and resolve the complaint. If the complaint requires more detailed investigation, the landlord will agree an extension of time which will not usually be more than 20 working days, unless agreed with the resident. The policy says if things have gone wrong the landlord will try to put things right and can consider offering compensation in line with its compensation guidance document. If the resident remains dissatisfied, they can ask to escalate their complaint within ten working days of the stage one response. The landlord will acknowledge the escalation and respond to the stage two complaint within seven working days. If more than seven working days are needed the landlord will agree an extension with the resident.
  10. The landlord has an internal compensation guidance document which says that the landlord will try to put things right when its service fails. It will look at what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances. The landlord can offer discretionary or goodwill compensation as well as statutory or contractual compensation. It will consider the severity of the service failure, level of distress and inconvenience, length of the failure, any costs the resident has incurred and any vulnerabilities. The guidance contains a table with suggested compensation amounts for high, moderate, and low levels of impact on the resident.

Summary of events

  1. The landlord and the neighbour signed an acceptable behaviour contract (ABC) on 20 February 2020, when the neighbour agreed not to shout or use abusive language within his property which could be heard outside. On 4 September 2020 the landlord and the neighbour signed a second ABC. The landlord wrote to the neighbour on 11 November 2020 about his behaviour and arranged an interview for 13 November 2020.
  2. On 17 November 2020 the local authority’s Environmental Health team served a Noise Abatement Notice on the neighbour.  This notice ordered the neighbour to “reduce the volume of amplified sound emitted from the premises to a level that does not cause a statutory noise nuisance”.
  3. The neighbour signed an ABC with the police on 15 January 2021, in which he agreed not to have “excessively loud noise, music or electronic devices” and “especially not after 2300 hours or before 0700 hours”. He also agreed not to use his property to take cannabis. On the same date the police also served a Community Protection Notice (CPN) warning in relation to “playing loud music or loud television/electronic gaming devices”. This warning said that if the behaviour continued the police could serve a CPN and breach of this would be a criminal offence.
  4. The landlord served the neighbour with a s.21 notice requiring possession on 21 January 2021. It said the reason it served this was due to breach of tenancy by causing ASB and advised him not to do anything which would cause a nuisance or annoyance to others. Following this the landlord wrote to the neighbour on 25 June 2021 and 6 August 2021 about court proceedings.
  5. On 18 August 2021 the landlord applied for possession of the neighbour’s property. The court granted a suspended possession order (SPO) on 26 April 2022 with enforcement suspended until 31 October 2022. Within the recitals of the SPO the judge recorded “it would be proportionate to postpone the enforcement of any warrant of possession to reduce the risk of street homelessness and to afford third parties a period of time to assist the Defendant to obtain suitable alternative accommodation”. The judge also ordered that the neighbour could still apply to stay or suspend an eviction if the landlord were to apply for one after 31 October 2022.
  6. The landlord emailed the resident on 28 April 2022 to tell her that it had obtained the SPO and that there did not need to be a trial. The resident replied to say that this was good however the neighbour was still making noise, it was disturbing her sleep and she had been off work ill. The landlord said it would address the noise issue.
  7. On 3 May 2022 the landlord emailed the police, and on 4 May 2022 it emailed Environmental Health, to inform them that it had been granted the SPO.
  8. Between 3 May 2022 and 6 May 2022, the resident and the landlord exchanged emails about further ASB. The resident reported issues with the neighbour’s motorbike alarms going off, and noise from the neighbour slamming doors and gaming in the early hours. She had submitted Noise App recordings and diary sheets to the landlord. The Noise App is an application which allows residents to record and report noise ASB to landlords. The landlord said it had spoken to the neighbour and that he denied this but had been reminded to be mindful if using his television late at night. The resident asked the landlord not to tell her what her neighbour’s responses were in future, as it only increased her stress levels.
  9. In an internal email on 10 May 2022 the landlord sought advice on what its next steps should be. It said that the resident had contacted Environmental Health and had been offered a specialist noise recording devise. It said that as it was due to have possession of the neighbour’s property in six months there was not much more it could legally do. It said it could arrange regular meetings with the neighbour and his support worker, but it would need to manage the resident’s expectations.
  10. On 12 May 2022 the resident emailed the landlord and said that she was assured the landlord would be “coming down hard” on the neighbour about his behaviour but she felt like her “comments are ‘just being added to the records’”. She wanted to know if soft door closers could be fitted to her neighbour’s property. The landlord replied on 16 May 2022 to say that it had obtained the SPO. It was willing to fit soft door closers, could not force the neighbour to have them but had offered them to help reduce noise. It said it had carried out a case review and would write to her with a plan to address the ASB.
  11. The landlord wrote to the resident the following day. In its letter it explained that it was successful in obtaining the SPO without the need for a trial, however, the court had ordered that it was not able to enforce the SPO until 31 October 2022. The landlord said it was going to have monthly meetings with the neighbour and asked the resident to regularly submit diary sheets. It also encouraged the resident to accept the specialist noise recording devise from Environmental Health, as they had the power to act on breaches of the Noise Abatement Notice. It also said it would have monthly case review meetings and gave advice on seeking mental health support.
  12. On 26 May 2022 the landlord emailed Environmental Health to share Noise App recordings. In its email it said it could hear low level music on one and nothing on another. It also asked if the resident had accepted the specialist noise recording device. This Service has not been provided with a copy of any response.
  13. The resident emailed the landlord on 26 May 2022 to submit a diary sheet. She said that it was a bad night that night which had really affected her. The landlord acknowledged the resident’s email the following day.
  14. On 31 May 2022 the landlord emailed the resident. It said it had listened to her Noise App recordings, could hear low level music but no gaming noise or voices. It advised the resident to accept the specialist noise recording device from Environmental Health. It also said it had spoken with the neighbour and had arranged an internal case review. The resident replied on 6 June 2022 to say things had improved a little. However, she had “no faith whatsoever in Environmental Health” and had not accepted the specialist noise recording device. This was because she had a bad experience with them before and previously exhausted their complaints process. She thought it would be “a pointless exercise to put myself through more stress and sleepless nights and for the outcome to be yet more false information”. She believed the level of noise made by her neighbour may have breached the Noise Abatement Notice once.
  15. The resident emailed further diary sheets to the landlord on 23 June 2022 and the landlord confirmed it had received these on 27 June 2022 in time for a case review.
  16. On 6 July 2022 the resident emailed the landlord for an update. The landlord replied on 8 July 2022 to say that it would speak to the neighbour that week and ask him to be mindful and respectful about levels of noise. It could not however treat loud talking as ASB. The landlord again advised the resident to report noise the resident thought was a breach of the Noise Abatement Notice to Environmental Health. It also said it was working with the local authority about re-housing the neighbour.
  17. The resident emailed the landlord on 17 July 2022 to report further incidents of ASB. She said on 15 July 2022 there had been “extremely loud music” coming from the neighbour’s property, which “would have definitely breached the Noise Abatement Notice”. She said there was very loud base. The resident said she called Environmental Health, but no-one was on patrol. She also said there was loud voices, the smell of cannabis and that late night visitors had become more frequent. She said she had to try to sleep in her spare room on an undersized bed. The landlord replied on 19 July 2022 and asked her to send in diary sheets.
  18. On 21 July 2022 in an internal email the landlord said incidents which are “far and few between are hard to address, we have the possession order so can only really manage behaviours to the best of our ability” until the neighbour moves. It had spoken to the neighbour again about the noise. It also suggested the cannabis is reported to the police, and loud music to Environmental Health. The landlord was going to try to support the neighbour to find alternative accommodation.
  19. The landlord emailed the resident on 26 July 2022 to reply to her emails and diary sheets. It said it had “obtained the Possession Order, so we have taken the legal action that is available to us. One off incidents are hard to address, we continue to monitor behaviours and where there is evidence we are working with your neighbour to manage his behaviour. Some of the logs you have made are not considered Anti Social Behaviour, for example playing music at 9am occasionally, moving furniture at 7am as a one off, and people talking loudly on occasions.” It suggested she report the cannabis to the police and the noise to Environmental Health and offered to share her Noise App recordings.
  20. On 1 August 2022 the resident emailed the landlord. She said that her neighbour was having many visitors with motorbikes, that he appeared to “spend most of his time partying” and that he was getting away with his behaviour because the landlord was “allowing him to do this”. She said she had not been reassured that the landlord was “coming down strictly with him”.
  21. The resident and the landlord exchanged further emails on 3 August 2022. In these emails the resident said she had sent Noise App recordings, a video and diary sheets. She said she had been woken up by sudden extremely loud music for a couple of seconds. She had tried to sleep on her sofa but could still hear music and had disturbed sleep. The landlord said that it was going to have a meeting to review the evidence.
  22. The same day the landlord emailed Environmental Health. It included the Noise App recordings and said it could only hear music on a recording from 4pm. It said it had advised the resident to report noise to Environmental Health. It also said that the video the resident sent in was of people getting onto motorbikes in the car park, and then riding off, during the day.
  23. On 4 August 2022 in an internal email the landlord said that it was working with the local authority on rehousing options for the neighbour. It also said it had arranged the next review meeting with the neighbour.
  24. The landlord emailed the resident on 5 August 2022 to provide an update. In its email it said:
    1. It had considered the resident’s Noise App recordings, diary sheets and videos of motorbikes.
    2. Noise nuisance is subjective, and music played during the day is not always ASB. It had sought advice from Environmental Health who said “where the Noise App can demonstrate that an issue is on-going, it does not provide us with the definitive evidence we need to take things further from a regulatory standpoint…we need an officer to witness the noise first hand, or a calibrated recording device to have recorded it” to be able to act.
    3. The offer of a specialist noise recording device was still open to be accepted.
    4. “As the recordings and noise is sporadic, we can only remind your neighbour to be mindful of others noting I would not deem loud talking or low level music in the day to be anti-social.”
    5. The neighbour is allowed to have visitors and the landlord cannot prevent them from arriving by motorbike.
    6. It had the SPO and was working with the local authority and other agencies to try to assist the neighbour with rehousing. It was also discussing the issues raised with the neighbour.
    7. “The evidence provided does not highlight continuous behaviours that would be deemed to be high level anti-social behaviours. I believe the current logs indicate a clash of lifestyles which is impacted by the strain of previous behaviours which resulted in the possession order being granted. At this time I have not seen evidence that requires further enforcement action”.
  25. On 9 August 2022 the resident replied to the landlord’s update email. In her email she said that the noise reported during the day was loud and not a “clash of lifestyle”. She said that reminding the neighbour to be considerate is appropriate, but the landlord needed to “take an authoritative approach”. She also asked how often the landlord was meeting with the neighbour and whether this was face to face or by telephone.
  26. Between 25 September 2022 and 27 September 2022, the resident and the landlord exchanged further emails. In these emails the resident reported further noise which had meant she was not able to sleep. She said it was intermittent and thought it was from her neighbour gaming. She said she was recovering from Covid-19 and the lack of sleep was not helping. She had to try to sleep on her sofa and believed the landlord should reduce her rent as she was not able to use her bedroom. She said she did not think the landlord was taking the situation seriously.
  27. The resident emailed the landlord on 2 October 2022 to report further noise ASB. She said the neighbour was playing loud music at 9.20am and again at 3.20am which woke her up in her spare room. She said she was having back and hip pain from not sleeping in a proper bed. She said that the landlord was not safeguarding her mental and physical health, which was suffering due to the noise. She said she was due to go back to work but was exhausted. The resident said the landlord had failed to show her situation was a priority and that it was not “being firm” with the neighbour.
  28. The landlord replied the following day. It said Environmental Health were the appropriate agency to enforce any breaches of the Noise Abatement Notice they had issued. It also said it had “been granted Possession of the property, there is no further action we can take against your neighbours Tenancy. We are working within the timescales set by the Courts. The Possession Order is enforceable on 31 October 2022. (sic)” The landlord also asked for more information about the safeguarding point the resident had made, suggested she speak to her doctor and offered her access to therapy.
  29. On the same day, 3 October 2022, the landlord raised a safeguarding referral case. The safeguarding lead for the landlord reviewed the case on 4 October 2022 and said that this was not a safeguarding matter, but a neighbourhood dispute. The landlord said in obtaining the SPO and taking other actions to address the ASB it was trying to reduce the impact on the resident, but legal processes take time.
  30. On 5 October 2022 the resident emailed the landlord. She said she had no confidence in Environmental Health or its equipment. She said the landlord had failed to respond to her suggestion of reducing her rent. She also said she was suffering from back and hip pain and was unable to sleep; she had a makeshift bed on the floor of her spare room but could still sometimes hear her neighbour’s music. She said all of this was affecting her mental health due to sleep deprivation, making it more difficult for her to work in her job within the NHS. The resident said she did not need counselling but to be able to sleep in a bed. She said the landlord had failed to tell her what it was doing to improve her neighbour’s behaviour during the six months from the SPO until he leaves.
  31. The resident concluded her email by raising a formal complaint. Her complaint was about:
    1. The landlord’s failures within the six-month period from obtaining the SPO until it was able to enforce it at the end of October 2022, which included:
      1. Not advising the resident on any actions the landlord had taken to improve the neighbour’s behaviour, such as writing letters, issuing behaviour contracts, or telling him his behaviour is unacceptable.
      2. Only being told her Noise App recordings had been received.
      3. All communication from the landlord had been repetitive and said to continue submitting Noise App and diary sheets, to ask for the specialist noise recording device, to report cannabis to the police, and that the landlord was having meetings and reviews.
    2. That the landlord had failed to enforce the tenancy agreement and in its duty of care to residents.
  32. Between 6 October 2022 and 7 October 2022, the landlord considered the complaint in internal emails. It decided that it would not accept the complaint as it was related to a legal matter which had been dealt with through the courts. The landlord emailed the resident on 7 October 2022 to say that it would not raise the complaint as it fell within an exclusion in its complaints policy, that it was a complaint “in which court or tribunal proceedings are about to be issued or have been issued.”
  33. The resident emailed the landlord on 9 October 2022 to say that her complaint was about the landlord not following its duty of care to safeguard her and to promote her physical and mental health. Therefore, the explanation for refusing the complaint was wrong.
  34. Having not received a reply the resident emailed the landlord on 14 October 2022 to chase this. The landlord replied that day and said it would not reduce the rent for a shared owner as “rent payment is intended to cover [its] costs of retaining [its] percentage” of the property. It also said it had submitted a safeguarding case but was satisfied that tenancy actions were being taken to resolve the issue and to reduce her anxiety.
  35. Between 14 October 2022 and 16 October 2022, in internal emails the landlord sought further advice on accepting the resident’s complaint. It concluded that it could not exclude her complaint as “the exclusion in the complaints policy applies when we are taking legal action against the direct customer”. It also said that the resident’s complaint was about the landlord’s inaction and communications following the court action up until enforcement.
  36. The landlord emailed the resident on 17 October 2022 to scope the resident’s complaint. It said her complaint was about:
    1. Being unhappy with the landlord’s inaction in the six months prior to being able to enforce the SPO, and that the landlord had not fulfilled its duty to enforce the tenancy or offer a duty of care to residents.
    2. Not being advised on actions that would be taken to improve the neighbour’s behaviour.
    3. Having submitted Noise App reports but not having been told what would be done to address the noise.
    4. Being unhappy with recent contact from the landlord and that its suggestions had been unhelpful.
  37. The resident replied to confirm the scoping was correct except that she also found the landlord’s suggestions insulting, and that it had failed to answer some questions without being chased.
  38. The same day the landlord provided a letter to the resident to formally acknowledge her complaint. It said it aimed to respond by 26 October 2022.
  39. On 24 October 2022 the landlord emailed the resident to ask for an extension of time until 31 October 2022. The resident replied and agreed to this.
  40. The resident called the landlord on 26 October 2022 and the landlord detailed the call in an internal email. The landlord said it had again advised the resident to accept the specialist noise recording devise from Environmental Health, but the resident said they had previously falsified records. When discussing Noise App recordings and diary sheets, the landlord said “recordings and accompanying notes were adequate to report noise and diary sheets would only be needed to report issues that weren’t noise related.” The resident said she wanted to add to her complaint that she had been told to fill out diary sheets as well as using the Noise App.
  41. The resident also asked if the neighbour would definitely be moving out on 30 October 2022 and the landlord said he would not be. The resident said that she was told “the paperwork would be pre-prepared to ensure he was gone by this date.” The landlord replied that it could not imagine she had been told this as it could not legally apply for eviction until after the date in the SPO. The resident asked for this to be added to her complaint, that she was told the neighbour would be moving out on 30 October 2022. The landlord also said that the resident had agreed to extend the complaint response date until 4 November 2022.
  42. On 3 November 2022 the landlord emailed the resident with an update. It said it had had a case review on 31 October 2022 about enforcing the SPO. It said it had agreed to continue to work on rehousing the neighbour as it believed there was an offer pending through partner agencies. The landlord explained the process of how to enforce the SPO by applying for a warrant and bailiffs and said that if the offer of alternative accommodation fell through it would do this. The resident replied to ask how long this would take. The landlord replied on 8 November 2022 to say it would depend on the other housing provider’s timescales.
  43. The landlord provided its stage one response letter by email to the resident on 4 November 2022. In its response it:
    1. Thanked the resident for agreeing to the extension of time for the response.
    2. Confirmed the complaint elements and additional elements added after the landlord and resident’s conversation on 26 October 2022, which it then responded to:
      1. It did not uphold the resident’s complaint about inaction in the six months prior to the SPO and failing to enforce the tenancy or offer a duty of care to residents as it had obtained the SPO. It said this was “the most draconian action available to any landlord” and demonstrated its commitment to ensuring victims are protected.
      2. It did not uphold the resident’s complaint about not being advised of actions taken to improve the neighbour’s behaviour as there had been constant contact with the resident throughout. It said it had been in regular contact with the neighbour about his behaviour and noted that the resident had asked not to be told of his responses. It said it had advised the resident of the SPO and that there was no further action it could take.
      3. It grouped three elements of the resident’s complaint together (not receiving information following submitting Noise App recordings; that the landlord’s suggestions were unhelpful and insulting; having to chase for answers to questions) and did not uphold the complaint. It said it had offered appropriate and frequent contact and so it would not have been necessary for the resident to have had to chase for answers. It said its advice around contacting Environmental Health and accepting the specialist noise recording devise was not unhelpful or insulting but was practical and standard advice.
      4. It upheld the resident’s complaint about being told to submit diary sheets as well as Noise App recordings and not having provided the landlord’s branded sheets. It said “it was a duplication for you to record this on manual diary sheets” and it was unsure why the resident had been asked to do this.
      5. It upheld the resident’s complaint about being told her neighbour would definitely have moved out by 31 October 2022. It said it could not see that she was “explicitly told your neighbour would be gone by 31 October. However, from the correspondence you have received I can understand why you thought this.” It explained how the process of obtaining an eviction works and said that it should have explained this to the resident.
    3. Apologised for the upheld complaints and offered compensation of £25 each for each failing totalling £50. It also said it would learn from the complaint and that it was reviewing its ASB policy.
    4. Explained how to escalate the complaint if the resident was unsatisfied. The letter also contained information on how to contact this Service.
  44. The resident emailed the landlord on 6 November 2022 to ask to escalate her complaint to stage two of the landlord’s process. She said the landlord had misunderstood her complaint and that she was complaining about the six-month period after the landlord obtained the SPO, not the time before this. She said she did not believe the landlord had enforced the tenancy or followed its ASB policy after it obtained the SPO. She said the landlord had not complied with its duty of care towards her. She also said the landlord did not explain why she had not been given the landlord’s branded diary sheets. The resident said that £25 compensation did not reflect all the time and effort she had gone to in completing diary sheets. She also named a member of the landlord’s staff who said she told her the neighbour would be gone by 31 October 2022 and that £25 did not reflect the negative impact on her mental health.
  45. On 7 November 2022 the landlord emailed the resident to ‘informally’ acknowledge her complaint escalation. It provided a formal letter to acknowledge the escalation on 14 November 2022 by email.
  46. The resident emailed the landlord on 14 November 2022 to clarify her stage two complaint. She said her complaint about duty of care was separate to her complaint about communications. She also wanted to add a complaint about why she had been told to continue to complete diary sheets when they were not required.
  47. On 17 November 2022 the resident emailed the landlord to ask to be advised on the neighbour moving out. She also said she had reported her neighbour to the police for suspected drug driving. The landlord replied the following day to say that it was waiting for an update from partner agencies. On 19 November 2022 the resident emailed the landlord to say that she had not had an update, and that it was prioritising the needs of the neighbour over other residents. She said she was aware it can take four to six weeks to get an eviction and she was concerned there was no timescale for the landlord to apply for one.
  48. The landlord emailed the resident on 21 November 2022 to say that the neighbour had successfully secured alternative accommodation. It said he should move within the coming weeks, but it could not give a date.
  49. On 21 November 2022 the landlord provided its stage two response letter by email. In its ten-page response it:
    1. Set out the complaint elements from stage one, the reasons for escalation and clarification provided by the resident.
    2. Said it had considered the housing file, communications with the resident and had interviewed members of its staff to be able to investigate the complaint.
    3. Set out its conversation with the resident about the complaint.
    4. In relation to the complaint elements:
    5. It did not uphold the resident’s complaint about inaction in the six months from the SPO being granted until 31 October 2022. The landlord noted that it had misunderstood the resident’s complaint in its stage one response. It said “the most serious action possible” had been taken in obtaining a SPO, and the court had ordered the six-month suspension on enforcing the order. It said that “once an order of this magnitude has been granted all other sanctions or tools available to a landlord to manage a person’s behaviour have very limited impact as the most serious sanction had been secured.” The landlord also confirmed that advice had been given about contacting Environmental Health about breaches of the Noise Abatement Notice which was the correct advice. It said “all available and proportionate enforcement action” was taken.
      1. It upheld the resident’s complaint about not being advised of actions taken to improve the neighbour’s behaviour. It said there had been 150 contacts with the resident between May and November 2022 and that it had consistently told the resident to submit evidence of ASB. As it already had a SPO, the only other option available would have been to apply for an injunction. However, the evidence the resident provided “did not meet the threshold on a condition of proportionality and there was no supporting evidence from Environmental Health” and so no further action could be taken. The landlord accepted that it did not carry out formal case reviews, and while it did not change the position, it said it should have done this and provided updates to the resident. It said it should have been clearer with the resident on the actions it could and could not take.
      2. It did not uphold the resident’s complaint that the landlord’s suggestions were unhelpful and insulting as the advice provided was correct and not intended to cause insult. It said it was reasonable to expect a resident to report serious noise issues to the police and Environmental Health, who may be able to take further enforcement action.
      3. It did not uphold the resident’s complaint about communications from the landlord and having to chase for answers, as there was evidence of significant and regular contact with the resident.
      4. It upheld the resident’s complaint added at stage two of being told to continue completing diary sheets and of not being given the landlord’s branded diary sheets. It said not issuing branded diary sheets was an oversight. The evidence provided on diary sheets and the Noise App was used to build the case for court which resulted in the SPO. It said following this the evidence was used to decide whether to apply for eviction on 31 October 2022. The landlord apologised for not explaining this clearly to the resident.
      5. It reviewed the compensation offered at stage one against its guidance and said it was appropriate. However, it also offered additional compensation of £25 for its failing in not advising the resident of actions taken to improve the neighbour’s behaviour.
      6. It also said it investigated the resident’s complaint that she was told the neighbour would be gone by 31 October 2022. It said the member of staff named by the resident had a different recollection of the conversation. However, the timeframe was explained to the resident, and she accepted this at the time. The landlord quoted emails within its response to show this.
      7. In regard to duty of care the landlord said that the resident had said she felt like the landlord had cared more for her neighbour than for her. The landlord said that its intention was to “treat all parties equally…whilst taking consideration of any vulnerabilities of both the reporter and the reported.” It said when the resident raised her safeguarding concern the landlord created a case, and its safeguarding lead said it was not a safeguarding issue.
    6. Summarised that it recognised the resident had suffered from ASB for a long time and it could have communicated with her more clearly after the SPO was granted. However, it had followed its ASB policy and provided advice on seeking additional support from other agencies. It had responded quickly to the resident’s contact however could have been more direct about what it could and could not do.
    7. Explained how to contact this Service if the resident remained dissatisfied.

Events after the end of the landlord’s complaints process

  1. In an internal email on 21 November 2022 the landlord confirmed that the neighbour had been offered alternative accommodation and about arrangements for the neighbour to move, including putting up a key safe.
  2. The resident and the landlord exchanged emails on 28 November 2022 about the neighbour moving out. The resident said that the neighbour had not yet moved out and she thought the landlord should apply for an eviction. She said the timeframe would have been reduced if the landlord had applied for eviction as soon as it was able to. The landlord apologised for the delay which it said was beyond its control; it was working with partner agencies, but some reasonable adjustments had to be made.
  3. On 29 November 2022 in an internal email the landlord confirmed that the neighbour had signed a new tenancy and should have moved by 4 December 2022. Therefore, there was no need to apply for eviction.
  4. The landlord and the resident exchanged emails between 30 November 2022 and 8 December 2022. In these emails the resident complained that the neighbour was continuing to make noise packing and said the landlord was making excuses for him. The landlord said it had set out a firm timeframe and that the keys would be returned by the neighbour by 12 December 2022.
  5. Between 12 December 2022 and 15 December 2022, the landlord and the resident exchanged further emails about the neighbour moving out:
    1. The landlord said that the neighbour had left his property and was returning his keys.
    2. The resident said there was someone in the property and she had called the police. She was unhappy that the landlord had not collected the keys.
    3. The landlord said that the neighbour had had difficulties using the key safe however the keys were going to be returned on 13 December 2022 and the landlord was going to check.
    4. The resident suggested that the landlord change its policy so that residents return their keys to a member of staff when there is a possession order in place.
    5. The landlord confirmed on 13 December 2022 that the keys had been returned by the neighbour.
    6. The landlord also confirmed that the locks had been changed on 14 December 2022.
  6. In an internal email on 21 December 2022 the landlord confirmed that it had inspected the neighbour’s property. It said that soft closers were already fitted to the kitchen doors and cupboards, that draft excluder tape was fitted to internal doors and that the flat front door already had a door closer fitted, all to reduce noise.
  7. The resident has told this Service that the landlord’s handling of the situation and its communication was as bad as the ASB itself and had an equally negative impact on her.

Assessment and findings

The landlord’s handling of and response to antisocial behaviour caused by the resident’s neighbour between May 2022 and October 2022

  1. The resident’s stage one complaint and stage two complaint had several elements. These collectively related to the landlord’s handling of and response to ASB and the resident has clearly defined the period of her complaint starting with the landlord obtaining the SPO against her neighbour. It is not in dispute that the resident had suffered for a considerable time from ASB noise nuisance caused by her neighbour.
  2. Within her complaint she raised that the landlord was not taking any action to control the neighbour’s behaviour, that he was being allowed to get away with his ASB, and that the landlord was not following its ASB policy or being authoritative with him. She also said that the landlord did not tell her what it was doing to try to manage his behaviour.
  3. Within its stage one response the landlord said it had taken “the most draconian action available to any landlord” when it applied for and was granted a SPO, which is correct. As stated within its ASB policy, the landlord will only consider eviction as a last resort when it is proportionate and reasonable. At court the judge decided it was proportionate and reasonable to grant possession, but only if enforcement was suspended for six months to allow time for the neighbour to find alternative accommodation. The landlord had to accept the decision of the court and to abide by it.
  4. In terms of its ASB policy, the landlord had followed the steps up to this ultimate point; it had tried speaking with the neighbour, ABCs, warnings, and serving a s.21 notice. Other agencies had also been involved; Environmental Health and the police had both issued notices. Following being granted the SPO the landlord said in its stage two response that “once an order of this magnitude has been granted all other sanctions or tools available to a landlord to manage a person’s behaviour have very limited impact as the most serious sanction had been secured” which is again correct. If the ultimate sanction a landlord can use is repossession of a property, and as it had already obtained the necessary court order to do that, there was little if anything else it could do to persuade or compel the neighbour to change his behaviour. There was no greater punishment it could threaten or use.
  5. The landlord also in its stage two response said that the only other sanction it could consider was an injunction. This would require convincing the court that the requirements to grant one had been met. Based on the evidence the landlord said the ASB caused by the neighbour “did not meet the threshold on a condition of proportionality and there was no supporting evidence from Environmental Health”. In line with its ASB policy it therefore decided not to pursue this, and taking into account the neighbour’s vulnerabilities, that was a reasonable decision to have made.
  6. However, the landlord did have regular monthly meetings with the neighbour although it is not clear whether these were face to face for by telephone. The landlord raised the ASB reported to it with the neighbour during these meetings. Considering all the actions the landlord had taken, it is difficult to see what more the landlord could have done within its ASB policy to manage the neighbour’s behaviour in a way which would have had any effect on it, and so its actions were reasonable and proportionate.
  7. Within its stage two response the landlord upheld the resident’s complaint that it did not keep her updated on what it was doing to manage the neighbour’s behaviour. It said it should have been clear with what it could and could not do. However, it also said that it had been in regular contact with the resident, which can be seen within the many emails exchanged over the period.
  8. The landlord throughout advised the resident to report noise ASB to Environmental Health and to take up their offer of a specialist noise monitoring device, from which recordings could be used in evidence if Environmental Health decided to prosecute for breach of a Noise Abatement Notice. Notwithstanding that the resident said she had a previous negative experience with Environmental Health, it was appropriate and solution focused advice for the landlord to have given. As noted, there was no further sanction available to the landlord, however Environmental Health did have a further enforcement option available which, if the evidence was gathered, it could have considered using. The landlord’s ASB policy says it will work with other agencies and will expect residents to “work with other agencies such as environmental health…to maximise the tools available.” The landlord followed its policy.
  9. The resident also raised that she had been told to submit Noise App recordings, and to complete diary sheets which she did regularly. In its stage one response the landlord upheld this part of the complaint as it said it was a duplication for the resident to have to do this and offered £25 in compensation. In its stage two response however, the landlord said the diary sheets, along with the Noise App recordings, had been used as evidence to obtain the SPO, and then to decide whether to apply for eviction or not. The landlord apologised for not being clear about this. There are sometimes occurrences of landlords asking residents to complete diary sheets as it is seen as the landlord taking some form of action. In this case the landlord seems initially confused on why it had repeatedly told the resident to complete diary sheets, then came up with an explanation for its stage two response. Though reviewing the evidence, the landlord appears to have been using the diary sheets as its basis for discussing the ongoing ASB with the neighbour, although it could have been clearer about this with the resident.
  10. In regard to what the resident was told, or what she believed, about when the neighbour was going to leave his property there appears to have been some confusion. Court orders are not easy to understand and can be written in a way which makes them more complicated. In this case the court granted possession but suspended enforcement until 31 October 2022 and the resident was told this by the landlord. However, the landlord did not explain what this meant and so the resident at first understandably believed that the neighbour would be evicted on 31 October 2022 if he had not left the property by then.
  11. On 26 October 2022 the resident asked if the neighbour would definitely be moving out on 30 October 2022. She said she was told “the paperwork would be pre-prepared to ensure he was gone by this date.” It was only at this point that the landlord fully explained that it could not apply for an eviction until 31 October 2022, and then would have to wait for an eviction date which could be some weeks after that. This understandably concerned the resident, who had thought the ASB would end by this date, and she added it to her stage one complaint. The landlord correctly upheld this part of the complaint, saying it could have been clearer, and offered £25 in compensation.
  12. The resident also raised within her complaint that the landlord had failed to safeguard her physical and mental health and had breached its duty of care towards her. She said it had put the neighbour’s needs above her own. At the time the resident raised her concerns the landlord followed its policy and raised a safeguarding case. The landlord notes that it did not know which category the situation would fall into, but it raised the case anyway so that its safeguarding lead could advise. The landlord took a pro-active approach to this even though it did not fall into the definition of safeguarding. In its stage two response it explained that it tried to treat everyone equally but had to take into consideration the vulnerabilities of all parties. This was correct, as it had a moral and legal duty to do so. Ultimately the landlord had taken action in relation to the ASB, by obtaining the SPO, and had to comply with the order of the court to try to assist the neighbour with rehousing, which it did. It continued to speak with him about the ASB but had no other tools it could use while enforcement of the SPO was suspended.
  13. In relation to the failures identified, the Ombudsman’s role is to consider whether the redress offered by the landlord put things right and resolved the resident’s complaint satisfactorily in the circumstances. In considering this the Ombudsman takes into account whether the landlord’s offer of redress was in line with the Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Principles as well as our own guidance on remedies.
  14. The landlord upheld three elements of the resident’s complaint regarding keeping her informed on what actions it was taking, confusion over the use of diary sheets and confusion over when the neighbour would move out by. It offered compensation of £25 each for these failings totalling £75. Under the landlord’s compensation guidance this was classed as a low-level impact failing for each of the complaint elements. This is defined as “the impact is no greater than a tolerant person could be expected to accept.”
  15. Taking into account the failings, which were related to communication with the resident, and the resident’s own disability, these had more than a low-level impact on the resident. While individually any one of these failings in isolation may be low-level, in combination and in the context of the resident having suffered from ASB for a considerable period, the effect on the resident was greater. There was maladministration without reasonable redress. An order has been made that the landlord pay compensation of £300, to include the £75 it had already offered, to reflect the distress, frustration and inconvenience caused to the resident.

The landlord’s complaints handling

  1. The resident made her complaint by email on 5 October 2022. The landlord acknowledged her email on 7 October 2022. Between 6 October 2022 and 7 October 2022, the landlord considered whether to accept the complaint or whether to exclude it under its complaints policy as a complaint “in which court or tribunal proceedings are about to be issued or have been issued”. When the resident challenged this, by explicitly stating her complaint was about the period after the SPO was granted and was about how the landlord had not safeguarded her welfare, the landlord reviewed its position.
  2. The landlord delayed until 17 October 2022 before emailing the resident to accept and scope her complaint. In internal emails it said it would accept the complaint because the legal action in question was not being taken against the resident making the complaint. More importantly the complaint was about its actions or inactions after the end of the legal proceedings. The landlord formally acknowledged the stage one complaint on 19 October 2022, which was ten working days after the complaint was made. Having considered the resident’s complaint, it should not have taken the landlord this long to accept and acknowledge it. The resident was clear in what her complaint was about, and the landlord should have looked to include it rather than exclude it from its complaints process.
  3. The landlord provided its response on 4 November 2022. It did this after agreeing two extensions with the resident and following the resident adding additional elements to her complaint. The landlord replied within its agreed extended timeframe. Despite its efforts to work with the resident to scope her complaint fully, it still managed to make a mistake with its response to the first element of her complaint by getting the complaint timeframe wrong. The landlord identified failings, apologised for these, and offered compensation. However, it failed to apologise for the delay in accepting her complaint and its error in trying to exclude it. It did say how the resident could escalate the complaint and contact this Service for assistance.
  4. The resident asked to escalate her complaint on 6 November 2022 and the landlord emailed her the following day to provide what it called an ‘informal acknowledgment’. It provided a formal acknowledgement on 14 November 2022, and provided its stage two response on 21 November 2022. This was within ten working days, but not the seven working days set out in its policy. However, the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaints Handling Code states that stage two complaints must be responded to within 20 working days and so the landlord was well within this timeframe.
  5. Overall, due to its handling of accepting and acknowledging the resident’s stage one complaint, and responding to her stage two complaint outside of its policy timeframe, there was service failure. An order has been made that the landlord pay £75 in compensation to reflect the further time and trouble caused to the resident.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with Paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration in relation to the landlord’s handling of and response to antisocial behaviour caused by the resident’s neighbour between May 2022 and October 2022.
  2. In accordance with Paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure in relation to the landlord’s complaints handling.

Reasons

  1. There was maladministration in the landlord’s handling of and response to antisocial behaviour caused by the resident’s neighbour, between May 2022 and October 2022, because it did not clearly tell the resident what it could and could not do. Its communications over the use of diary sheets were confusing. It did not clearly explain the SPO to the resident, leading to false hope and expectations of when the neighbour would be leaving his property.
  2. There was service failure in the landlord’s complaints handling because the landlord incorrectly tried to exclude the resident’s complaint before realising that it should not be excluded; it took an unreasonable amount of time to do this, did not apologise or offer any compensation for this error. It also replied to the resident’s stage two complaint slightly outside of its policy timeframe.

Orders

  1. Within four weeks of the date of this report, the landlord is ordered to:
    1. Provide a written apology to the resident for the failures detailed in this report.
    2. Pay directly to the resident further compensation of £375 made up of:
      1. £300 to reflect the distress, frustration and inconvenience caused to the resident in its failings in its handling of and response to antisocial behaviour.
      2. £75 to reflect the additional time and trouble caused to the resident due to its complaints handling failure.
    3. Provide additional training and or guidance to staff dealing with complaints on what it can and cannot exclude from its complaints process under its policy exclusions.
    4. Confirm compliance with these orders to this Service.

Recommendations

  1. It is recommended that the landlord change its policy or procedure to include that it will attend a property in person to collect keys from a resident who is moving out, where the reason they are moving out is to comply with a possession order. Where this is not possible the landlord should change the locks once it becomes aware the property has been vacated.