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London Borough of Harrow (202207870)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202207870

London Borough of Harrow

1 November 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:
    1. Pigeon proofing works at the property.
    2. The landlord’s handling of flooring works, carried out as part of major works.
    3. The landlord’s handling of the resident’s complaint.

Jurisdiction

  1. What we can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme). When a complaint is brought to the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the case as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
  2. After carefully considering all of the evidence, the resident’s complaint about the landlord’s response to her request for pigeon proofing works at the property falls outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
  3. On 25 October 2022, the resident asked for rods and netting to be fitted around her balcony, to prevent birds/droppings. The landlord advised that it could not carry out the work or provide permission for the resident to carry out the works herself. The resident was dissatisfied with the response, and raised her concerns about the matter as a complaint. The landlord’s final position was that netting would not be permitted, but it suggested the resident consider installing spikes.
  4. The resident has since informed this service that she is unhappy that the birds are making a mess on her balcony. She has expressed her opinion that it is the landlord’s responsibility to do something about the situation and come up with a solution to the problem. While the resident’s concerns and strength of feeling about the matter are noted, her request that the landlord should assume responsibility for cleaning the bird mess and find a solution to pigeon proof the balcony has not been considered by the landlord.
  5. Paragraph 42(a) of the Scheme states that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion are made prior to having exhausted a member’s complaints procedure, unless there is evidence of a complaint-handling failure and the Ombudsman is satisfied that the member has not taken action within a reasonable timescale.
  6. As such, it follows that the resident’s complaint about pigeon proofing – specifically that the landlord should arrange to clean the mess and find a solution to the current problem of birds around the balcony area, falls outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. The resident may wish to raise her concerns with the landlord as a new complaint. If the resident remains unhappy with the response she receives from the landlord, she may refer the matter back to the Ombudsman as a new complaint.

Background and summary of events

  1. The resident has occupied the property, a two bedroom, third floor flat, since 28 November 2005, with her two children. She purchased the leasehold title to the property in 2014.
  2. On 18 December 2017, the landlord sent a Section 20 Notice of Intended Works to the resident, saying that the communal corridors and stairs were going to be upgraded to a vinyl covering, along with other works. This would make the floors easier to clean and improve the look of the communal area.
  3. On 28 June 2019, the landlord wrote to the resident, and explained it had obtained and accepted one tender for works to be done in the building. It said she would be expected to pay for a portion of the works, amounting to £6,444.33. However, it is unclear whether a commencement date for the works had been agreed.
  4. The resident wrote to the landlord on 19 August 2020 and said the communal flooring needed repairing due to there being holes and air pockets, that were tripping hazards. The landlord responded the following day and said her concerns had been sent to the HomeSafe Team; however, it may need to be addressed as day to day maintenance. The HomeSafe team was responsible for the landlord’s programme of works that focused on block security and fire safety compliance.
  5. On 23 October 2020, the resident asked the landlord for an update on the communal flooring. The landlord responded on 6 November 2020 and said it had not heard from the Homesafe Team. It asked what repairs were needed in relation to the flooring in the communal area and for her to send photos. The resident sent the photos the same day and the landlord confirmed that these were sent to the Housing Repairs Team, on 9 November.
  6. The landlord wrote to the resident on 10 November 2020, and explained the Housing Repairs Team had advised the repairs had been referred to a surveyor. It provided contact details for that team, should the resident wish to follow it up.
  7. On 13 December 2020, the resident emailed the landlord, and said she had been chasing an update regarding the communal flooring, since August 2020. She said that if she did not get an update by 18 December 2020, she would be making a complaint. The landlord responded on 15 December, and said the back office would chase up her query with the surveyor and it would reply once a response was received.
  8. The resident told the landlord on 11 January 2021 that she wanted her earlier emails to now be considered a complaint, about the completion of planned works. The landlord acknowledged it the following day, and on 15 January, told the resident the complaint had been sent to the Asset Management Team.
  9. The resident chased the landlord on 7 February 2021, for a response to her complaint, which should have been received by 4 February.
  10. On 8 February 2021, the landlord wrote to the resident and said it was still investigating the complaint and it apologised for the delay; however, it would send a full response by 12 February. It commented that “HomeSafe project managers would provide a view on the state of disrepair, engaging with and responding to resident concerns as they are raised.” It said communal flooring did not form part of its current contract. It was managed by the responsive repairs. However, in the future, there was a plan for a maintenance programme which would assist with a cyclical timetable to better maintain and repair areas of communal space, including flooring.
  11. The landlord has said the resident chased it for a response to her complaint on 16 February 2021, but it has no record of sending a stage one response.
  12. On 3 March 2021, the landlord emailed the resident and advised a validation survey and a meeting was being carried out that day. On 10 May 2021, the resident emailed the landlord and said as she had not heard anything further, she wanted to instigate a stage two complaint. A member of staff from the landlord’s Asset Management team responded on 11 and 12 May 2021, and asked the resident to call him. He also said, planned works to the communal space landing areas and health and safety related flooring repairs for all blocks had been approved. It said the work would start in November 2021.It is not known if the resident responded and no further evidence from 2021 has been provided.
  13. The resident emailed the landlord on 14 March 2022 and said she had made a complaint regarding the replacement of communal vinyl flooring in the building, that was meant to be completed in November 2021. She asked for it to be dealt with at stage two, and this was acknowledged by the landlord, on 29 March 2022.
  14. The landlord sent a stage two response to the communal flooring complaint on 30 March 2022. It apologised for not being able to carry out flooring works, and that she had been told it would be done about November the year before. It said it was obtaining prices for flooring and it would be dealt with in the new financial year.
  15. An email sent by the resident to the landlord on 11 November 2022, confirmed the new communal flooring had been laid that day.

Policies and procedures

  1. The landlord’s Repairs Charter says the landlord is responsible for keeping the structure and all shared areas of the building in good condition and reasonable state of repair; that included floors. It says that priority 2 urgent repairs should be carried out between 1-5 working days. Priority 3 non-urgent repairs should be carried out between 1-20 working days. It goes on to say that floor repairs could be deemed priority 3 repairs, but unsafe flooring would be priority 2.
  2. The landlord’s Corporate Complaints Policy says stage one complaints should be acknowledged within three working days, and a full written reply sent within fifteen working days. A complaint escalated to stage two should be acknowledged within three working days, and a full written reply sent within twenty working days. It goes on to say that if a timescale need to be extended, the complainant must be informed of the reason why timescales cannot be met and also informed when they should receive a full response.

Assessment and findings

The landlord’s handling of flooring works, carried out as part of major works.

  1. When the landlord notified the resident in December 2017, that work was going to be done on the communal flooring, it was to make the floors easier to clean and improve the look of the communal area. There was no mention of the floors being in disrepair. Nearly 3 years later, in August 2020, the resident then reported some holes in the communal flooring that may have been tripping hazards. Although there were plans to change the flooring at some point, the landlord appropriately recognised that the issues reported could pose a risk, so may need to be dealt with as day to day maintenance; therefore, as a general repair. Therefore, having noted a repair may be required, it would have been reasonable for the landlord to arrange a visit to the property to assess the situation in response to resident’s report, prior to referring the matter to its HomeSafe Team. That the landlord did not visit the property in response to the initial report was a missed opportunity in the circumstances.
  2. It is not known what priority status was given to the repair or even whether the HomeSafe Team considered the repair due to the lack of contemporaneous evidence. However, even if it was considered a non-urgent repair, the issue was not addressed by the landlord within 20 working days, as per its Repairs Charter. Having taken reasonable steps initially, it was only when the resident chased the landlord for an update on 23 October 2020, that it obtained more information from the resident, and followed the issue up, on 9 November 2020. This was 59 working days after the resident reported the issue and amounts to an unreasonable delay. In addition, the landlord also referred the resident to the Housing Repairs Team, expecting her to follow up on the report herself. It therefore did not take ownership of the repair and take proactive steps to ensure completion even though the repair was delayed, which it reasonably should have done.
  3. The resident then had to chase the landlord again for an update, on 13 December 2020. Although the landlord said a query would be sent to the surveyor, and she would be updated once a response was received, there is no evidence of that having happened. This led to the resident complaining to the landlord, and in May 2021 she was told the flooring was due to be replaced by November 2021 as part of the planned work. Therefore, it was evidently not being considered as a responsive repair; but, this had not been made clear to the resident. In the end, having escalated her complaint again, the flooring was eventually replaced in November 2022, some 2 years and 3 months after the issue with the flooring was reported.
  4. While the landlord had plans to eventually replace the communal flooring, it failed to deal with the resident’s report of issues with the flooring, as a responsive repair, or explain why it was going to wait until the planned works could be completed. Despite apologising for the delay, the landlord took a reactive approach, and only updated the resident when she chased for an update or complained. Having accepted an oversight in its service, it missed an opportunity to ensure measures were put in place to monitor the ongoing report, and improve its communication with the resident, to ensure she was told what was happening.
  5. The resident had to chase the landlord on a number of occasions for information, over a significant period of time, over 2 years. The landlord acknowledged some failings but failed to address the detriment to the resident. In doing so, it failed to acknowledge how the resident was affected as a result of its handling of the matter and missed an opportunity to try to put things right. Therefore, taking into account the inconvenience to the resident from the outstanding repair and her time and trouble she experienced in pursuing it should pay her compensation of £300.

The landlord’s handling of the resident’s complaint.

  1. The resident complained to the landlord on 11 January 2021. The landlord acknowledged the complaint the following day and said the complaint had been sent to the Asset Management Team, on 15 January.
  2. The landlord’s Corporate Complaints policy, says it should have provided its stage one response, within 15 working days; by, 1 February 2021. It failed to do that, and the resident had to chase for a response on 7 February. The landlord did apologise to the resident on 8 February 2021, for the delay, which was appropriate, and it promised a full response by 12 February. However, it then had to be chased by the resident again on 16 February, and no evidence has been provided, to show it sent a stage one response at all. There was therefore a departure from its policy, with no explanation as to why. This was unreasonable and shows that the landlord failed to learn from its initial oversight, and this would have inevitably added to the resident’s frustration at not receiving information about the repairs.
  3. Having been provided with an update on 3 March 2021, the resident heard nothing more, and asked for her complaint to be escalated to stage two. The Ombudsman notes the landlord invited the resident to call and discuss matters; but, there is no evidence she chose to do that. Therefore, in the absence of evidence to show the resident withdrew her request to escalate her complaint, the landlord should have considered the complaint at stage two, at that time and sent a response. It failed to do that.
  4. Having been told the replacement of communal flooring was meant to take place in November 2021, when this did not happen, the resident again asked for her complaint to be escalated. This was on 14 March 2022, over a year later. The landlord noted her request to move her complaint to stage two, on 29 March 2022, and sent its full response the following day. It appropriately acknowledged that the work had been scheduled for November 2021 and it apologised for not carrying out the works. It said it was obtaining prices for flooring and it would be dealt with in the new financial year. The landlord acknowledged at stage two, its failings in terms of the delay in repairs, and it responded within 20 working days, as per its policy. It also said the repairs would be carried out in the next financial year, which they were. Therefore, the resident’s expectations were correctly managed.
  5. Having said that, the landlord failed to consider its previous handling of the case and address how it did not escalate her complaint in 2021, as she had asked. This is not in line with the Ombudsman’s Complaints Handling Code, which says, “landlords must address all points raised in the complaint and provide clear reasons for any decisions, referencing the relevant policy, law and good practice where appropriate.”
  6. The landlord’s complaint handling overall was inappropriate. It failed to acknowledge the length of time the flooring repair had been outstanding and the number of times the resident had had to chase for updates on the repairs. It would have also been appropriate for it to have considered compensation for the resident, as well as recognise that it did not adhere to its policy at stage one or stage two. Therefore, an order has been made to take that in to account.

Determination (decision) 

  1. In accordance with paragraph 42(a) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the complaint about pigeon proofing the property, is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration in relation to the landlord’s handling of flooring works, carried out as part of major works.
  3. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration in relation to the landlord’s handling of the resident’s complaint.

Reasons

  1. The landlord apologised for delays in dealing with the flooring works; but it did not deal with the report of damaged flooring in line with its Repairs Charter.
  2. The landlord took a reactive stance, as it only updated the resident on action it was taking, when it was chased for information or updates.
  3. The landlord delayed responding to the resident’s complaint and has failed to consider the impact of poor complaints handling, on the resident.

Orders and recommendations

Orders

  1. Within the next four weeks the landlord should:
    1. Apologise to the resident for the failings identified in this report.
    2. Pay the resident compensation of £700, broken down as follows:
      1. £300 for its poor communication and handling of floor works in communal areas in the resident’s building.
      2. £400 for its delay in its complaint handling and the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident.
    3. Provide training to relevant staff in order to ensure that when reports of repairs are made, they are actively monitored and residents are updated.
    4. Review its complaint handling in this case and provide training to staff to ensure all complaint correspondence is recorded and complaints are actively monitored throughout.

Recommendations

  1. The landlord to review its communication between its Responsive Repairs team and Planned Maintenance team to ensure that there is timely, clear and consistent info given to residents about repair issues.