27 September 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 resident complains about how the landlord handled his reports of repairs needed to:
- The boiler.
- The front door.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is an assured tenant of a ground floor flat (the property).
- On 2 December 2019, the landlord raised an urgent repair as the resident had reported that the boiler was not working and he was without hot water and heating. The engineer who attended noted that the boiler required replacement. Works were approved on 4 December 2019.
- On 2 December 2019, the resident also reported that there had been problems with the front door since it was fitted, there was a gap at the bottom of the door and it was difficult to close. He said that the landlord’s subcontractors had attended twice but it was not resolved. The resident requested it be looked at again as there was a cold draught.
- On 5 December 2019, the resident informed the landlord that he had no hot water and heating at that time, a technician had attended on Monday and was due on Tuesday but did not show up. He said that he had one electric heater but it was costing him £6 per day.
- The boiler was replaced on 12 December 2019.
- On 21 January 2020, the subcontractors informed the landlord that they had checked the front door and a strip was required down one side.
- On 5 March 2020, the resident raised a complaint about how the landlord had handled the boiler renewal. He said he was without hot water and heating for 21 days in December and he spent £6 per day on an electric heater. He also referred to the issue with the door stating that while someone had attended four times, it was not resolved. In subsequent correspondence, the resident also said he had called in November 2019 (about the boiler). The resident asked about the stress of boiling kettles for washing and pots and pans. He also said that on the third attendance by the subcontractors in relation to the door, he asked for another company to attend and was refused.
- The landlord’s notes of 10 March 2020 states that it listened to a call from the resident about a leaking overflow and this referred to a plumbing pipe but it did not mention the heating or hot water being affected.
- On 16 March 2020, the landlord acknowledged the resident’s complaint and stating it aimed to respond within 15 working days.
- On 20 March 2020, the landlord responded to the resident’s complaint about the boiler renewal. The landlord said that the resident had first notified the landlord that he had no heating or hot water on 2 December 2019, an urgent repair was raised and an engineer attended within 24 hours and identified that a new boiler was required. The resident had contacted the landlord on 5 December chasing the installation of the boiler. On 9 December 2019, the landlord advised him that it had authorised for the work to commence and was scheduled for 12 December on which date the boiler was installed.
- The landlord apologised that there were delays authorising the work and it agreed to reimburse the resident for the use of his temporary electric heater. It offered £30.80 which was in accordance with its policy of £2.80 per heater per day for the ten days the boiler was out of use. While the resident had said that he was without heat for a longer period, it had checked its call records and confirmed it was first notified of the boiler breakdown on 2 December 2019.
- On 11 May 2020, the resident contacted the landlord and said he had not received a complaint response and wanted to escalate the complaint. The resident was not happy with the amount of compensation offered for the heater. The landlord arranged for the complaint response to be re-sent. The resident also referred to an issue with the front door but terminated the call before the landlord could obtain more information about this.
- On 24 August 2020, the resident wrote to the landlord about his complaint. He said that he had called the landlord on 25 November 2019 to report that water was coming out of a pipe outside and a plumber attended on 2 December 2019, a heating engineer attended on 9 December, and a new boiler was installed on 12 December 2019. He said the landlord had said in a letter of 16 March 2020 that it would be in touch with him within 15 days but it did not do so. He had called on 10 May 2020 only to be told that his complaint had been resolved by a letter on 30 March 2020. The resident disputed the compensation for the heating and also referred to the subcontractors attending five times in relation to the front door. He complained that the landlord had not attended to look at the faults. He requested £35 per day for the lack of hot water and heating, and compensation for the stress caused, and living in one room in winter.
- On 15 September 2020, the resident spoke to the landlord and requested the complaint about the boiler be looked into further repeating the points in his letter of 24 August 2020. He said that £2.80 a day was not enough to heat up the property in winter and asked how this was calculated. The resident also said that the front door was still not fixed despite many attendances. The landlord offered to raise an urgent repair but the resident refused this.
- On 2 October 2020, the landlord provided a final response to the complaint. The landlord noted that the resident had made contact on 11 May 2020 stating that he had not received a response to his complaint so it had re-sent the letter of 20 March 2020. The landlord said that the £2.80 per heater per day was a standard price of reimbursement for the cost of running the temporary heater and it does not offer compensation for other living costs. The landlord said it had spoken to the Head of Asset Statutory Compliance who had confirmed that the £2.80 calculation was reviewed in the last 12 months and was a realistic representation of the costs incurred. It explained that the decision was based on instructions given by the manufacturer of the temporary heater based on the number of kilowatts per hour the heaters use equalling to 28 pence per hour.
- The landlord concluded that the amount of compensation offered was fair. However, due to the inconvenience the resident had experienced, it offered £5.60 for the ten days that they were without the use of the boiler. This amounted to £56.00. The landlord said if the resident did not agree this reflected the increase in electricity use for the ten days in December 2019, he would need to provide energy statements to evidence this.
- In relation to a door repair, the landlord said that the resident had terminated a call on 11 May 2020 and refused a repair on 15 September 2020 so if he wished for a repair to take place, he should make contact.
- On 21 October 2020, the landlord called the resident to explain that the door technicians were off work but it would chase an appointment again on 28 October 2020 and keep him updated. The resident explained that the door was becoming more difficult to lock and understood that if the security was compromised, he would call and request an emergency “make safe” repair.
- On 15 November 2020, the resident raised a complaint with the landlord about the door repairs. The resident said that the front door had been poorly fitted for over a year and the contractors had visited a number of times but not resolved the issue.
- On 17 November 2020, the landlord telephoned the resident and an appointment was arranged for a technician to attend on 20 November 2020.The technician attended and confirmed that a new door was required and ordered but it would not be fitted until the new year.
- On 20 November 2020, the landlord wrote to the resident in response to his complaint about the door. The landlord apologised for not keeping in touch since a conversation in October stating that it had been pursuing an appointment with one of its technicians who was off work during October and November due to sickness. The landlord said that one of its technicians attended on 20 November 2020 and confirmed that a new door was required and would be ordered immediately, but a fitting date would not be available until January 2021. The landlord said it would monitor progress of the job.
- On 26 November 2020, the resident informed the landlord that he was unhappy with the complaint response as he had not been offered compensation for the delays in repairing the door. He said that at least five people had attended and he had previously requested a different contractor. The landlord explained that for 12 months the door was under warranty with the subcontractors so it used them for follow on works.
- On 3 December 2020, the landlord asked its subcontractors if it had any details of any visits to repair the door at the property. The subcontractors responded that they had no record of the address but agreed to visit.
- On 23 December 2020, the landlord provided a final response to the resident’s complaint. The landlord said that the front door was fitted by a subcontractor on 18 September 2019 and in December 2019 the resident reported that the door did not fit well and that the subcontractors had already re-attended twice. The landlord said it had no evidence so support this either way but as the door was under warranty, the subcontractors were asked to re-attend the property which they did on 21 January 2020. The report from that visited stated that an additional strip was required down one side.
- The landlord said that the resident had raised the issue again during a complaint in May 2020 and during a call on 11 May 2020, one of its staff attempted to assist him but he terminated the call. On 15 September 2020, the resident raised concerns about the lock not working correctly and it offered to raise an urgent repair but the resident advised them not to.
- The landlord said it had discussed the resident’s concerns on 21 October 2020 and the landlord had advised that the resident could ask one of its own technicians to attend and assess the installation with a view to repairing or replacing the door as the warranty with the subcontractors had expired. The relevant technicians were off work during this time and for several weeks due to being diagnosed with Covid 19. The landlord said it had chased the technicians but apologised for not keeping him better informed during this time although noted that he had been advised to make contact if the issue worsened so that it could arrange an emergency repair by a locksmith.
- In conclusion, the landlord apologised that the resident had experienced issues with the door shortly after it was installed but concluded that all repair requests had either been dealt with appropriately and in a timely manner or delayed due to exceptional circumstances. The landlord did not offer compensation.
- The front door was repaired or replaced on 22 January 2021.
- The resident has informed the Ombudsman that he asked for a different contractor under the Right to Repair legislation and the landlord should have given a reason in writing if it refused but it did not do so. He requested compensation for 16 months of delay to the door repair. He also disagreed with the level of compensation for the heating issues stating the repair took 15 days and he was given one electric heater which he used in the living room. He has requested compensation for distress and inconvenience as well as the electricity costs. He felt that the landlord should have had someone on site for residents to approach about concerns about the door and that the doors were not signed off.
- During the Ombudsman’s mediation process, the landlord repeated its offer of £56.00 in relation to the ten days without heating noting that if energy statements could be provided, it could reconsider this. The landlord acknowledged that its communication in relation to the door could have been better and offered £50 additional compensation for this.
Assessment and findings
- The landlord’s Repairs policy states that it must:
- Keep the structure and exterior of the property safe, secure and weatherproof.
- Make sure all fixtures and fittings for the supply of water, gas, electricity, heating and sanitation are in working order.
- Maintain communal areas and any facilities which are provided by the landlord.
- The policy states further that tenants must allow the landlord reasonable access to their property to inspect or carry our repairs, servicing or other necessary work.
- The policy includes response times for different priority repairs as follows:
- Priority 1 Emergency: attend within 3 hours complete within 24 hours. High risk of immediate danger.
- Priority 2 Urgent: five working days. Jobs that require urgent attention to prevent damage to property but no risk to person or property.
- Priority 3 Routine: 21 working days. Standard response repairs.
- Priority 4 Planned Routine: 60 working days. Require further planning.
- The policy also refers to the Right to Repair and states that in accordance with Secure Tenant of Local Housing Authorities (Right to Repair Regulations 1994), if a qualifying repair cannot be completed within the agreed timescale, the customer has the right to request we instruct a second contractor to complete the work and eligible customers with a secure tenancy only are entitled to claim compensation. Even where the tenancy has been converted to assured shorthold etc [the landlord] will endeavour to keep to the timescales set out within that legislation, but compensation will not apply.
- Planned Routine repairs are described as non-urgent repairs and items of replacement that may require a pre-inspection, need time to order and/or manufacture materials.
- The landlord’s Compensation policy refers to:
- Statutory Compensation including the Right to Repair scheme.
- Discretionary Compensation including for service failure. The policy states that the landlord will acknowledge where a failure on its part is proven to cause the customer to suffer loss or detriment. Payments to customers for undue costs and loss or inconvenience will be considered, except in circumstances beyond the control of the organisation. It will also recognise where it has failed to meet its normal standard of service and will consider a “goodwill gesture”. Compensation may also be paid where a customer has incurred costs in seeking to remedy a service failure in the form of a “without prejudice” payment.
Assessment: Repair to the boiler
- The resident complained to the landlord that he had reported a leak outside on 25 November 2019 and the boiler was not replaced until 12 December 2019. This is a period of 16 days. In its final complaint response, the landlord agreed to compensate the resident £5.60 a day for the ten days that they were without the use of the boiler, totalling £56.00 (starting from 2 December 2019). The landlord agreed to consider this again if the resident provided energy statements.
- The landlord’s records evidence that the resident reported the boiler failing on 2 December 2019 and that it was replaced on 12 December 2019. While there is resident said he reported a leak prior to this, the landlord’s records refer to this call being about a leaking overflow but not mentioning the heating or hot water being affected. In these circumstances, it was reasonable for the landlord to limit the period for which it offered compensation to from 2 December 2019 onwards because it was not made aware of an issue with the hot water and heating until this date, and there is no evidence to suggest the report of 25 November 2019 should have been treated as an emergency repair.
- In terms of the time taken to replace the boiler, the landlord’s repairs policy refers to an attendance of within three hours and completion within 24 hours for emergency repairs. A loss of hot water and heating in winter should be treated as an emergency repair. In response to the resident’s report of no hot water and heating on 2 December 2019, an engineer attended the same day, identified that the boiler needed replacing and provided the resident with an electric heater. This was an appropriate response to the first report.
- While ideally the boiler would have been replaced immediately, it is to be expected that it might take longer than 24 hours to order and fit a new boiler in these circumstances. The fact that it took until 12 December 2019 to fit the new boiler is not evidence in itself of a shortcoming by the landlord. However, the landlord did acknowledge that there was a delay in authorising the new boiler and it apologised for this. It is unclear from the evidence how long this delay was, but it would have been appropriate for the landlord to consider a compensation payment for inconvenience or goodwill in these circumstances in accordance with its Compensation policy. Any delay in authorising the work led to increased inconvenience to the resident given that he was without hot water and heating during this time.
- It is also noted that the resident was only provided with one heater for the whole property and he specifically complained about only being able to use one room during this time. Given the time of year, this is understandable and it would have been reasonable for the landlord to provide a temporary heater for each room, which it did not do. The landlord should have acknowledged this when responding to the complaint and offered compensation for the inconvenience.
- In terms of the landlord’s offer of compensation for the costs incurred in using the heaters, the landlord initially offered £2.80 per day and then increased this to £5.60 a day. While the resident complained that he had incurred more costs, the landlord gave the resident the opportunity to provide evidence of this and he did not do so. The landlord gave a technical explanation of how it had calculated the £2.80 per day and then increased the offer. In doing so, the landlord has acted reasonably in relation to this aspect of the complaint. The amount offered for the extra heating costs was reasonable in the circumstances.
Assessment: Front door repairs
- There is evidence that the resident reported problems with the front door on 2 December 2019 and the landlord’s contractors attended on 21 January 2020. While this was outside the 21 working day timescale for routine repairs, the delay was not extensive.
- The resident had said that the contractors had already attended twice previously but not resolved the issue. However, the landlord has no record of this. This assessment relies on the evidence available and therefore the earliest date of this issue being reported is 2 December 2019, however it is of concern that the resident has referred to previous visits of which there is no record. The Ombudsman has therefore made a Recommendation in relation to the landlord’s record-keeping practices.
- The resident raised concerns about the door repairs again on 5 March 2020, 11 May 2020, 24 August 2020 and 15 September 2020. The evidence refers to the resident terminating the call on 11 May 2020, and refusing a repair on 15 September 2020 therefore the landlord did not have the opportunity to address the issue on these two occasions. However, it is noted the landlord could have arranged a repair in response to the reports of 5 March and 24 August 2020 therefore there was a part of the delay to this repair for which the landlord was responsible.
- On 21 October 2020, the landlord informed the resident that the relevant technicians were currently off work but it would chase up the work again on 28 October 2020. A technician attended on 20 November 2020 and confirmed that a new door was required and ordered but it would not be fitted until the new year. The repair took place on 22 January 2021.
- During the Ombudsman’s mediation process, the landlord acknowledged that its communication in October 2020 could have been better and offered £50 compensation for this. This was appropriate to address this shortcoming. The landlord also provided a reasonable explanation for the time taken to attend the property in October/November 2020 referring to the technicians being off sick with Covid 19.
- The resident also complained that he had asked for a different company to attend under the Right to Repair and this had been refused. There is no evidence of this request or the landlord’s response. However, the landlord should have addressed this aspect of the complaint when responding to the resident. It should have explained whether or not the Right to Repair applied and why. It did not do so.
- The landlord’s Complaints policy that was in force until August 2020 states that formal complaints will be responded to in writing within 15 working days of receiving the original complaint. Further a customer can challenge the outcome of their complaint within 10 working days of the formal response. These cases will be reviewed and responded to within 10 working days.
- On 5 March 2020, the resident raised a complaint about how the landlord had handled the boiler renewal. On 16 March 2020, the landlord acknowledged the resident’s complaint and stating it aimed to respond within 15 working days. The letter also named the complaint officer who would be dealing with the complaint. On 20 March 2020, the landlord responded to the resident’s complaint about the boiler renewal. On 11 May 2020, the resident contacted the landlord and said he had not received a letter of 20 March 2020 and wanted to escalate the complaint. The landlord arranged for the complaint response to be re-sent.
- While it was unfortunate that the resident did not receive the landlord’s letter of 20 March 2020, there is no evidence that this was a result of a service failure by the landlord. The landlord’s response was sent in a timely manner and in accordance with its policy and it appropriately agreed to re-send the letter when it was made aware that the resident had not received it.
- On 24 August 2020, the resident wrote to the landlord about his complaint challenging its response to the complaint. On 15 September 2020, the resident spoke to the landlord and requested the complaint about the boiler be looked into further. On 2 October 2020, the landlord provided a final response to the complaint.
- There was a delay in the landlord escalating the complaint which it should have done within 10 working days of the letter of 24 August 2020.
- The landlord’s Complaints policy which was in force from August 2020 states that complaints will be acknowledged within two working days and it will contact the customer to discuss the nature of the complaint and desired outcome. The landlord will provide a Stage one response within 10 working days. Where a complaint is escalated to stage two, the landlord will respond within 20 working days.
- On 15 November 2020, the resident raised a complaint with the landlord about the front door. On 20 November 2020, the landlord wrote to the resident in response to his complaint about the door. On 26 November 2020, the resident informed the landlord that he was unhappy with the complaint response. On 23 December 2020, the landlord provided a final response to the resident’s complaint about the door.
- The landlord responded to the resident’s complaint about the door in a timely manner and in accordance with the timescales in its policy.
- In conclusion, overall the landlord’s complaints handling was reasonable and in accordance with its policy, but there was a delay in it escalating the complaint about the boiler. Therefore, the Ombudsman has made a Recommendation in relation to this.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord in relation to the complaint about how the landlord handled his reports of repairs needed to the boiler.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord in relation to the complaint about how the landlord handled his reports of repairs needed to the front door.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration in relation to how the landlord handled the complaint.
- In relation to the boiler repair, while the compensation offered for the heating costs incurred was reasonable, the landlord should have considered whether further compensation was appropriate to address the delay in authorising the new boiler. In addition, the landlord should have acknowledged and put right the inconvenience of the resident only being able to heat one room as it only provided one heater for the property.
- In relation to the door repair, the landlord missed two opportunities to address the repair earlier (in response to the resident’s communication of 5 March and 24 August 2020). The landlord offer of £50 compensation was appropriate to address the lack of communication in October 2021. However, when responding to the complaint, the landlord should also have explained its position in relation to the whether the Right of Repair legislation applied as the resident specifically referred to this.
- In relation to the complaint handling, overall the landlord’s complaints handling was reasonable and in accordance with its policy, but there was a delay in it escalating the complaint about the boiler. Therefore the Ombudsman has made a Recommendation in relation to this.
- The landlord to pay the resident compensation totalling £256, comprising:
- £100 for the shortcomings in relation to the boiler repairs.
- £100 for the shortcomings in relation to the door repairs (this is inclusive of the £50 previously offered).
- The £56 it offered for the heating costs if it has not already paid this.
- The landlord to take steps to ensure that its heating contractors are keeping adequate records of its communication with residents and evidence of their attendances and repairs completed.
- The landlord to remind its complaint handling staff of the importance of logging an escalation request in a timely manner and in accordance with its Complaints policy.