Metropolitan Housing Trust Limited
14 April 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 Ombudsman considers the evidence and looks to see if there has been any ‘maladministration’, for example whether the landlord has failed to keep to the law, followed proper procedure, followed good practice or behaved in a reasonable and competent manner.
Both the resident and the landlord have submitted information to the Ombudsman and this has been carefully considered. Their accounts of what has happened are summarised below. This report is not an exhaustive description of all the events that have occurred in relation to this case, but an outline of the key issues as a background to the investigation’s findings.
- The complaint concerns:
- The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of a pest infestation in his property.
- The landlord’s associated complaint handling.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is a tenant of the landlord.
- The property is a flat, situated on the second floor of a building with similar properties.
Summary of events
- On 28 July 2019, the resident emailed the landlord to express his dissatisfaction and log a stage one complaint regarding a pest infestation issue at his property. He reported rodent activity in the cavity of his bedroom walls, he advised that this interfered with his sleep due to constant noise, and he expressed concern for the health and safety implications of this, including that mice might eventually enter the property. The resident also mentioned that he contacted the landlord on 24 April 2019 in respect of this matter, explaining that its contractor then assessed and photographed the property on 9 May 2019, but that no further action was taken by the landlord since then, despite this issue affecting the entire building and his subsequent escalated report of this to its repairs team on 26 July 2019.
- The landlord issued a stage one complaint response to the resident on 12 September 2019, in which it:
- Acknowledged that it should have arranged an appointment for the remedial works for the rodent infestation at his property sooner.
- Confirmed that it had instructed its contractor to carry out a “programme of treatments” and that the contractor had already attended the resident’s property on 7, 15 and 21 August 2019. The landlord noted that the visit from 21 August 2019 did not go ahead due to a lack of access.
- Apologised for the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident.
- Offered the resident compensation of £100 for its failure of service and raised concerns with its customer service team regarding the delayed works to investigate why this happened so that lessons learnt could be taken from his complaint.
- Between 7 November 2019 and 5 March 2020, there was extensive communication between the landlord and the resident regarding the pest infestation at his property and his request to escalate his complaint to the second and final stage of its complaints procedure. However, nothing materialised during this period in relation to either it successfully resolving the infestation or providing him with a stage two final complaint response.
- This was despite the resident reportedly repeatedly taking time off work for the landlord’s and its contractor’s appointments to inspect the property, remove kitchen plinths and units, place bait and cement entry holes on 22 and 27 November 2019 and 12 February and 5 March 2020. He also reported that the landlord made and rescheduled several appointments at short notice, including an appointment that it cancelled on 9 December 2019.
- On 5 March 2020, the resident contacted this Service to advise that he had logged a complaint with his landlord toward the end of the previous year regarding its handling of reports of a pest infestation at his property. The resident confirmed that the landlord had provided him with a stage one complaint response; however, he was not happy with this and had requested for his complaint to be escalated but was yet to receive a response from the landlord.
- The landlord’s internal records, dated 6 March 2020, showed that, at that time, it was still trying to determine the extent and nature of the works required to ensure that the pest infestation at the resident’s property was stopped. The landlord chased this matter up internally until 11 June 2020, when it emailed the resident to confirm that an appointment had been arranged for the following day for its contractor to carry out the outstanding pest-proofing works at the property.
- On 15 June 2020, the landlord emailed the resident to confirm that “the appointment went ahead as planned”, in relation to the above works, and to advise that it had requested for “a treatment to be carried out on the block” as a precautionary measure, as he had previously advised it that his neighbours were experiencing similar issues. However, in his email to it, dated 14 July 2020, he confirmed that the pest infestation issue was yet to be resolved, including due to outstanding proofing works and a lack of clarity on where rodent access points were that he requested that a surveyor and engineer identify from the building plan. Furthermore, the resident expressed his dissatisfaction with the landlord’s handling of his formal complaint.
- The resident then emailed the landlord on 28 September 2020, to confirm that he had “not heard any mice/rat activity (…) for the past [two] months” and to express his dissatisfaction with its complaint handling, for which he sought further compensation from it.
- On 15 October 2020, the landlord issued a stage two final complaint response to the resident, in which it:
- Acknowledged its service failure in respect of its handling of and communication for the resident’s reports of the pest infestation at his property and his stage one and stage two complaints, including delayed responses, insufficient remedial action, points of ingress that were not identified in the first instance, continuing pest issues despite the treatment plan put in place, and a proposed stage one complaint resolution that did not fully address this.
- Apologised for the inconvenience caused to the resident, its delayed stage two complaint response, and its poor communication.
- Advised it had passed “suitable feedback” over to its customer care and estate management teams for service improvements to be considered.
- Offered total compensation for the resident’s stage one and stage two complaints of £150 for “poor complaint handling”, £250 for “time and trouble”, £500 for service failure, and £50 for “missed appointments”, which it stated would be credited to his rent account within 14 days less the compensation awarded for his stage one complaint that it said was paid to the account on 16 September 2019.
- The resident then complained to this Service that the landlord had failed to identify the exact causes of its above repair delay or address its numerous contractor’s visits that failed to identify the rodent ingress points in the first instance. He also stated that he and his high level of complaint correspondence had been “completely ignored” by its complaints team, who had delayed resolving his complaint, and had closed the matter despite failing to take numerous missed appointments that had lost him money from taking time off work without a good enough explanation from it.
- The resident therefore sought a higher level of compensation from the landlord for it not following its complaints procedure and for the length of time and its poor handling of the pest infestation at his property. Moreover, he said that it was unclear whether it had learnt from this or put any measures in place to stop this from ever happening again to other residents.
Assessment and findings
The landlord’s repairs guide
- In instances where there is an infestation issue, including in relation to rodents, the landlord’s repairs guide states that the resident is responsible to either remedy this or report the infestation to the local authority, unless this is in a communal area or the property is located in a block of flats and the issue is affecting multiple flats.
- The landlord’s repairs guide defines routine repairs as “defects that can be deferred without serious discomfort, inconvenience or nuisance to the resident or third party, without long-term deterioration of the building” and states that this type of works “should be completed within 28 calendar days”.
The landlord’s compensation policy
- The landlord’s compensation policy divides payments into three categories.
- Compensation offers for complaint handling, delays in providing a service, and failure to adhere to “target response times”, are classed as discretionary payments.
- The landlord will calculate the amount of compensation as per below:
- In instances where it identifies service failure, the landlord will assess whether the impact on the resident was low, medium or high. As per the landlord’s compensation policy, compensation offers for a service failure of high impact will start at £151 and increase up to £350.
- The above rules and amounts also apply for compensation payments for “time and trouble”.
- As per its compensation policy, in respect of missed appointments, the landlord can offer “£10 per missed appointment, up to a maximum of £50”.
- In instances where poor complaint handling is identified, the landlord’s compensation policy states that it may offer compensation of up to £150, “depending on the severity of the failure”.
- However, it is noted that the landlord will “use a high level of discretion when considering individual cases to decide what is fair.”
- In exceptional circumstances, the landlord is permitted to consider compensating residents for loss of earnings at the rate of the national living wage at the time of the response up to a maximum of five working days when they can demonstrate that they went unpaid, excluding paid leave.
The landlord’s complaints policy
- The landlord’s complaints policy defines a complaint as “An expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the standard of service, actions or lack of action by the organisation, its own staff, or those acting on its behalf, affecting an individual resident or group of residents.”
- The landlord operates a two-stage complaints policy. Once a stage one formal complaint is logged, the landlord commits to acknowledge this within five working days and aims to issue a response within ten working days. If the resident is “dissatisfied” with the stage one complaint response, then this “will be escalated to a formal stage two complaint” to which the landlord commits to respond within 20 working days. If the above response timescales cannot be met, the landlord is to keep the resident informed “and agree new response times” at both stages of its complaints procedure.
The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of a pest infestation
- Because the resident’s property is situated in a block of flats, and the pest infestation was within the wall’s cavity, as per its repairs guide above at paragraph 15, it was the landlord’s responsibility to carry out the necessary works to remedy the pest infestation, such as by placing bait and blocking the entry points.
- The resident advised that he reported pest infestation issues to the landlord from 24 April 2019 onwards. As a result, the landlord’s contractor attended the property on 9 May 2019; however, no remedial action was taken at that time, which led to the resident logging a stage one complaint with the landlord on 28 July 2019. In this instance, the landlord failed to adhere to its repairs guide above at paragraph 16 because it assessed pest infestation the property but it did not take any action for this at the time, nor did it follow the matter up with the resident, despite being required by the guide to complete works for this within 28 calendar days.
- Similarly, in its correspondence from 12 September 2019, the landlord confirmed that it had attended the property on 7, 15, and 21 August 2019. The information provided to this Service showed that the landlord and the resident communicated on various occasions between 7 November 2019 and 15 June 2020 regarding the pest infestation issues. On 28 September 2020, the resident confirmed that he had not heard any pest activity in the previous two months. By taking the above into account, the landlord failed to comply with its repairs guide and its set timeframes, which caused unnecessary delays and inconvenience to the resident, for an extended amount of time because it took almost one year to identify and remedy the entry points that allowed for the pests to enter the property’s wall cavity.
- However, despite the acknowledged failures above, the landlord did endeavour to put matters right for the resident by carrying out inspections, placing bait, and completing the remedial works necessary by proofing the pest entry points, including on 22 and 27 November 2019 and 12 February, 5 March and 12 June 2020. Furthermore, the landlord acknowledged its failings and made a final total offer of compensation of £800 to the resident for these, which exceeded the amounts dictated by its compensation policy, detailed at paragraphs 17 and 18 above. Therefore, the landlord offered reasonable redress to the resident for its failures because it carried out works to stop the pest infestation and offered him compensation exceeding the amounts dictated by its compensation policy.
- This is because, on 15 October 2020, the landlord offered the resident: the maximum amount of £50 compensation recommended by its compensation policy for its missed appointments; £250 for his time and trouble that was within the range recommended by the policy; and £500 for its failure of service that was higher than the £350 maximum recommended by its compensation policy.
- This Service appreciates the inconvenience that was experienced by the resident due to the landlord’s repair delays, numerous unsuccessful appointments that he had to take time off work for and lack of communication. However, it also acknowledged its own failings, completed necessary works to resolve the issue, provided the substantive compensation above, and forwarded this matter as feedback for service improvements. The landlord therefore took suitable steps to put things right for the resident and offered him reasonable redress for its failures.
- The resident has sought a higher level of compensation from the landlord for the above failures and from losing money by having to take time off work for its and its contractor’s numerous unsuccessful or missed appointments. However, its compensation policy did not oblige it to award him any more compensation for the former and it had already offered him more than the policy recommended for this. Moreover, the policy only permitted the landlord to compensate the resident for loss of earnings in exceptional circumstances when he could demonstrate to it that he went unpaid, and there is no indication that he provided it with evidence of this to enable it to consider awarding him such compensation.
- Nevertheless, it would help to try and resolve the resident’s complaint if the landlord contacted him again to invite him to provide it with the above evidence of his loss of earnings to allow it to consider offering him further compensation for this, and so it has been recommended to do so below. As he has also complained that it was unclear whether it had learnt from his complaint or put any measures in place to stop its above failings from ever happening again to other residents, it has additionally been recommended below to outline its learning and remedial measures from his case to him.
The landlord’s complaints handling
- The resident logged a stage one complaint on 28 July 2019, to which the landlord issued a response on 12 September 2019. This did not adhere to the landlord’s set response time of ten working days. However, this would still have been in line with its complaints policy above at paragraph 21 when a resolution was not reached in the above timescale, if a new response time was set and the resident was be kept informed throughout. Although there is no indication that the landlord did so, which was inappropriate.
- As the resident was dissatisfied with the landlord’s resolution to the stage one complaint he requested, from prior to 7 November 2019 onwards, for his complaint to be escalated to the second and final stage of its complaints procedure. The landlord nevertheless issued its stage two final complaint response to him on 15 October 2020. By taking the above into account, the landlord failed to adhere to its complaints policy and its set 20-working-day stage two response timeframe, detailed above at paragraph 21. This is because it issued a stage two complaint response approximately one year after the resident’s request, and there is no evidence that it set a new response time or kept him informed about this throughout, which was contrary to the policy.
- Furthermore, it is noted that the resident requested, on various occasions between 7 November 2019 and 5 March 2020, for his complaint to be escalated to the second and final stage of the landlord’s complaints procedure. Nevertheless, it failed to acknowledge this, which caused significant and unreasonable delays and inconvenience to him.
- However, in its stage two final complaint response, issued on 15 October 2020, the landlord acknowledged its failure in terms of complaint handling. As an outcome, it apologised to the resident for this and offered him compensation of £150, which was in line with its compensation policy’s maximum amount recommended for poor complaint handling above at paragraph 19.
- To conclude, this Service appreciates the inconvenience caused to the resident and acknowledges the landlord’s failure to comply with its complaints policy and response timeframes. However, the actions taken by it at stage two of its complaints policy were proportionate to put matters right for the resident, particularly as it confirmed at that stage that it had passed feedback over to its customer care team for service improvements to be considered from this.
- In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has offered redress to the resident prior to investigation which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint in respect of its handling of the resident’s reports of a pest infestation satisfactorily.
- In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has offered redress to the resident prior to investigation which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint in respect of its complaint handling satisfactorily.
- The landlord failed to adhere to its set timeframes in both its repairs guide and complaints policy. However, it ultimately completed the necessary remedial works, acknowledged its failures, took reasonable action to learn from this experience, and offered compensation for a total amount of £950, which was in line or, in some aspects, in excess of its compensation policy.
- It is recommended that the landlord contacts the resident to invite him to provide it with evidence of his loss of earnings, to allow it to consider offering him further compensation for this, and to outline its learning and remedial measures from his case to him.
- The landlord should contact this Service within four weeks to confirm whether it will follow the above recommendation.
- The Ombudsman accepts that, because of the present restrictions due to the corona virus pandemic, the timing of the above actions will depend on what is reasonable in the light of Government guidance regarding the health of the resident and of the landlord’s staff.