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Newham Council (202111993)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202111993

Newham Council

15 February 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 response to the resident’s reports about damp and mould in his property.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident has been a secure tenant at the property of the landlord since 11 June 2018. The landlord is a local authority.
  2. This service requested copies of the landlord’s complaints, damp and mould, repairs, and decants policies, however, these have not been provided.

Summary of events

  1. The landlord has provided this service with its repair records for the property. The records note that the landlord inspected the resident’s property in relation to damp in August 2019. The resident subsequently requested to be updated about the findings of the inspection. The landlord’s internal communications indicate it instructed the relevant repairs team to update the resident and raise any required works, however, it is not evident this occurred.
  2. The resident chased updates again in October 2019, following which, the landlord carried out a further inspection and provided him with a dehumidifier. The landlord’s repair records indicate they could not detect the cause of the damp and that it suspected there could be a leak from behind the toilet.
  3. The landlord’s repair records note that it carried out further inspections to trace the leak in March and April 2020. The leak was remedied in July 2020.
  4. In early November 2020, the resident reported he was still experiencing issues with damp and mould. He noted the landlord had not carried out any works to specifically address the damp and mould and had only advised him to clean it himself. He also expressed his concerns around safety as the damp areas were affecting the light fittings and the area around the fuse box.
  5. The landlord replied on 13 November 2020 and advised that it was chasing a response from its repairs team regarding any further works, and that its operative would attend on 18 November 2020 in relation to the electrical safety concerns. The landlord’s notes show the operative ensured the electrical installations were safe, but that they detected “severe water penetration” from the bathroom.
  6. Throughout December 2020 and January 2021, the landlord attended on multiple occasions for ongoing issues and leaks from the resident’s shower. In February 2021, the resident queried what the landlord planned to do about the damp and mould, to which it responded that it was waiting for a response from its repairs team. The resident chased an update again in April 2021, and again the landlord advised its repairs team would be the ones to respond. It is not evident that an update was provided.
  7. The landlord’s records indicate it carried out further works in April and May 2021 in relation to leaks, but it is not evident that the landlord updated the resident about his concerns regarding damp and mould at the property.
  8. Throughout June and July 2021, the resident continued to report ongoing damp and mould. He also provided photographs of the mould. In August 2021, the landlord’s pests contractor carried out visits to the property in relation to rats, which the resident considered had been attracted by the mould. The pests contractor’s reports to the landlord noted that there was damp inside the resident’s cupboards.
  9. On 26 August 2021, the resident raised a formal complaint that the landlord had failed to address the damp and mould issues. He also requested to be moved to temporary accommodation while the landlord addressed the damp and mould due to the strong smell of damp throughout the property. He also noted the landlord had not addressed reimbursement for the costs of running the dehumidifier and expressed concern about the ongoing rat infestation which he attributed to the damp and mould issues.
  10. The landlord provided its stage one response on 2 September 2021, which included the following:
    1. It noted the length of time the resident’s reports had been ongoing, and that it hadn’t completed works to address the ongoing issues, for which it apologised.
    2. It advised it had identified works during its visit in August 2021, which its repairs ream would address. It had also raised works to the bathroom to prevent rats entering the property.
    3. Regarding the resident’s request to be decanted during the works, it advised it had spoken with its repairs team, who had determined the works could be completed while the resident was in occupation.
    4. It offered £1,228 compensation to reflect its delays and the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident.
  11. On 7 September 2021, the resident noted the works to the bathroom had commenced, but that the resultant dust and noise was distressing. He therefore reiterated his request to be decanted during the works. He also noted that the landlord’s complaint response had not addressed the cost of the dehumidifier, and that he wanted additional compensation for the damage the mould had caused to his personal possessions.
  12. The landlord agreed to escalate his complaint, and provided its stage two response on 28 October 2021, which included the following:
    1. It noted some works had now been completed (namely in relation to a leak and to prevent rats entering the property), but these had been emergency works only due to COVID-19 restrictions.
    2. It advised that further works would be carried out and assured the resident these would solve the damp and mould issues. It requested the resident provide his availability for the further works.
    3. It reiterated its apology for the delays the resident had experienced.
    4. Regarding his request for temporary accommodation, the landlord noted it would not usually offer this for the works identified, but that due to the resident’s experience so far, it would use its discretion and offer temporary accommodation.
    5. It increased its offer of compensation to £1,278, made up of £150 for the resident’s time and trouble, £250 for the distress caused by its delays, £50 for delays to its stage two response, and £828 for the “loss of amenities.”
  13. In early November 2021, the resident agreed to its proposed further works and accepted the offer of compensation. Between November 2021 and May 2022, the resident chased updates on the works and the temporary accommodation on several occasions. The landlord replied each time that it had requested its repairs team to contact him, however, it not evident this ever occurred. Based on the landlord’s internal communications, a further inspection was booked for 20 May 2022, however, the repairs team were unaware temporary accommodation had been agreed to and were of the position that a decant was not necessary.
  14. The landlord contacted the resident in July 2022 to obtain information about his needs in relation to temporary accommodation. It is not evident why there was a delay from its stage two response to this point for it to obtain this information. It made an offer of temporary accommodation on 9 September 2022, however, the resident declined this offer as it was not suitable for his needs. The landlord has advised this service that the resident did not notify it that the location of the property would not have been suitable prior to its offer.
  15. The landlord made a further offer in October 2022, which the resident accepted. The resident moved into the temporary accommodation in December 2022.
  16. The landlord has advised the resident that the works were completed in January 2023, however, the resident has viewed the property and is concerned about the standard of works completed. He has therefore requested the landlord provide him with a surveyor’s report confirming there works completed are satisfactory.

Assessment and findings

  1. This service’s spotlight report on complaints about damp and mould (available here: Housing Ombudsman Spotlight report on damp and mould (housing-ombudsman.org.uk)), published in October 2021, confirms that damp and mould should be a high priority for landlords and they should take a zero-tolerance approach; be proactive in identifying potential problems; extend investigations to other properties in a block; and clearly communicate to residents about actions. The report was published after the landlord’s first and second complaint responses, however it consolidated some of the good practice that would be expected of landlords for such issues.
  2. In the absence of any specific policies and procedures, the Ombudsman expects a landlord to respond to reports of damp and mould within a reasonable timeframe. In the Ombudsman’s opinion, a period of 28 days is reasonable in the circumstances an in line with common practice in the industry, however, the context of each delay will be taken into account.
  3. It is evident that in or around August 2019, the resident reported concerns about damp and mould, following which the landlord appropriately carried out an inspection. It also appropriately provided a dehumidifier. As noted above, the Ombudsman would expect a landlord to then communicate the outcome of this inspection, along with any proposed actions. In this case, however, despite requests from the resident for updates, it is not evident that any were provided.
  4. The Ombudsman notes that at this time, and throughout the course of the complaint, the landlord advised the resident that its repairs team would need to provide the response. This often did not then occur. This demonstrates that the landlord was aware of the resident’s requests, and it is therefore responsible for ensuring these were appropriately responded to. While it may be the case that different teams are best placed to give certain responses, when it becomes evident that the teams are not making contact with the resident, the Ombudsman would expect the landlord to take ownership of the issue and escalate responses where necessary. It is not evident this ever occurred.
  5. The landlord’s repair records indicate there was a significant delay between the inspection in August 2019, and a further inspection in March 2020. All the while, the resident continued to be affected by the damp and mould in his property. While it is not disputed that the landlord gave periodic advice to clean the mould, as this did not address the cause of the damp and mould, it left the resident in a position where the issues would repeatedly return, which would have caused considerable distress.
  6. The landlord addressed a leak in the property in July 2020. While it was possible this was the cause of damp and mould issues, it is not evident that any follow up appointments were made to ensure this was the case. Given that the resident continued to experience ongoing issues, which a further inspection would have identified, this omission prolonged the impact on the resident.
  7. Following the resident’s further reports in November 2020, the landlord appropriately arranged for an electrician to attend the property within a reasonable timeframe to ensure the electrics were safe. Given that the electrician noted “severe water penetration,” it was also appropriate that the landlord arranged further inspections in December 2020 and January 2021. It is evident, however, that the landlord’s communication with the resident was lacking and it did not provide the resident with the outcomes of its inspections, despite multiple requests from the resident.
  8. The resident continued to report issues with damp and mould throughout June and July 2021. It is not evident the landlord provided any updates specific to the damp and moult, other than once again informing him its repairs team were handling the issues. As noted above, given the frequency of the resident’s requests and the time that had elapsed, the landlord should have taken ownership of the issue, which it did not do. This unreasonably prolonged the issue.
  9. Additionally, while the landlord appropriately arranged for a pests inspector, who diligently arranged further inspections do ensure the pests issue was appropriately monitored, the landlord did not act on the pest contractor’s reports of damp in the resident’s cupboards.
  10. Following the resident’s formal complaint in August 2021, the landlord provided its stage one response in September 2021, which was a reasonable timeframe in the circumstances. The landlord’s response appropriately addressed the length of time the issues had gone on for, for which it apologised. It also provided reasonable updates about its recent inspection and confirmed it would carry out works to address the ongoing issues. Once again, however, it delegated the arrangements to its repairs team. Given the previous repeated lack of communication from that team, it would have been helpful for the landlord to have provided specific timeframes, or otherwise given responsibility to oversee the resolution of the issue to a specific person, which it did not do.
  11. Regarding the resident’s request for temporary accommodation during the works, the landlord appropriately articulated its position that this is not something it would offer in the resident’s circumstances. As noted above, the landlord has not provided this service with its policy documents. The Ombudsman notes, however, that landlord’s have a responsibility to manage their resources appropriately and where repairs can be completed while a resident is in occupation, it is reasonable for a landlord not to offer a decant.
  12. The landlord also noted the impact the ongoing delays had on the resident, and offered compensation in relation to the delays and distress caused to the resident. In his complaint, the resident requested the landlord address compensating him for the costs of running the dehumidifiers it had provided him. The landlord missed the opportunity to specifically address this, and while such compensation could have been considered as part of its overall offer of compensation, its failure to mention this would have caused frustration for the resident.
  13. It is evident that the landlord subsequently carried out some works to the property, but that due to COVID-19 lockdown rules, these were limited to ‘emergency works’. The Ombudsman considers this approach to be reasonable in the circumstances, and it is evident from the communications between the parties that the landlord intended to complete further works when possible.
  14. In its stage two response, the landlord reiterated it would carry out further works which it assured the resident would address the problem. It did not, however, set out any specific timeframes for this work to be completed, or for further contact in relation to these works. Given the ongoing issues and the impact this had on the resident, the landlord appropriately used its discretion to offer temporary accommodation while the works were completed. It did not, however, provide information about how this would be arranged, or who the resident should contact to discuss it further.
  15. The landlord also increased its compensation to reflect the short delay to its stage two response, which was appropriate in the circumstances. It once again did not specifically refer to reimbursement of the costs of the dehumidifier, which the resident had specifically raised in his escalation. This would have caused him further frustration. The landlord also missed the opportunity to provide its position on the damage the mould had caused to the resident’s personal possessions, despite him also having specifically raised this concern.
  16. Following the resident’s agreement to the landlord’s proposed work, once again the landlord did not take ownership of the works and referred him to the repairs team, who did not correspond with him. The resident made several requests for updates, and for information about the temporary accommodation, however, it is not evident the landlord responded to these requests within a reasonable timeframe. The landlord’s internal communications also note that the repairs team were unaware that there had been an offer of temporary accommodation, demonstrating poor internal communication and record keeping.
  17. Despite having made a positive attempt to resolve the complaint in its stage two response in October 2021, the landlord did not take further action until May 2022, without a reasonable explanation or communication for this delay. This unreasonably prolonged the issues experienced by the resident. The Ombudsman notes that following this, there was a delay in arranging for temporary accommodation as the first offer of accommodation was not suitable for the resident due to unforeseeable personal reasons.
  18. The Ombudsman notes that the resident has now moved into temporary accommodation, and the landlord has undertaken works to the property. There was nevertheless significant failings throughout this case which have left the resident living with damp and mould for an unreasonable amount of time. On multiple occasions throughout the course of the complaint, the landlord’s poor communications, both with the resident and internally, have contributed to significant delays. Despite repeated issues with communications from its repairs team, the landlord did not change its approach and take ownership of the resolution of the issues. The landlord also failed to address all elements of the complaint, such as the reimbursement of the dehumidifier, despite multiple opportunities to do so.
  19. While the landlord did acknowledge the delays and the impact this had on the resident, given there were significant further delays following its stage two response, it is not evident it satisfactorily learnt from its mistakes. Additionally, while some compensation was offered, given the additional delays and ongoing poor communication, this compensation does not amount to reasonable redress. Given the significant failings identified above, and the impact they have had on the resident, a finding of severe maladministration has been made in this case.
  20. In the circumstances, additional compensation is appropriate to reflect the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident.
  21. In its formal responses, the landlord did not provided an explanation or breakdown of how it calculated the amount of £828 offered to the resident for “loss of amenities.” As such, and seemingly with no compensation policy for staff to rely on, the amount was somewhat arbitrary.
  22. It is the view of this service that the landlord’s offer of compensation does not provide proportionate redress for the significant detriment suffered by the resident for a prolonged period of time. The Ombudsman has therefore made an award of compensation taking into account the circumstances of the resident’s complaint, the delays experience, the resident’s rental liability, and this service’s Remedies Guidance.
  23. As noted above, the landlord has not provided this service with its repairs policy and so it is not clear in what timeframe the landlord would endeavour to complete repairs. Nevertheless, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, a period of 28 days is reasonable in the circumstances.
  24. The Ombudsman has identified the following periods of delay beyond what would be reasonable in the circumstances:
    1. Following the landlord’s initial inspection on 5 August 2019, there was a delay until 4 March 2020 before any further inspections were undertaken. Given that these further inspections/works should have been completed within 28 days (or otherwise an explanation as to why they could not be reasonably completed within this timeframe should have been communicated), there was an unreasonable delay of approximately 26 weeks.
    2. Following the landlord’s inspection on 17 April 2020, there was a 7 week delay beyond what was reasonable until its further works on 3 July 2020.
    3. Following the works carried out on 18 May 2021, there was an 11 week delay beyond what was reasonable until its further inspection regarding the damp and mould on 2 August 2021.
    4. Following the resident’s agreement to works on or around 1 November 2021, there was a 35 week delay to it obtaining information relating to temporary accommodation on 5 July 2022, and a further 9 week delay until its offer of temporary accommodation on 9 September 2022, during which time it is not evident reasonable updates to the delay were provided.
  25. In total, there was a period of approximately 88 weeks across the period of the complaint during which inspections, works, or necessary updates were unreasonably delayed.
  26. The resident’s current rent is approximately £100.48 p/w. While the resident’s property was not uninhabitable, the resident’s enjoyment of the property was severely curtailed by the issues with damp and mould.
  27. In light of the severe maladministration identified in this report, an amount of £4,421.12 compensation has been ordered to reflect the impact the landlord’s delays had on the resident’s enjoyment of his home (i.e. loss of amenities), being 50% of the resident’s rental liability for the 88 weeks where unreasonable delays occurred. This amount is in addition to the following:
    1. £300 for the resident’s time and trouble in chasing updates;
    2. £50 for the landlord’s delayed stage two response;
    3. £100 for the landlord’s failure to address the dehumidifier costs;
    4. £500 for the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident.

A total of £5,371.12 compensation is ordered. This amount replaces the landlord’s offer of £1,278.

  1. In addition to the above compensation, and order for a senior member of the landlord to formally apologise for failings identified in this case has been made.
  2. As noted above, the resident requested the landlord address the damage the damp and mould caused to his personal possessions. In such circumstances, the Ombudsman would expect a landlord to provide its position on such a claim, which may include referring the resident to their contents insurer, or to its building insurer. An order has therefore also been made that the landlord provide its position to the resident on this issue.
  3. The Ombudsman also notes that the resident has expressed concern about the standards of works carried out to the property while he has been in temporary accommodation. Given that previous works have not succeeded in permanently resolving the problem, an order has been made that the landlord arrange for a surveyor who is new to the case to inspect the works, and subsequently provide a report on the works to both the landlord and the resident confirming they are satisfactory, or otherwise making further recommendations.
  4. Finally, the Ombudsman notes that the resident has expressed a desire not to return to the property and to move to a different property. A recommendation has therefore been made that the landlord provide him with information about his options for relocation.
  5. In addition to the above, the Ombudsman again notes that the landlord has not provided this service with its relevant policies. It is also not evident whether it has specific policies relating to damp and mould. An order has therefore been made for a senior member of the landlord to consider this service’s spotlight report on damp and mould (linked above) and the report’s recommendation for a separate damp and mould policy. The senior member of the landlord is to subsequently provide the landlord’s position on such a policy to this service within four weeks of the date of this determination.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was severe maladministration by the landlord in respect its response to the resident’s reports about damp and mould in his property.

Reasons

  1. The resident has made multiple reports of reoccurring damp and mould for a significant period of time. On each occasion, the landlord’s repairs team failed to effectively communicate with him when there would be inspections, the results of the inspections, and the timeframes for further works.
  2. While the landlord appropriately acknowledged these delays and offered some compensation, it also failed to fully address all the resident’s concerns in its formal responses. It also failed to effectively communicate with him regarding its offer of temporary accommodation and proposed timeframe for works, leading to further delays and distress.

Orders and recommendations

Orders

  1. The Ombudsman orders the landlord to pay compensation of £5,371.12, comprising:
    1. £300 for the resident’s time and trouble in chasing updates;
    2. £50 for the landlord’s delayed stage two response;
    3. £100 for the landlord’s failure to address the dehumidifier costs;
    4. £500 for the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident;
    5. £4,421.12 for the impact the landlord’s delays had on the resident’s enjoyment of his home (i.e. loss of amenities).
  2. This replaces the landlord’s previous offer of £1,278. This amount must be paid within four weeks of the date of this determination.
  3. Within four weeks of the date of this determination:
    1. a senior member of the landlord is to formally apologise for failings identified in this case;
    2. the landlord is to provide the resident with its position and any relevant information in relation to his concerns about damage to his personal possessions caused by the damp and mould;
    3. the landlord is to provide the resident with a timeframe for a surveyor who is new to the case to inspect the works carried out at his property, and commit to providing him with the surveyor’s report. Should any additional works be recommended by this surveyor, the landlord is to provide the resident with a timeframe for the works to be completed within four weeks, or otherwise provide an explanation as to when it is reasonable for them to be completed in the circumstances;
    4. a senior member of the landlord is to review this service’s spotlight report on damp and mould (linked above) and the report’s recommendation for a separate damp and mould policy. The senior member of the landlord is to subsequently provide the landlord’s position on such a policy to this service.

Recommendations

  1. The landlord is to contact the resident within four weeks of the date of this determination and provide him with information about his options for relocation.