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Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) (202216977)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202216977

Notting Hill Genesis (NHG)

26 February 2024


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 handling of the resident’s:

  1. reports of water hammer noise.
  2. reports of antisocial behaviour (ASB) from her downstairs neighbour.

2.     The Ombudsman has also considered the landlord’s complaint handling as part of this investigation.

Background

3.     The resident has lived in the property since 1996. The property is a 2 bedroom flat, which has a flat above and a flat below.

4.     The resident began experiencing water hammer noise and reported this to the landlord. The landlord began investigations into this. The resident also paid for a private survey and provided the landlord with the findings. The source of the water hammer was not established.

5.     The resident complained to the landlord about her downstairs neighbour. The complaints alleged he verbally abused her, and she heard loud bangs coming from his flat. The resident involved the police and the landlord to try to resolve these complaints. 

6.     The resident moved out of the property in late November 2022. The landlord financially helped with the removal costs and the resident benefitted from a downsizing grant. 

7.     As the resident was not happy with how the landlord had managed the issues, she complained to it. The landlord offered the resident £50 for the delays in escalating the complaint to stage 2. To acknowledge its further delay in referring to an independent witness it offered the resident an additional £100. The landlord responded and identified areas it could have improved its performance.

8.     The resident brought the complaint to the Ombudsman as she remains dissatisfied. The resident is no longer a tenant of the landlord so would not benefit from any change in policy, as such she would like compensation as a resolution.

Assessment and findings

9.     When investigating a complaint, the Ombudsman applies its Dispute Resolution Principles. These are high level good practice guidance developed from the Ombudsman’s experience of resolving disputes, for use by everyone involved in the complaints process. There are only 3 principles driving effective dispute resolution:

  1. Be fair – treat people fairly and follow fair processes
  2. put things right, and
  3. learn from outcomes.

10. The Ombudsman must first consider whether a failing on the part of the landlord occurred, and if so, whether this led to any adverse effect or detriment to the resident. If it is found that a failing did lead to an adverse effect, the investigation will then consider whether the landlord has taken enough action to ‘put things right’ and ‘learn from outcomes’.

The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of water hammer noise.

11. Under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) the landlord is responsible for keeping the structure and exterior of the property in good repair. The landlord has a general obligation to repair and maintain the property.

12. The landlord’s repairs guide confirms it has responsibility for existing central heating systems, water heaters, repairs to gas installations, pipework, showers (if provided by the landlord), drains, sinks, toilets, and baths. The landlord aims to get repairs right first time and would hope to resolve issues in 20 working days.

13. The resident reported the water hammer issue to the landlord in May 2022. This was classified as the shower randomly dripping. The landlord visited to investigate within its service standards. As part of its investigations the landlord wanted to assess the water tanks, which it believed to be in the loft. It needed to gain access to the loft areas, so it needed to change the locks, complete asbestos checks, and board an area in the loft. The landlord discovered the water tank was not in the loft, therefore it was not found to be the cause of the water hammer. The contractor believed the issue could be with the boiler, so the landlord sent someone round to check this and this was confirmed to be in good working order.

14. The resident also took steps to assist the landlord to resolve the issue, getting her own survey and trying to identify when the water hammer noise was being created. For some time, it was believed this was when 2 neighbours had their washing machines on or when a neighbour’s shower was running. The last report of water hammer was raised by the resident a month before she left the property.

15. The Ombudsman acknowledges this type of repair which seems to arise when neighbours are doing different things would be difficult to diagnose. The landlord took the matter seriously and made efforts to resolve the issue. The Ombudsman also acknowledges the resident would have been experiencing the noise during the 6 months it was investigating.

16. The resident told the Ombudsman she believes her neighbours created the water hammer noise, which they then blamed on her. The Ombudsman is not able to establish whether this was the case, however the doubt of the noise being caused by water hammer makes it reasonable the landlord struggled to resolve this issue.

17. The Ombudsman finds there was no maladministration in the landlord’s handling of the residents reports of water hammer.

The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of ASB from her downstairs neighbour.

18. Having considered the information supplied to this investigation, the Ombudsman acknowledges the incidents reported by the resident have caused her distress. However, it is important to note that it is not the Ombudsman’s role to determine whether ASB occurred or, if it did, who was responsible. What the Ombudsman can assess is how a landlord has dealt with the reports it received and whether it followed proper procedure, good practice, and behaved reasonably, taking account of the circumstances of the case.

19. The Ombudsman can only review information which relates to the resident’s complaints concerning the downstairs neighbour. It is recognised there were additional complaints within the block of flats.

20. In the landlord’s ASB procedure it states it must keep all actions and outcomes recorded on its information management system. The landlord will record clear reasoning for certain actions and clear consideration of any vulnerabilities as this will demonstrate actions are proportionate. 

21. This procedure also states where there is a serious risk of harm to people and they feel they are in danger, then the complainant should be strongly encouraged to report to the police. If not taken up by the police a telephone call interview should be organised within 1 working day. The landlord should use an assessment to evaluate the risk, if there is no serious risk of harm then the report should progress to the investigation stage. The complainant will be offered a telephone call interview which should take place within 5 working days of the report.

22. During the interview the landlord will set clear expectations on how likely it is the resident’s desired outcome will be achieved and how long any actions are likely to take. Following the interview, the landlord will send the resident written confirmation of the action plan outlining what was discussed and agreed. This should be emailed or sent to the resident within 5 working days of the interview. Once an agreed action plan is in place with the resident, and if the resident agreed, the landlord should aim to contact the alleged perpetrator within 5 working days. The resident must be kept informed about the progress of the case and records updated.

23. The landlord states it will adopt a person-centred approach, taking into consideration any vulnerabilities the complainant and perpetrator may have. Any risk assessment should be kept under review during actions being taken.

24. The Ombudsman has seen evidence the resident reported 3 incidents of verbal abuse from the downstairs neighbour. In addition, the resident provided the landlord with diary sheets which detail 5 separate dates when she heard loud bangs from the flat below. These were the resident’s written accounts of what had taken place. The resident did not provide the landlord with any viable recordings as she stated she could not catch it, or when she did it was very faint.

25. From the landlord’s stage 1 complaint response the Ombudsman understands the resident first reported an incident on 23 August 2022. The Ombudsman has not seen evidence of this initial report, the landlord’s interview with the resident, or the action plan. This poor record keeping was a theme of this investigation and will form a part of the order in this determination. 

26. The landlord interviewed the neighbour the next day. While this resolution focused response was proportionate. The Ombudsman has not seen any evidence of the interview with the downstairs neighbour, only the information the landlord emailed to the resident following it.

27. The resident called the police after one verbal abuse incident. When the police arrived, they viewed a video the neighbour had recorded of the incident which they believed disproved the resident’s allegations. The resident believes the neighbour edited out his provoking comments, leaving only her responses. The resident advised the Ombudsman she did not believe the police did a thorough investigation and she felt she could not approach them for help. The Ombudsman is not able to assess whether the video was edited, however we recognise the resident must have felt isolated in not trusting the police.

28. The resident provided a recording to the landlord. This was her stomping on the floor, trying to provoke a response from the neighbour. The neighbour did not respond. The Ombudsman was concerned as this behaviour does not promote good neighbourly relations and did not progress the ASB complaint. This illustrated the resident’s frustration by not being able to evidence the ASB she stated she experienced, but it also devalued the complaint.

 

29. The Ombudsman acknowledges the ASB complaints were made within a relatively short time frame before the resident moved out. There were few ASB reports made, with the landlord being solely reliant on the resident’s written evidence. The landlord did not have much time or evidence to progress its investigation. However partially due to its response to other complaints the landlord has been able to evidence it considered a wide range of resolutions. The landlord acted as a mediator between both parties, advising neither to speak to one another, it also offered formal mediation, offered the resident a carpet, liaised with partner agencies, and it made a referral to use a professional witness. Ultimately the landlord provided financial support for the resident to move.

30. The resident brought the landlord’s attention to what she believed to be a lack of soundproofing in the building. The Ombudsman has not seen any evidence the landlord considered whether to investigate this. This would be reasonable if the landlord believed the noises were being made maliciously as this would not be a property defect, however if the noises were normal household noises the landlord should have explored this.

31. The Ombudsman was concerned that the landlord did not provide evidence of any considerations it made regarding any vulnerabilities the resident may have. The resident was very clear through her emails to the landlord she had “failing health” and wanted the landlord to recognise its duty of care to her. In later communication with the landlord the resident referred to her “failing mental health” and in conversation with the Ombudsman she identified as being paranoid while she was living in the property.

32. The landlord completed a risk assessment for the resident on 11 May 2022, this was not updated following her complaint in August 2022. In the risk assessment the landlord detailed the resident’s concern about her mental health. The landlord did not reassess whether the resident’s risk had changed since May 2022 and has not provided evidence as to why this was not necessary.

33. The landlord commits to and is expected to keep a robust record of contacts, yet the evidence has not been comprehensive in this case. It is vital that landlords keep clear, accurate and easily accessible records to provide an audit trail. Whilst the landlord has provided clear email records, there was no record of meetings, telephone calls, other than in the formal complaint responses or referenced in emails. It is evident that communication took place, but it appears this may not have been properly recorded as it was not provided to the Ombudsman for use in this investigation.

34. In accordance with the Scheme the Ombudsman finds there was service failure in the landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of ASB from her downstairs neighbour. The landlord has not evidenced it adhered to its ASB policy which resulted in dealing with the resident unreasonably in this matter.

35. The Ombudsman’s vision is to improve residents’ lives through housing complaints. A landlord is expected to use determinations to improve practices for all residents. The Ombudsman was disappointed to see findings of poor record keeping in a previous complaint the resident brought. Not learning from complaints illustrates a lack of commitment to the dispute resolution principles.

The landlord’s complaint handling

36. The landlord’s complaint policy states it will respond to stage 2 complaints within 20 working days from the escalation date. In exceptional circumstances this timescale may need to be extended when the landlord would agree a new one with the resident.

37. The resident requested to escalate her complaint on 15 September 2022. The landlord provided its final resolution on 28 November 2022. This was 51 working days afterwards. The landlord acknowledged the delays, informing the Ombudsman it kept the resident informed and offered the resident £50 in compensation.

38. The Ombudsman has not seen any evidence the landlord kept the resident informed of this delay or agreed a new timescale with the resident. The Ombudsman has seen the resident chased the landlord for a response on 27 October 2022. This indicates the resident was not aware of an agreed timescale. The resident’s email illustrated the frustration she felt by the delay and the lack of confidence she had that the landlord would resolve the issue.

39. The Ombudsman noted the stage 2 response came the same day her tenancy started in her new property. While this may be coincidental the Ombudsman has some concerns the landlord was waiting for the resident to move out prior to completing its complaint process. The Ombudsman is unable to determine on this point, but the coincidence has been noted.

40. As previously stated, the resident felt paranoid while living in the flat, the landlord should have acted in the resident’s best interests to resolve this complaint as soon as it could to ensure the resident had confidence in its procedures.  

41. The landlord has not evidenced it adhered to its complaints policy. This resulted in a service failure for the resident.

Determination

42. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was:

  1. No maladministration in the landlord’s handling of the resident’s report of water hammer.
  2. Service failure in the landlord’s handling of the resident’s report of ASB from her downstairs neighbour.
  3. Service failure in the landlord’s complaint handling.

Orders

43. The landlord is to pay the resident compensation totalling £350. This is inclusive of the £150 offer made by the landlord to the resident. This comprises of:

  1. £250 to reflect the service failures in the landlord’s handling of the ASB.
  2. £100 for the service failure in the landlord’s complaint handling.

44. The landlord is to carry out record keeping training for staff dealing with antisocial behaviour to ensure accurate records are kept.

45. The landlord is to confirm compliance with these orders to the Ombudsman within 4 weeks of the date of this report.