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Optivo (201915070)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 201915070

Optivo

6 July 2021


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. The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of a faulty intercom entry system.
    2. The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of a faulty communal front door lock.
    3. The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of an unusable communal bin store.
    4. The landlord’s handling of the associated complaint.

Background and summary of events

  1. The resident is a tenant of the landlord and occupies a first floor flat within a building housing multiple properties.
  2. The landlord’s records show that on 17 January 2020, it received a report that the communal front door was not secure and could be pushed open. On 21 and 22 January 2020 it recorded reports of the intercom entry system not working, with the resident being unable to open the door. There is no indication that these reports were considered emergency repairs and were recorded as “day-to-day” repairs.
  3. The resident raised a stage one complaint with the landlord on 5 February 2020. She voiced her dissatisfaction with the intercom entry system to the building, which she felt was dangerous, as access to the building could only be gained if another resident was already present. The resident relayed that this had led to the communal entry door being left open which had attracted rough sleepers into the building. She said she had raised this matter with the landlord on multiple occasions previously. The resident also advised that the intercom entry system had previously been connected to the fire alarm, which was why it had been deactivated.
  4. On the following day the resident spoke to the landlord again to add to her complaint that the communal bin store had been inaccessible to residents for two and half years, resulting in her having to place her rubbish out by the kerbside. She said that she had not been provided with a date for when the bin store would be usable again. The resident was also unhappy that a member of its staff had been unable to gain access for a viewing and needed to be let in by a resident. The landlord acknowledged her complaint on 7 February 2020 and advised that it would provide a full written response by 20 February 2020.
  5. The resident spoke to the landlord on 12 and 13 February 2020 to add that the communal door lock had been broken for a significant time and she wanted it to investigate concerns about this going back five years. She added that it was possible to gain access to the building by inserting a wire through the letterbox to manipulate the lock.
  6. The landlord issued a stage one complaint response to the resident on 21 February 2020 which explained that, in accordance with its complaints resolution policy, it could only investigate matters which occurred within the previous six months.
  7. The landlord noted that the intercom entry system was reported as faulty on 17 January 2020 which left the communal entry door insecure. It subsequently attended on 21 January 2020 and found that the door was secure. In response to a further report of a fault with the intercom entry system on 22 January 2020, the landlord attended the following day and found that the intercom entry system required replacement. It explained that this system required four to five weeks from the date of ordering to be available. In response to the resident’s concerns about the wiring of the intercom, the landlord relayed that it surveyed the wiring and subsequently carried out repairs to the intercom on 15 February 2020.
  8. The landlord acknowledged that it had missed the resident’s initial reports of the lock on the communal door being faulty. It confirmed that, on 13 February 2020, it attended and found that the lock was working, and the door was secure. The landlord confirmed that it could make modifications to the door to prevent entry being gained using a length of wire. After it replaced the intercom entry system, it discovered that the communal front door lock was indeed faulty and required replacement. The landlord advised that it would replace the communal front door lock and provide residents with new keys.
  9. The landlord confirmed that the bin store area had been inspected and found to be free of vermin, which had previously prevented its use. It advised that it was awaiting certification from its pest contractor that it could provide to the local authority for normal rubbish collections to resume from the bin store, as opposed to kerbside collections. The landlord confirmed that it had escalated this matter with its pest control contractor “as a matter of urgency”.
  10. The landlord apologised to the resident for its staff member ringing her bell to gain access to the building on 6 February 2020; it explained that they did not have a key to the block as they assumed the intercom would be working.
  11. On 24 February 2020, the resident emailed the landlord to express her dissatisfaction with its response. She said that it had not fully dealt with her concerns and had not investigated “accurately or correctly”. The resident highlighted that she had made multiple reports “over the last few years” about the intercom entry system since the fire alarms were installed in the building which she asserted had been installed incorrectly which compromised the operation of the intercom entry system. She held that these reports had been ignored by the landlord. The resident also pointed out that she had reported the fault with the intercom entry system in November 2019, not 17 January 2020, and that she attributed this to the intercom being disconnected by the fire alarm engineer. She relayed that she had called the landlord’s maintenance line about this 56 times.
  12. The resident also highlighted that the communal front door lock had yet to be changed and she was unaware any arrangements for distributing new keys to residents.
  13. The resident also said that, despite receiving similar responses from the landlord about the bin store, no date had ever been provided for restoring access to the bin store area. She said this was a matter which she had been contacting it about “every month for these years” but she had not received satisfactory responses about this.
  14. On 24 February 2020, an email to the landlord from its contractor noted that they had attended to carry out work but had been prevented from doing so by the resident.
  15. The landlord provided the resident with a review request form on 25 February 2020 to enable her to escalate her complaint. This form specified that the review meeting may be held in its offices in Kent, Sussex, or London. She replied to it later that day to say that the meeting locations were too distant, and she did not wish to incur travel expenses. The landlord replied to advise that attendance at the review meeting was optional.
  16. The resident returned the review request form to the landlord on 7 March 2020, detailing her continued dissatisfaction with:
    1. The intercom entry system not being repaired since its disconnection from the fire alarm electricity consumer unit and historical faults.
    2. The communal front door lock was yet to be replaced and new keys yet to be provided.
    3. The communal bin store area was still unavailable for use by residents after three years.
  17. After the landlord called the resident on 23 and 30 March 2020, it noted that she wished to withdraw her complaint review request while continuing to correspond with it to address the outstanding issues.
  18. The landlord’s internal email on 8 April 2020 noted that the resident no longer wished to withdraw her complaint review request. 
  19. The landlord wrote to the resident on 9 April 2020, noting that she had been happy to deal directly with its staff member who would be her main point of contact regarding the repair issues she had raised. It provided an update to her on the repairs which were raised in her complaint.
  20. The landlord confirmed that it had renewed and installed a new intercom entry system on 15 February 2020 which had been tested and confirmed to be working satisfactorily. It attributed delays to this to waiting four to five weeks for parts from the manufacturer.
  21. The landlord confirmed that the resident’s original report of the faulty lock on the communal door had been “misinterpreted” by its staff and apologised for this, assuring her that training would be provided to its staff. It apologised for the delay in attending to the repair, on 13 February 2020. The landlord explained that it could made modifications to the door to prevent it being opened with a wire, as the resident suggested. It confirmed that it only became aware of the need to replace the door lock after the installation of the intercom entry system due to conflicting information it received from its contractors.
  22. The landlord advised that it had confirmed to the local authority that the bin store was usable after it advised them that the pest infestation had been eradicated; this had led to rubbish collections resuming from the bin store. However, these had since halted again due to a further report of vermin. The landlord confirmed that it had since instructed pest controllers, and once this work was complete, the bin store would be reinstated. It advised that it would keep her updated on the progress of this.
  23. The landlord informed the resident that it did not offer compensation for communal repairs but in consideration of its “poor communication”, and her time, trouble, and inconvenience in bringing the complaint, it offered a discretionary payment of £250. It confirmed that it would maintain contact with her until the issues were resolved and gave a deadline of 27 April 2020 if she wished to pursue her complaint, otherwise it would be closed.
  24. On 1 July 2020, the resident emailed the landlord acknowledging that the bin store was now usable. She also questioned why her complaint had not been taken to a panel review. The landlord replied on 3 July 2020 to advise that her complaint was not progressed to the final stage as she had “built up a relationship” with the staff member who provided its response to her on 9 April 2020. It noted that she had been provided with the deadline of 27 April 2020 to make contact if she wished to proceed with her complaint; as it had not received this request, it advised that the complaint was closed.
  25. On 28 September 2020, in response to an enquiry from this Service, the landlord advised that the communal door lock was yet to be replaced as she had refused access for the work to proceed, and new parts were now awaiting order. On 22 October 2020, it wrote to residents of the block enclosing new keys for the replacement lock giving 20 days’ notice of the change on 11 November 2020.

Assessment and findings

Policies and procedures

  1. The landlord’s responsive repairs policy confirms that insecure communal door access constitutes an emergency repair which should attended to and made safe with six hours with any follow-on work to be carried out by appointment. While this policy states that it was carry out appointed works in “as little time as possible”, no specific timeframe is provided for these types of works.
  2. The landlord’s compensation policy provides for discretionary payments of up to £250 to be paid to recognise any “distress, time, trouble or inconvenience” experienced by a resident. This policy also provides for payments of compensation to be paid where a service failure has occurred. This policy is silent on whether compensation is paid for service failures involving communal repairs.
  3. The landlord’s complaints resolution policy provides for a two stage complaints procedure with a formal response to be provided to the resident within ten working days at stage one. At the final stage the complaint is considered at a review panel with dates of the meeting to be agreed with the resident, whose attendance is not a requirement.

The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of a faulty intercom entry system

  1. The resident expressed dissatisfaction with the landlord’s historical response to her reports of faults with the intercom entry system. As this Service would expect complaints to be made within a reasonable period of time after the matters arising, which would normally be within six months, this assessment will focus on events from August 2019 onwards, six months prior to the resident’s formal complaint to the landlord. This is because it is not possible to accurately investigate historical events.
  2. The landlord received reports on 21 and 22 January 2020 that the intercom entry system was faulty. It is not disputed that this repair was completed on 15 February 2020. As there was no evidence that the entry system rendered the building insecure, and therefore did not constitute an emergency repair, as per the landlord’s responsive repairs policy above at point 27, the time taken to perform this repair was not excessive and did not represent a failure on the landlord’s part.

The landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of a faulty communal front door lock

  1. In the landlord’s final response to the resident on 9 April 2020, it acknowledged that it had “misinterpreted” her original repair request, and it had received conflicting information from its contractors which led to a delay in repairing the communal front door lock and offered £250 compensation to her. This Service understands that this has already been paid to the resident. While, at that time, this amount would have represented reasonable redress to the resident to recognise the distress and inconvenience caused to her, it is evident that the communal front door lock was not replaced until 11 November 2020, approximately ten months after the initial report.
  2. The landlord’s responsive repairs policy, above at point 27, does not provide a timeframe for non-emergency repairs, however the time taken to replace the communal front door lock cannot be considered to be “as little time as possible” and there is no clear reason why this work was delayed. Therefore, it delayed excessively in carrying out the repair to the communal front door lock.
  3. While the landlord’s compensation policy, above at point 28, is silent on whether compensation is to be paid for failures involving communal repairs, in light of the likely distress and inconvenience caused to the resident in pursuing her complaint, an additional amount of £100 compensation should be awarded to her. This would bring the total compensation awarded to the resident to £350 which is in line with our remedies guidance when there has been a “failure over a considerable period of time to act in accordance with policy – for example to address repairs”.

The landlord response to the resident’s reports of an unusable communal bin store

  1. In assessing whether a landlord has failed in its provision of service to a resident, it is necessary to determine whether it took reasonable actions in response to a matter. It is evident that the communal bin store had been closed for a considerable time due to the presence of vermin. In the interests of health and safety, it would be expected of the landlord to carry out actions to remove the vermin infestation before allowing the facility to be used again.
  2. It is unclear from the evidence exactly how much time was taken by the landlord to make the bin store suitable for use again, but its instruction of pest control contractors to address the initial infestation, and again when a subsequent infestation was reported, was a reasonable response from it to tackle the issue. The nature of pest infestation means that it is conceivable that re-infestations occur and that timescales for dealing with the problem may vary.
  3. It is noted that the landlord had provided for alternate methods for the collection of rubbish from the kerbside, therefore the resident had not been prevented from disposing of her waste. This was a reasonable arrangement for it to make in the meantime.
  4. In conclusion, the landlord took reasonable actions to make the bin store usable again and made suitable arrangements while it was inaccessible, however it is evident that it could have communicated more to the resident about its progress in doing so. This may have alleviated her concerns and prevented the matter being raised as a complaint; a recommendation will be made about this below.

The landlord’s handling of the associated complaint

  1. The landlord provided a its stage one complaint response to the resident on 21 February 2020, 12 working days after she raised her formal complaint. This was slightly outside the timeframe for a stage one response specified in its complaints resolution policy, above at point 29. As there was no evidence of any detriment to the resident as a result of this, this did not represent a failure in its complaint handling at stage one.
  2. The resident requested that her complaint be escalated to the final stage of the landlord’s complaints procedure on 7 March 2020 with the submission of her review panel request form. She then subsequently withdrew this request on 30 March 2020 and then, prior to 8 April 2020, retracted this withdrawal. The landlord then responded to the resident on 9 April 2020, outside of its complaints procedure, which constitutes its final response to the resident.
  3. Considering the reservations the resident expressed on 25 February 2020 about attendance at a panel meeting, and that she had been happy to deal with a named member of staff to resolve her complaint, it was reasonable for the landlord to respond to her complaint informally on 9 April 2020, outside of its complaints procedure. It is noted that this response provided her with the option to continue to escalate her complaint if she was dissatisfied and there is no evidence that she did so within the timeframe provided to her.
  4. Therefore, while it is noted that the resident since expressed dissatisfaction with her complaint not being progressed to a panel review, the landlord handled the complaint reasonably in the circumstances. As the resident did not request her complaint be progressed within the deadline specified in the landlord’s informal response, there was no failing on its part.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in its response to the resident’s reports of a faulty intercom entry system.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord in its response to the resident’s report of a faulty communal front door lock.
  3. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in its response to the resident’s reports of an unusable communal bin store.
  4. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in its handling of the associated complaint.

Reasons

  1. The landlord repaired the faulty intercom entry system within a reasonable period.
  2. The landlord delayed excessively in replacing the faulty communal front door lock.
  3. The landlord took reasonable actions to rid the bin store of the pest infestation which rendered it unusable.
  4. The landlord handling the complaint reasonably in the circumstances of the case, despite this being outside of its complaint resolution policy.

Orders and recommendations

Order

  1. Within 28 days, the landlord is to pay £100 compensation to the resident, in addition to the £250 it has already paid to her.

Recommendation

  1. The landlord should review its communication strategy to residents when outstanding communal repairs exist, with a view to providing more regular updates. This may help provide reassurance to them and prevent complaints arising.