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Origin Housing Limited (201904893)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 201904893

Origin Housing Limited

10 September 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. This complaint is about the landlord’s handling of:
    1. a consultation with residents prior to the introduction of a parking control scheme;
    2. the related complaint.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. This complaint was submitted to the landlord and to the Housing Ombudsman Service as a group complaint. The group includes 53 households who are assured tenants of the landlord.
  2. The landlord’s tenancy agreement terms and conditions booklet shows that the resident should park on the road outside the property, subject to any parking restrictions, if no specific space for parking is provided and should not park a vehicle anywhere on the property unless it has a garage, parking space or driveway with hard standing and a dropped kerb or is a designated area for parking.
  3. The landlord’s website says that:

Parking arrangements vary for our homes. On some estates, there are designated spaces for residents to park their cars. On others, there may only be spaces available on the public roads.

From time to time we do experience problems with unauthorised parking by non-residents. To help stop this, we have introduced parking permit schemes where the parking rules for some areas are displayed on signs.

  1. The landlord has a ‘secondary units policy’ that was issued on 3 August 2017 (and says is reviewed every two years) which it states is designed to ‘maximise income on our secondary units which comprise of sheds, car parking spaces and garages’. It sets out that it will consult with residents on its ‘method and style of communication in relation to the introduction of this policy’ through its ‘HIVE’ resident network.
  2. The landlord has a resident engagement strategy 2019-2024 that sets out its approach in engagement with its residents, communities and other partners to ‘listen, learn and respond to people’s views, to change the ways we think, communicate and act’. It says it will do so by consulting on proposals and through good communication and ‘engaging everyone’.
  3. The landlord has a resident involvement implementation plan that requires it to conduct ‘issue based consultation’ by involving ‘residents that have experienced the issue and hear what works, what does not and agree way forward’ from April 2020.
  4. The landlord had a complaints policy at the time of this complaint that set out a three-stage complaints process with responses required within 10 working days at stages one and two. At stage three, the landlord said it would arrange an independent panel within eight weeks of the complaint escalation. It shows that the complaints process does not apply where a policy has been applied correctly.

Summary of Events

  1. The landlord has provided a copy of a letter sent to all relevant properties in the area on 31 January 2019 where it said it intended to introduce ‘parking charges and parking enforcement to the parking spaces’ at the site and to ‘set up a controlled parking contract’. It asked residents to give their views on its plans by 15 February 2019 and said information would follow on how to obtain a permit.
  2. The landlord’s records showed that in February 2019 it characterised the consultation responses received from one road as ‘mixed’ and another road as ‘negative’.
  3. A group of residents submitted a petition to the landlord on 25 March 2019 that demanded a ‘full and proper consultation’ on parking charges and enforcement on one of the roads on the estate. It was signed by 15 households who lived on a road that was to be subject to the new parking scheme.
  4. The landlord wrote to a resident on 27 March 2019 in reply to the petition. It advised that it would not offer free permits to residents, residents with a driveway would not be required to display a permit, those with disabilities may be exempt and residents would be advised how to obtain visitor permits.
  5. The group of residents wrote to the landlord on 28 March 2019. It asked for a meeting with the landlord as it was concerned that the parking plan was to go ahead regardless of resident comments.
  6. The landlord’s records show that it received an enquiry from a MP on 4 April 2019 and responded to this on 13 April 2019.
  7. The landlord met with a group of residents on 29 April 2019. The minutes of that meeting show that specific concerns were raised by residents about a lack of transparency and the failure to consult all residents as well as specific questions around carers’ parking and level of charges. The landlord noted that it had introduced parking control across all its sites, postponed the scheme (that was due to commence on 15 April 2019), answered some of the resident’s specific points, mentioned loss of grants as a factor in its decision-making and stated that it would review the continued concerns with residents.
  8. The landlord has provided a copy of a standard letter it says it sent to all properties on 4 July 2019. It advised that it would start parking patrols from 12 August 2019 as it had considered the issues raised since the parking scheme was placed on hold in April 2019 and it explained how residents should obtain a permit.
  9. A complaint was logged from the resident’s group on 16 July 2019 on the grounds that the scheme was to re-commence despite 83% of local residents being against it and asked for a more considered response to their concerns. This was followed by a further complaint document by email on 17 July 2019 and a chaser email on 31 July 2019 which asked for the complaint to be escalated given the lack of response.
  10. The landlord wrote a complaint response letter dated 31 July 2019 addressed to the resident group. It said that it was aware that some residents were dissatisfied with the new parking scheme but that it had also received ‘complaints from residents about parking issues on match days, school runs, non-residents and abandoned vehicles’. It added that the policy was to be implemented across all its sites and that unoccupied parking bays could be offered to third parties for commercial reasons, concluding that its decision on the new parking scheme would not be reversed.
  11. The landlord also sent an email to the resident group on 31 July 2019. It noted that its complaints team would not investigate where a policy had been introduced correctly. It reiterated this on 1 August 2019 when it added that a response had been sent to a MP and residents would be communicated with too. The resident group replied on 2 August 2019, disagreeing with the landlord’s definition of the complaint and requesting that the complaint be escalated to stage three.
  12. The resident group wrote to the landlord on 5 August 2019 – it listed 104 households (across two roads) that it said were in opposition to the scheme and set out that:
    1. it rejected the landlord’s comments that the new parking scheme would remedy issues such as abandoned vehicles, parking on match days, non-residents parking in the area and school-related parking problems, either because these were not problems or because the roads impacted by the issues were not part of the scheme
    2. it questioned the approach of the landlord to let unoccupied bays to third parties in order to build new properties
    3. the landlord should be able to differentiate between the needs of its various sites
    4. many residents were vulnerable and would be adversely impacted by the proposal and the requirement for residents to be in credit on their rent account, in order to obtain a permit, was unfair.
  13. The landlord sent a stage two complaint acknowledgement email on 5 August 2019 followed by emails exchanged between the resident group and the landlord during 6-7 August 2019 regarding the handling of the complaint to date. The resident group raised concern about inconsistencies in the handling of the complaint, reiterated that the complaint should be considered at stage three of the landlord’s complaints process and asked for the 12 August 2019 enforcement date to be suspended.
  14. The landlord issued a stage two complaint response on 16 August 2019. It concluded that:
    1. adequate consultation had taken place regarding the introduction of a parking control policy and set out a timeline of consultation actions it had taken from 1 February 2019
    2. residents had offered feedback during this consultation of concerns about abandoned cars, non-residents parking in bays and problems during the school run but these could not be shared for data protection reasons
    3. it had not kept records regarding abandoned cars so could not share this but would improve this going forward
    4. its secondary units policy was fair and reasonable in terms of the charges, facilities for blue badge holders and second space allocations
    5. an apology was offered for any confusion regarding the logging of the complaint and reassurance was offered that all residents have the right to make complaints.
  15. It is not disputed that the new parking control scheme was introduced from 19 August 2019. The resident group asked for the complaint to be escalated to stage three on the same day on the grounds that the complaint response had been generic and contained inaccuracies.
  16. The landlord wrote to the resident group on 10 September 2019 to answer questions that it said had been asked. It advised that:
    1. there had been a communication issue when the consultation was first sent out for which apologies were made during a resident meeting on 29 April 2019
    2. consultation responses had been received from the majority of residents
    3. it intended to develop a system for recording of abandoned vehicles
    4. parking controls should assist problems during the school run as it had at other sites
    5. it would be negligent for it to ignore the impact of increased parking controls in areas around the local stadium on event days
    6. it aimed to have a uniform parking scheme across all its sites
    7. the fine of £60 was in line with local authority charges and was designed to impact non-residents rather than residents.
  17. The resident group responded on 9 October 2019 to the above points, noting that:
    1. it wished to reiterate its stage three complaint escalation on the grounds that residents had not felt listened to through the consultation and that it had been too quick and was ‘a mere exercise in meeting protocol’
    2. the landlord had failed to organise a meeting in a larger location following the initial meeting of 29 April 2019 and had communicated with the resident group email address but not all residents
    3. it requested evidence that most residents were in support of the new scheme
    4. the failure to collect data on abandoned vehicles indicated that this was not a serious issue at this location
    5. the new scheme would not have an impact on the school run problem as spaces on the entrance to the estate were outside the landlord’s control
    6. the introduction of the parking scheme was designed to extort money from residents
    7. residents had never experienced a problem with ‘event day’ parking
    8. it was disputed that the landlord’s charge for a parking permit was cheaper than the local authority and it was added that it was likely only residents would be impacted by the fines
    9. vulnerable residents had been forced to walk through the estate at night because they could not afford to park outside their own homes.
  18. The resident group wrote to the landlord on 11 October 2019. It added that four residents had been ticketed on 19 August 2019, likely due to the landlord’s failure to confirm the enforcement start date to all residents. It asked for the scheme to be removed and for a new consultation to commence.
  19. The landlord acknowledged the resident group correspondence on 13 October 2019 and advised it had been passed to the complaints department who would be in contact about the stage three complaint process. Further emails were exchanged between the resident group and landlord during October-November 2019 to agree a mutually convenient time and date for the stage three complaint panel meeting later in November 2019.
  20. The landlord wrote to the resident group on 29 November 2019. It said that the stage three complaints panel had asked that the secondary units policy be reviewed and that residents would be given opportunity to take part in the review, including a working group of 6-8 residents. It added that it would pause parking enforcement in the meantime (from 1 December 2019).
  21. The landlord issued the stage three complaint response on 3 December 2019. It concluded that:
    1. its parking policy applies to all of its properties and was approved in 2017 following a ‘HIVE’ consultation – it noted that there were 20 estates where the policy had been implemented to date
    2. due to apparent shortcomings in the detailed terms of the parking policy, it had decided to undertake a review (as was required as part of its periodic assessments) and would engage with residents across its estates to produce recommendations for updating the policy
    3. the parking scheme in the resident group’s area was paused from 2 December 2019 and it would monitor the impact of this on the estate
    4. communication during the implementation period was disjointed and confusing as the consultation letter was communicating a ‘fait accompli’ and there was a lack of direction for residents, inconsistencies in communication regarding the reasons for the policy and key dates changed a number of times
    5. it would improve its complaints handling and intended to introduce a new resident engagement strategy to seek a wider range of resident views on policy changes impacting the estate.
  22. The resident group wrote to the landlord on 17 December 2019. It raised the following concerns:
    1. the new parking scheme had only been ‘paused’ during review
    2. the landlord had only now mentioned the policy and consultation that was undertaken prior to its introduction in 2017 but had no evidence about the consultation and the group that led it
    3. the number of residents that the landlord had suggested being involved in the group reviewing the policy was insufficient.
  23. The landlord wrote to the resident group on 31 December 2019. It reiterated that the current parking policy had been in place since 2017 and implemented on a rolling review every two years. It said it hoped that some residents in the area would be part of the wider group reviewing the policy and that no parking enforcement would be conducted pending the outcome of the review (that it expected to take three to four months).
  24. The resident group replied to the landlord on 26 January 2020. It reiterated a desire for some of its residents to join the wider resident group that the landlord had signposted and continued concerns that the landlord was unable to answer questions about the 2017 consultation.
  25. The landlord responded to the resident group on 31 January 2020. It said it thought it was liaising with the residents it needed to on joining wider resident groups but offered to follow up further with any contacts that could be provided. It added that it was in process of recruiting residents to the group it intended to form for the car parking review and expected the review to commence in March 2020.
  26. The resident group wrote to the landlord on 11 March 2020. It asked questions about the wider spotlight and scrutiny groups that the landlord had recommended.
  27. The landlord responded to the resident group on 2 April 2020. It offered background information and terms of reference for the spotlight group and added explanations about its new resident engagement strategy, neighbourhood explorers and scrutiny group. It advised that the latter was a new concept and the parking policy review was its first. The landlord advised in a separate email of 7 April 2020 that there was a suspension in place pending review.
  28. A report was produced by the parking scrutiny group on 25 January 2021. It set out that the scrutiny group had nine members (including residents of mixed tenure), was chaired by an independent facilitator, had met virtually on four occasions during September 2020 to January 2021 (having been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and considered results of a survey that had been sent to over 1800 residents. It concluded that:
    1. at the time of the introduction of charges and implementation of the 2017 secondary units policy, the ‘consultation was non-existent, or poor’
    2. a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work as a localised approach is preferable and take up of permits at two of the roads where members of the residents group live were only 29% and 4%
    3. there was no justification for the introduction of the parking policy that was introduced at the resident group’s location
    4. the landlord should roll back the parking arrangements to the pre-2017 situation given the lack of evidence of consultation ever having occurred
    5. the landlord should no longer view parking as a ‘source of revenue’
    6. the landlord should consult with residents and offer support to resolve parking concerns for any sites that self-identify as needing assistance before considering introduction of parking controls
    7. the landlord should provide free permits for residents (and their visitors) where it does introduce parking controls.
  29. The resident group advised this Service that it received the landlord’s response to the parking scrutiny group report on 10 February 2021. The landlord advised that:
    1. the report had failed to offer a solution to the need to improve the parking policy to make it fit for purpose by recommending a return to the pre-2017 situation
    2. it wanted to ‘build a policy that can help us move forwards and focus on managing the allocation of parking where scarcity exists
    3. it intended to ‘work with the data that is available to build a framework for assessing parking needs and whether any charging is required’ and ‘would like to see parking needs categorised into 4 segments based on a combination of factors including scarcity of Origin parking spaces, availability of other parking spaces as well as benchmarks of parking costs in the area’.
  30. The resident group advised this Service in July 2021 that it had met the landlord that month and the landlord now accepted the scrutiny group report and advised them that a new parking policy would be drawn up to be put to the scrutiny group and that locations that were already subject to a scheme since 2017 would be consulted with.

Assessment and findings

  1. In reaching a decision we consider whether the landlord has kept to the law, followed proper procedure and good practice, and acted in a reasonable way. Our duty is to determine complaints by reference to what is, in this Service’s opinion, fair in all the circumstances of the case.

Parking scheme consultation

  1. It is of concern that the landlord was unable to provide detailed records of the ‘HIVE’ consultation that it said it had conducted prior to the introduction of its secondary units policy in 2017. It has not been able to provide the resident group with detailed information regarding this consultation, either at their location or across its stock, before the secondary units policy was adopted – this indicates that the landlord’s record-keeping was insufficient and means it was unclear as to how residents were given an opportunity to make their views known and whether these influenced the policy.
  2. The landlord’s initial parking scheme letter to residents in January 2019 was headed as a ‘consultation’ letter but it later became apparent that the landlord wished to introduce the same parking scheme across all of its locations. This approach will inevitably have caused some confusion to residents and it is unclear how the questions asked by the landlord were intended to be factored into the parking scheme it introduced at the site in April 2019 – this was unreasonable.
  3. The consultation letter of January 2019 led to residents offering answers about the specific site and the landlord’s own records show that it characterised responses to the proposed scheme as either ‘negative’ or ‘mixed’. Nevertheless, it introduced the same parking scheme at this location as was in place at its other estates. By rolling out a generic policy without considering opinions of residents at different locations, the landlord’s approach was heavy-handed and not in line with its resident engagement strategy that said it would ‘listen, learn and respond to people’s views, to change the ways we think, communicate and act’ – this was therefore inappropriate.
  4. When the resident group questioned the reasoning behind the introduction of the parking scheme, the landlord referred to potential parking problems such as abandoned vehicles, match days at a nearby stadium and school run pressure. The resident group queried each of these reasons between April-October 2019 on the grounds that they were either not problems at the location in question or that the parking scheme was unlikely to resolve them. Although the landlord has made general comments that other residents had reported parking problems, it was unable to provide detailed information or any statistics to support these comments or answer the resident group’s comments. No evidence has been seen by this Service to demonstrate how the landlord reached the view that there were parking issues at the site or that it had considered the resident group feedback that this was not the case – this was unreasonable.
  5. By the time the related complaint had exhausted the landlord’s complaints process in December 2019, the landlord acknowledged that there were inconsistencies in its communications, that its original consultation letter was flawed and that there were problems with the parking policy itself. As a result, it said it would:
    1. suspend the parking scheme at the location in question
    2. monitor the impact of this suspension on parking in the area
    3. conduct a review of the parking policy
    4. offer residents the opportunity to be involved with this review
    5. introduce a new resident engagement strategy

It is not disputed that the parking scheme has remained suspended and that a new resident engagement strategy has been introduced. Although the landlord has advised that Covid-19 contributed to delays, it is of concern that it took more than a year for a parking review report to be produced.

  1. Based on evidence seen by this Service, the landlord’s initial response to the parking review report of January 2021 was that a parking scheme was still necessary and that it intended to build a framework to assess parking need and the requirement for charging. The resident group has since indicated that the landlord has reversed this view and that there is ongoing discussion with the landlord with a view to presenting the scrutiny group with a revised policy. It is of concern that:
    1. the landlord has still not offered a clear outcome to residents as to how the scrutiny group report and the views of residents have influenced the prospective parking policy eight months after the scrutiny group provided its feedback
    2. it is still unclear as to whether the landlord intends to introduce the same parking scheme across its sites or if it has made progress in building a framework to assess parking need
    3. it has not communicated with residents on the outcome of the review it said it would undertake of the impact of the parking scheme suspension at their location, more than 21 months after the suspension.

This delay is unreasonable and will inevitably have caused more uncertainty for residents.

  1. In summary, it is not disputed that there was service failure in the landlord’s consultation with residents prior to the introduction of the parking control scheme. It was unable to explain how it had considered the residents views at the location in question or how it had assessed the requirement for a parking scheme there and it has acknowledged that its communications lacked clarity. The landlord proposed in December 2019 to consult with residents but it has delayed unreasonably in advising residents how this further consultation has affected its decision-making and whether it still plans to introduce a parking scheme.

Complaint handling

  1. The resident group made an initial complaint to the landlord which the landlord logged on 16 July 2019. The landlord provided a stage one complaint response on 31 July 2019, 11 working days after the complaint was received. This was outside of its stage one complaint policy timescale by one working day – this constituted a delay in the complaint process albeit not a lengthy one.
  2. However, it is of concern that the landlord indicated to the resident group that it would not consider their complaint on the same day it issued the stage one response. It said that this was on the grounds that it was about a policy. Although the complaint related to a policy, the concerns of the resident group were also about the landlord’s handling of the introduction of the policy, its suitability at their location and the related consultation so it was within the remit of its complaints process. Its correspondence of 31 July 2019 was therefore inappropriate and will inevitably have caused confusion as to how it intended to handle the residents’ concerns.
  3. The resident group asked to escalate the complaint on 5 August 2019, subsequently asking for this to be considered at stage three of the complaints process. Although the landlord had caused confusion with its initial handling of the complaint, it was appropriate for it to consider the complaint at stage two of its complaints process given it had only issued the stage one response on 31 July 2019. The stage two complaint response of 16 August 2019 was also provided within an appropriate timescale in accordance with its complaints policy.
  4. Evidence seen by this Services indicates that the resident group expressed continued dissatisfaction in September 2019 and reiterated in October 2019 that it wished to have the complaint reviewed at stage three. The landlord’s complaints policy required it to organise a stage three complaints panel within eight weeks of the request. Given there were efforts made between the resident group and landlord during October-November 2019 to find a mutually convenient date when various parties could attend and the panel met in November 2019, the landlord’s handling of the stage three complaint was appropriate.
  5. When the landlord considered the stage three complaint, it also reviewed its handling of the complaint. It concluded that it had not responded in a timely fashion, had failed to make verbal contact to discuss the complaint and lacked empathy in its responses. It apologised for this service failure and said it had introduced a new complaints team, reviewed complaint handling training materials and would update its complaints policy – these were appropriate responses to the service failure identified and demonstrated that the landlord had considered how it could improve its complaint handling.
  6. In summary, the landlord’s initial handling of the resident group complaint was inappropriate but its combination of the assessment of its service failure, apologies offered and service improvements represented reasonable redress for the service failures identified in the way it handled the complaint.

Determination

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord in its handling of a consultation with residents prior to the introduction of a parking control scheme.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 55 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has offered reasonable redress to the service failures identified in its handling of the related complaint.

Reasons

  1. The landlord failed to demonstrate that it took the views of residents into consideration prior to the introduction of a parking scheme in August 2019. It suspended the scheme in December 2019 but has delayed unreasonably in responding to the results of its more recent consultation with residents.
  2. The landlord did not handle the stage one complaint from the resident group appropriately but its apology and proposals to introduce a new complaints policy and a new complaints team with improved training methods were appropriate given the circumstances of the case.

Orders

  1. The landlord to write to the resident group, and all other residents on the estate, within four weeks of the date of this report to:
    1. apologise for the service failures identified in this report
    2. update residents on when it expects to be able to present the scrutiny group with a new parking policy proposal
    3. advise if residents at specific locations will also be consulted with prior to the introduction of a scheme in their area
    4. update residents on the results of the review it said it would undertake of the impact of the parking scheme suspension at their location.

The landlord should provide a copy of the letter to this Service within a week of it being sent to residents.

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