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Paragon Asra Housing Limited (202216297)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202216297

Paragon Asra Housing Limited

11 September 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 handling of the resident’s:
    1. reports of domestic abuse.
    2. complaint handling.
  2. This investigation will also consider the landlord’s record keeping.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident is an assured tenant of a 3 bedroomed house, obtained through a mutual exchange which occurred in February 2012. The resident suffers from degenerative disc disease, heart conditions, fibromyalgia, and low mood.
  2. The resident’s tenancy agreement states:
    1. you must use this tenancy as your only or principal home
    2. you must not pass your tenancy to someone else unless a court has ordered you to do so
  3. The landlord’s complaints policy has 3 stages:
    1. Stage 0 – resolved at ‘first point of contact’
    2. Stage 1 – resolved within 10 working days
    3. Stage 2 – resolved within 15 working days.
  4. The Complaints policy states:
    1. reports of ASB are not complaints in the first instance. The landlord’s ASB handling may become a complaint if the landlord does not follow its policy
    2. it will keep the customer updated and work with those involved to resolve any issues quickly and effectively as possible.
  5. The landlord’s Domestic Abuse policy states that:
    1. the policy should be read together with the ASB policy, which explains how the landlord will manage all types of ASB (including domestic abuse)
    2. the landlord is committed to dealing with acts of domestic abuse and will work in partnership with statutory and voluntary organisations to provide advice and support to residents affected by such abuse
    3. it will adopt a robust approach towards managing domestic abuse
    4. it will act upon all reports of domestic abuse consistently in line with service standards
    5. it will signpost residents subjected to abuse to the appropriate support agencies and take a robust approach towards managing domestic abuse and will use a combination of informal, legal and enforcement action to deliver a forward thinking, comprehensive and user-friendly service
    6. management transfers will be considered at the local authority’s Multi Agency Risk Assessment Committee (MARAC) meeting
    7. it will normally require the resident to approach their local authority for assistance with emergency re-housing through homelessness legislation
    8. a management transfer on the grounds of domestic abuse could be denied if the victim refuses to move out of the borough
    9. domestic abuse cases will be closed if no further action is available due to lack of evidence. It will discuss the decision with the victim before doing so and confirm in writing the reasons why it was being closed.
  6. The landlord’s ASB policy, includes domestic abuse, intimidation, and harassment within the definition of ASB. It confirms that:
    1. it will acknowledge reports of domestic abuse in 1 working day
    2. it will encourage and support reporting residents to continue to live in their home and work with them to resolve the problem
    3. it uses a range of tools to manage ASB, such as victim risk assessment matrix, injunctions (including DIY injunctions), and community trigger
    4. the landlord’s ability to tackle ASB is increased when residents provide appropriate evidence of the incidents and nuisance they experience
    5. residents are expected to make use of all the resources available to them to provide this evidence.
  7. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Family Law Act 1996 give courts the power to transfer a tenancy in respect of a matrimonial home when rented solely by 1 of the spouses, to the other spouse.

Summary of events

  1. The resident has advised that she left the property in February 2020 due to domestic abuse. She said that she called the landlord on a number of occasions to advise them of this at that time. This was reiterated in her request to escalate the complaint on 31 August 2021. However, the landlord has not provided evidence of this being recorded at the time of the events in 2020.
  2. On 1 February 2021, the resident emailed the landlord to request a call back to discuss a personal housing issue. No evidence has been provided to suggest that a call was received.
  3. On 22 February 2021, the resident’s daughter emailed and asked the landlord to confirm it had received her mum’s previous email. Later the same day, the resident wrote another email to the landlord, using her daughter’s email address advising that she had moved out of the property due to controlling behaviour from her partner. She advised that she left so that her children and grandchild had somewhere to live, as they remained at the property with her ex partner. She highlighted her vulnerabilities and physical disabilities and asked if she could go on the local authority’s waiting list. On 15 June 2023, the landlord told us this email was not passed to the relevant team.
  4. On 23 February 2021, the resident’s ex-partner contacted the landlord to ask if the tenancy could be transferred to him, as the resident had moved out of the property in February 2020. He was informed by the landlord to seek legal advice.
  5. The landlord’s case notes from 23 February 2021, show that a tenancy fraud case was opened, as it was made aware that the resident was no longer residing at the property.
  6. The landlord emailed the resident back on 15 March 2021, advising that it had opened a case, and would investigate how best to deal with the situation so that it could talk through what could be done. This was around 12 working days after the resident reported the domestic abuse.
  7. The landlord’s notes suggest it was in contact with the resident on 17 March 2021. The notes said that the resident was considering handing over the tenancy to her ex-partner as he was residing at the property with their 2 adult daughters, a grandchild and the child’s father. The landlord advised her to seek legal advice and reiterated her legal duties as a sole tenant. The notes state that the resident did not want to engage with domestic outreach support services such as Refuge or an independent domestic violence adviser (IDVA). The resident asked for the case to be put on hold until she decided what she wanted to do. The landlord’s notes state that the case was subsequently closed.
  8. The landlord’s notes from 26 March 2021 suggest it responded to the resident’s emails of 22 February 2021. She was advised that the emails had been received and passed on to the tenancy solution team so that it could contact her with regards to the progress of the case.
  9. On 6 July 2021, the resident called the landlord to say she intended to return to the family home. The landlord advised as she was a sole tenant, she had legal rights to live at the address, but the dispute may have to be dealt with at a family law court, and that the landlord would have no impact on the court’s decision.
  10. On 28 July 2021, the landlord’s notes state that the resident’s daughter phoned; they were advised that the landlord was awaiting responses and would call back.
  11. On 16 August 2021, the resident raised a complaint with the landlord. The complaint stated she had received insufficient help with regards to her domestic abuse. She said the only advice she had been given was that the issue was a court matter. She advised that not being able to return to the property, because her ex-partner was refusing to move out, had “taken a massive toll on her mental health” and her other health concerns. She was having to stay with her daughter in a second floor flat which was impacting her disability. She also explained that she was a carer for her mother who lived nearby and that the police had told her not to enter the property for safety reasons. There is no evidence to suggest that the landlord responded to this complaint.
  12. The resident contacted the landlord on 3 November 2021 asking for an appointment with her housing officer. The landlord replied that it did not have specific housing officers but if further information were provided it could connect her to someone who could assist. The landlord advised that it would investigate the matter further.
  13. On 11 November 2021, the resident contacted the landlord stating she had called on 2 previous occasions and was still waiting for a call back as she “really needed help”. The landlord spoke to the resident on 21 November 2021, about returning to the property. She was advised by the landlord to return to the property and to call the police if the ex-partner refused access or to arrange for the police to return to the property with her. The landlord’s notes state that Citizen’s Advice (CA) and the North Surrey Domestic Abuse Service, had advised that they could not help the resident any further.
  14. On 3 December 2021, the landlord’s notes stated that the resident’s daughter called the landlord on behalf of her mother, due to the severity of the case. She advised that her mum had not been at the property since February 2020 due to domestic abuse, and that her ex-partner was refusing to move out or hand the property back to her. They had tried civil routes such as the police, CA, and the family court. The ex-partner had advised that he was applying for an amendment in the divorce settlement to have the property transferred into his name. The case was not going to court until March 2022. A call back was requested. An email response from the landlord was received on the same day, confirming that it had received all the relevant documents and that someone would be in contact to provide support and discuss the options available.
  15. The landlord spoke to the resident’s daughter later the same day and advised that it could not get involved with civil cases and it would need to be addressed in a civil court.
  16. The resident called the landlord on 6 December 2021, for advice on removing her partner from the property. She advised that as there had been no incidents in the last 8 weeks she was not able to take out an injunction. A call back from the landlord was requested. No evidence of a call back was provided.
  17. On 7 December 2021, the resident called the landlord and asked how she could access its domestic abuse policy, she also asked for the complaints email address. The landlord offered to assist but the resident said that she would write out the complaint herself.
  18. The resident emailed a complaint to the landlord on the same day. She advised that she was not being listened to or helped. She stated:
    1. She had to leave her property in February 2020 due to ongoing domestic abuse, which she had suffered for 29 years
    2. her ex-partner was still in the property, but she was the sole tenant
    3. she was told by the landlord to return to the property as she had legal rights and to take the police with her
    4. she spoke to the police and was advised that they would not get involved and the police did clarify this with the landlord
    5. a solicitor had written to her ex-partner asking him to leave but he had refused
    6. she had been liaising with the landlord since the beginning of the year and should have received specialist advice and support
    7. she wanted to return to the property as she was a sole tenant.
  19. On 16 December 2021, the resident sent another complaint to the landlord as she had not had a response to her previous 2 complaints. The email acknowledgement stated that it would be in contact within 3 days.
  20. The resident emailed the landlord on 21 December 2022, asking for an update regarding her complaint. The landlord advised her that she would get a call back. The resident advised that she was told this when she called on 3 December 2021 but had not heard anything.
  21. On 6 January 2022, the resident emailed the landlord asking for a response to her 2 complaints. She said that she felt that she was being ignored and that this was impacting on her mental health. The landlord’s internal emails on the same day confirm that the message was passed onto the “relevant” person who was dealing with the complaint.
  22. The landlord wrote back on the same day and advised that it had responded to her but via another team and was therefore unsure if the response had been forwarded to her. It advised that she had been spoken to several times by various people and stated that it could not do anything other than advise her to contact the police or the family court. She would need to apply to court to exclude her partner from the property as the landlord did not have the power to do this.
  23. On 7 January 2022, internal emails from the landlord show it requested contact with the resident to discuss her complaint. The notes state that the resident had been advised to contact the family courts for further assistance and to seek legal advice. It stated, “3 people had already spoken to her, all on separate occasions and that there was no complaint listed, but it would respond to her for a final time to reiterate what she had already been told”. There is no evidence of a call back in the documents provided.
  24. On 21 March 2022, the resident contacted the landlord and asked if it could represent her. She was advised that she would receive a call back.
  25. The resident called the landlord, on 24 March 2022, who informed her that it was unable to support anyone in relation to the case and that she had been told on several occasions that it needed to be addressed with the family law court.
  26. The landlord’s records show that on 31 March 2022, the resident called the landlord to restrict access to third parties speaking on her behalf. She stated that she was applying for an occupation order to get her property back and for her partner to move out as she was the sole tenant.
  27. On 11 August 2022, the resident emailed the landlord requesting a formal stage 1 response to her complaints. The landlord emailed the resident on the same day, advising that if the resident wanted to make a formal complaint to put this in writing to the complaints team and provided its email address. The resident responded stating that she had already raised 3 complaints on 16 August, 7 December, and 17 December 2021. The landlord apologised for the delay in receiving a response to her complaint and emailed the complaints team requesting contact.
  28. On 12 August 2022, the resident submitted a further complaint to the landlord by email. She reiterated the points that she had raised in her previous complaints. She also advised that having sought advice from the CA she had learnt that the landlord had a domestic abuse policy and that the lack of support had affected her mental health. The landlord responded on the same day stating that the complaint had been referred to a “more appropriate team” who dealt with sensitive matters. The resident was given the email address for the relevant team and advised that it would be in contact within a couple of days.
  29. On 24 August 2022, the resident contacted the landlord chasing a response to her complaint. The landlord sent an internal email chasing the relevant team for a response as the resident had emailed them 4 times previously asking it to reply. The resident sent a further email asking for the complaint to be escalated.
  30. On 26 August 2022, an internal email between 2 teams of the landlord stated that it was confused as it had responded to the resident as if the matter was a complaint, but there was no open complaint case. It said that it could log it and respond as a stage 1 complaint, but that it was not really meant to log ASB as a complaint as per its policy. As the case was “difficult” it agreed to do it and raised the complaint.
  31. A stage 1 response was issued on 26 August 2022. It stated:
    1. the landlord could not find any complaints recorded in the past 2 years
    2. the resident’s previous correspondence were raised as queries and not as complaints
    3. the landlord became aware that she had left the property when her ex-partner contacted them
    4. the resident wanted another property and was considering handing over her tenancy to her ex-partner
    5. the resident did not wish to engage with supporting agencies
    6. the resident contacted the landlord in November 2021, stating she wanted to return to the property
    7. it was unable to help as the resident did not contact the landlord at the time of leaving the property, and did not want any agency support
    8. it could not intervene in a relationship breakdown and the process was to go through the family court.
  32. A second stage 1 response with a different reference number was issued on 30 August 2022. The landlord apologised that the resident had the need to complain and made the following points:
    1. that it had found that the resident left her sole tenancy in February 2020
    2. she did advise the landlord that she was leaving and left her ex-partner and children in the property
    3. a fraud case was opened in February 2021, as there was no information on file indicating that she had left the property
    4. the resident considered handing over the tenancy to her ex-partner and was advised to seek legal advice before terminating her tenancy
    5. the resident did not want support from the Refuge or IDVA at that time
    6. the landlord advised the resident to seek independent legal advice
    7. the landlord did not have an opportunity to work with the resident as it was not advised at the time of her leaving the property
    8. it had no jurisdiction with regards to the family courts in a relationship breakdown.
  33. The resident emailed the landlord on 30 August 2022, requesting that her complaint be escalated. She advised that a lot of the report was untrue. She had spoken to a couple of people working for landlord in early 2020 and had reported the domestic mental and physical abuse. She had spoken to domestic abuse organisations and was still in contact with them and had medical proof of the domestic abuse. She advised that the report had failed to mention:
    1. that the landlord had repeatedly told her to return to the property despite knowing about the domestic abuse
    2. her physical disabilities and her poor mental health
  34. A stage 2 response was issued on 27 September 2022. The landlord:
    1. apologised for the delay in responding to the resident
    2. stated no complaints had been raised in the past 2 years
    3. stated that the resident called in December 2021, asking for the complaints team’s email address. Whilst the landlord offered to help, the resident said she wanted to write the complaint herself, but no complaint was received
    4. said if the resident had approached as a victim of domestic abuse the landlord would have supported her, referred the case to MARAC, and advised to obtain a non-molestation order
    5. said the tenancy stated that only a court could decide who was given the tenancy, unless it is assigned by the tenant
    6. the complaint was not upheld as the landlord complied with the tenancy agreement in the case of the tenancy dispute.
  35. On 6 October 2022, the resident emailed the landlord asking for an update on her email from 2 September 2022. She advised that she was unable to seek alternative accommodation as her name was still on the tenancy. She had not lived at the property for years, was homeless and had mental and physical health disabilities.
  36. On 21 October 2022, the resident contacted the Ombudsman as she was not satisfied that the landlord had followed its ASB policy. She also stated that she complained in August 2021, but did not receive a response until September 2022. The stage 1 and stage 2 responses were incorrect. The resident wanted an apology and somewhere suitable to live.
  37. The resident contacted this service again on 24 November 2022. She advised she had told the landlord in February 2020 that she was moving out of the property. She also asked that the landlord put the tenancy in her expartners name. The resident felt that if it had been actioned at the time then the problem the resident faced would have been avoided.
  38. On 25 November 2022, the property was transferred to the resident’s ex-partner by the family law court. The resident’s tenancy ended on 29 November 2022.
  39. On 22 June 2023, the landlord advised this service that the resident had no vulnerabilities recorded and advised that there were no ‘flags’ on its computer systems to show any physical or mental disability.
  40. This service spoke to the resident in July 2023. The resident confirmed that she had still not been able to secure alternative accommodation and was relying on friends and family. She was on the local authority’s housing register and although bidding, was not anywhere close to being offered a secure tenancy. The resident felt that this was unfair as she had been a sole tenant of an assured tenancy for 30 years. She was still suffering with her mental and physical disabilities and continued to be harassed and intimidated by her ex-partner.

Assessment and findings

  1. It is not disputed that the resident left the property in February 2020 due to domestic abuse. The resident has advised that she made the landlord aware of this in early 2020. No evidence has been seen by this service to support this. The landlord’s records confirm that on 22 February 2021, it was made aware that the resident had left the property in February 2020 due to domestic abuse.
  2. It is the Ombudsman’s role to assess the appropriateness and adequacy of the landlord’s actions in responding to reports of domestic abuse and the fairness and reasonableness of its response to the formal complaint. This does not include establishing whether a party is responsible for domestic abuse; our investigation is limited to the consideration of the actions of the landlord in the context of its relevant policies/procedures as well as what was fair in all the circumstances of the case. The Ombudsman cannot tell the landlord to take action against a perpetrator of domestic abuse.

The landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of domestic abuse.

  1. The resident has advised that she reported domestic abuse to her landlord in early 2020. The landlord should have created a record of these calls and dealt with this in line with its domestic abuse and ASB policy and procedures.
  2. Evidence has been provided that the landlord was made aware of the domestic abuse towards the resident in February 2021. At this time, the landlord should have spoken to the resident in detail to establish the facts of the alleged abuse and completed a risk assessment in line with its ASB policy. There was no evidence provided to confirm it did this.
  3. Contrary to the landlord’s domestic abuse policy it failed to act on the report of domestic abuse or acknowledge it within 1 working day. This was not appropriate. Had the landlord investigated the allegations at that time, it would have been able to assess the risks involved and offered appropriate advice and support to the resident. The failure to do so led to frustration and distress to the resident who was homeless. The timeline shows the landlord’s failures caused her additional inconvenience.
  4. The landlord also failed to comply with the timeframes within its ASB policy. It did not contact the resident until the following month, which was 16 working days after the report of domestic abuse. This was not appropriate as it would have left the resident distressed, and unsure of what to do, and what support and advice would be provided.
  5. Following its conversation with the resident on 17 March 2021, the landlord closed the case. This was not appropriate and goes against its domestic abuse policy. There is no evidence to show that the landlord discussed this with the resident nor has this service seen evidence of a closure letter. As far as the records show, the resident was left to believe that her case was ‘on hold’ and that the landlord would still be assisting her.
  6. On 16 August 2021, the resident also made the landlord aware that she felt that she had received insufficient help with regards to her domestic abuse. She said that the only advice that she had been given was that the issue was a court matter. However, the landlord’s notes suggest it offered referrals to the Refuge and IDVA on 17 March 2021, but this was declined by the resident.  The landlord’s actions were appropriate and in compliance with its policies.
  7. However, the signposting to support agencies occurred 17 working days after the reports of domestic abuse. This was not appropriate. The resident would have benefited from signposting to relevant agencies in an earlier timeframe and would have received specialist advice and support sooner had she accepted the referrals.
  8. On 11 November 2021, the resident told the landlord “She really needed help”. It called back on 21 November 2021 which was 12 working days later. This was not appropriate. The resident’s request for help was not responded to in a timely and safe manner. Having known the case history, the landlord should have been extra sensitive to requests for help if it was to have the best interest of the resident in mind. The landlord failed to adopt a robust approach towards managing domestic abuse or act upon her reports of domestic abuse consistently in line with its service standards.
  9. The landlord failed to adhere to its ASB policy as it provided no evidence that the resident was offered an “in person” appointment as she requested. This was not appropriate, as face to face meetings can assure residents of the sincerity of the landlord and failing to do so would have caused the resident further distress and frustration.
  10. On 21 November 2021, the landlord advised the resident to return to the property and said that if her ex-partner would not allow access, she should call the police. Whilst it is recognised that the resident has sole rights to the property, it was not appropriate for the landlord to advise her to return to the property without a full risk assessment being completed or full awareness of the current situation with regards to the domestic abuse. There is no evidence to suggest that the landlord interviewed either party in line with its ASB policy to establish the facts or contacted the police for their views or update on the situation. According to the resident she was still being intimidated by her ex partner even after being away from the property for a substantial amount of time.
  11. Had the landlord recognised the domestic abuse when the resident first reported the issue, it could have supported the resident with applying for a DIY injunction in line with its policy.
  12. Due to the lack of early intervention and communication with the resident to establish the current situation, the issue was not referred to MARAC. This meeting would have escalated the issue to the police, local authority and domestic abuse support workers at an earlier point and ensured that the resident received the necessary support. It would have also allowed for information sharing earlier in the process. This in turn affected the resident’s ability to receive a management transfer in line with its ASB and domestic abuse policies. If deemed appropriate, approval for a move is provided by the MARAC panel. The landlord’s management of the situation was not appropriate and was detrimental to the resident.
  13. Following the request from the resident on 15 March 2021, there was no evidence to suggest that the landlord referred her to the local authority for assistance with housing. The local authority may have provided emergency accommodation for the resident and could have potentially taken an application of homelessness under the Housing Act 2004, due to the domestic abuse. This would have been in line with its own policies. This was not appropriate. If the resident had been accepted as homeless, her ‘time in waiting’ on the housing register would have started from the date of approach, ensuring an earlier success at bidding for alternative accommodation on the local housing register.
  14. The landlord failed to comply with its own policies and procedures about contacting the resident within 1 day of reporting domestic abuse, completing a risk assessment, or arrange an appointment to see the resident. It did not support her to continue to live in her home or complete a referral to MARAC or other supporting agencies. It did not assist in applying for an injunction at the time of approach nor did it consider a management transfer. It did not refer her to the local authority for housing advice. This left the resident distressed, and uncertain for her future. This amounts to severe maladministration.


Complaint handling

  1. The resident raised 3 complaints in 2021. She did not receive a stage 1 response to any of these complaints until a further complaint was raised on 12 August 2022. The landlord’s failure to respond to any of her complaints in a timely manner was not appropriate. It was also contrary to the Ombudsman’s complaint handling code (CHC) and its own complaints policy, which state that stage 1 response should be provided within 10 working days. This evidently added to the residents frustration with the landlord as she felt that she was being ignored, creating a loss of confidence in its service.
  2. Following her initial complaint on 16 August 2021, the resident contacted the landlord at least 7 times about her complaint, prior to making a further complaint on 7 December 2021. This was inappropriate and should have prompted the landlord to investigate what had occurred to the original complaint. This shows poor complaint handling, and a lack of customer focus. This caused frustration to the resident as she had to take the time to chase her complaint and raise a new one with the landlord. The resident stated that this also impacted her mental health.
  3. The timeline shows that it took 4 formal complaints and 264 days from receipt of the first complaint before the landlord responded to the resident’s concerns about its handling of her domestic abuse reports. This was not appropriate. This caused the resident frustration and distress, as she felt she was not being heard by the landlord and that she was being ignored.
  4. Prior to sending out the stage 1 response, the landlord admitted that it “was confused” as it had written the stage 1 response despite not having a complaint recorded. This led to a different team raising the reports of domestic abuse as a complaint. This was not appropriate. It suggests a fractured internal infrastructure, where the staff were not sufficiently trained to identify concerns so that it was allocated to the correct team to respond accordingly at first approach.
  5. The landlord’s teams were not working in a coherent and cohesive way to maximise the benefit of having specialist teams, who are then deemed to be ‘experts.’ This was not appropriate and led to the resident’s reports of domestic abuse being lost ‘in the system.’ Support and correct advice from the landlord were delayed, which the resident said had a detrimental impact on her health and wellbeing and housing options.
  6. The landlord also sent out 2 stage 1 responses dated 26 August 2022 and 30 August 2022. Both had different reference numbers, but these did not correlate with the complaint reference numbers held by this service. We were unable to establish if this were separate responses to 1 of the 4 complaints raised and would have left the resident very confused. However, what is clear is that the responses were late as detailed in paragraph 66. This was not appropriate. It is evident that the landlord does not have appropriate systems or procedures in place to record and track complaints and this caused additional delays, distress and inconvenience to the resident.
  7. In both the stage 1 and stage 2 responses, the landlord did not acknowledge its failures in how the complaints were dealt with, nor does it suggest that it carried out a full and fair investigation of the issues raised. This was not appropriate. It failed to complete a full investigation or gather appropriate evidence. Nor did it comply with Ombudsman’s ‘dispute resolution principles’ in relation to being fair, putting things right and learning from its outcomes.
  8. The landlord was not able to locate any of the 3 complaints raised by the resident in 2021 and denied receiving them despite providing them as evidence to this service. It took a year and 4 complaints being raised prior to the landlord taking action. It sent 2 stage 1 complaints within 4 days of each other in August 2022, and was 253 days late in issuing the stage 1 decision. This left the resident not knowing if the landlord was willing to assist her and gave her no option but to continuously chase the landlord for a decision. This caused distress and inconvenience to the resident. The resident said this affected her mental and physical disabilities This amounts to severe maladministration.

The landlord’s record keeping.

  1. The resident contacted the landlord on 22 February 2021, confirming that she had left the property due to domestic abuse. The resident’s ex-partner contacted the landlord the next day asking if the tenancy could be transferred to his name as the resident had not been living there. The landlord was not able to establish that the resident had called it first. Because of this, a fraud case was raised as it was believed that the resident had abandoned the property without updating the landlord. This was not appropriate as it created additional distress and inconvenience to the resident.
  2. The landlord informed this service that the resident had no vulnerabilities recorded. It advised that when the paperwork was completed upon moving into the property no physical or mental health was disclosed. This was not an appropriate response. In correspondence since 2021, the resident had been advising the landlord of her mental and physical disabilities and this should have been recorded accordingly.
  3. The Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on knowledge information management (KIM) found that residents’ vulnerabilities are often not appropriately recorded, even when landlords have been advised multiple times and their procedures explicitly state that vulnerabilities will form part of the decision making process. It also found that in the absence of that information, wrong decisions were made, those most in need were not prioritised and residents were treated insensitively.
  4. The landlord was unable to locate the resident’s initial 3 complaints in its records, even though they had all been reported on its complaints system or via email direct to the landlord. Evidence seen by this service shows they were submitted. This was not appropriate. It is unclear if this was a recording issue, or a training issue, as the complaints were given to the incorrect team in the first instance. However, all staff should be able to easily access the information it requires. This is essential for evidence-based action and informed decision-making.
  5. On 15 June 2023, the landlord confirmed and evidenced that the resident’s daughter had emailed on 22 February 2021, with information about the domestic abuse and physical and mental health, endured by her mother. This information was not forwarded to the relevant team. The landlord stated, “the email only came to light when running a full CRM report.” This was not appropriate. This information should have been easy to retrieve by any of the landlord’s staff members and should have been ’flagged’ in its records.
  6. The Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on Knowledge information management (KIM), established that multiple failings to create and record information accurately, results in landlords not taking appropriate and timely action, missing opportunities to identify that actions were wrong or inadequate, and contributing to inadequate communication and redress. All components of any system used should be able to provide a link or identify where additional information is held. Given appropriate training, staff should be able to identify this.
  7. The landlord failed to record that the resident was vulnerable. It was unable to identify from its records that the resident had previously spoken to the landlord and confirmed that she had moved out of the property. It failed to log the resident’s first 3 complaints. It passed 1 of the complaints to the incorrect team, so that responses were lost or not provided. If failed to recognise that a third party had also reported the domestic abuse. The landlord’s record keeping amounts to severe maladministration.


Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was severe maladministration in accordance with:
    1. the landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of domestic abuse and the advice provided in response.
    2. the landlord’s complaint handling.
    3. the landlord’s record keeping.

Reasons

  1. The landlord failed to comply with its own policies and procedures around domestic abuse or ASB. It did not contact the resident within 1 day of the report of domestic abuse. It failed to interview her to establish the risk, complete a risk assessment or propose support and plan the necessary action to be taken at the time of approach. It took 17 working days to offer signposting to support agencies. This left the resident, distressed, and uncertain for her future.
  2. The landlord failed to respond to the 3 complaints made in 2021. The complaint in August 2022 was not sent to the correct team. It sent 2 stage 1 complaints within 4 days of each other in August 2022. This was not compliant with its complaints policy. It did not recognise its failures in either of the responses, nor put things right in line with the dispute resolution principles. This caused distress and inconvenience to the resident.
  3. The landlord was unable to locate any of the complaints reported by the resident, as they had been given to the incorrect team and could not be identified by all personnel. This led to 4 complaints being raised over a year period with no action being taken. There was no record of the resident’s vulnerabilities stored on the landlord’s systems.

Orders

  1. The landlord’s chief executive to issue the resident with a written apology within 4 weeks. It should recognise the landlord’s failures with regards to its poor handling of the domestic abuse issues, inappropriate delays, and the poor complaint handling. The landlord should provide the Ombudsman a copy of the letter.
  2. The landlord to pay the resident a total of £1500 in compensation within 4 weeks. Compensation should be paid directly to the resident and not offset against any arrears if accrued. The compensation comprises:
    1. £900 for any distress and inconvenience the resident was caused by the landlord’s handling of the domestic abuse reports.
    2. £600 for any distress and inconvenience the resident was caused due to the landlord’s poor complaint handling.
  3. The landlord’s executive team should conduct a review of this case, giving consideration to reviewing its complaints and ASB policy and associated staff guidance to demonstrate learning from the outcome of this complaint. The review should be completed with reference to the Code and must:
    1. ensure the complaints are escalated and dealt with in accordance with its policy and the Code.
    2. demonstrate how it will promote and retrain staff on its ASB and Domestic Abuse policy to ensure joint working within internal and external teams
    3. review internal guidance around recoding vulnerabilities, and how this information is managed and updated
    4. provide refresher training for staff managing domestic abuse cases and the legalities around tenancies
    5. examine the processes and procedures it has in place for record keeping
    6. provide appropriate staff training with regards to the Ombudsman’s Spotlight report on KIM
    7. meet key data recording standard requirements that will ensure good records that support the business and demonstrate compliance with the Chartered Institute of Housing’s professional standards as recommended by the KIM spotlight report.
    8. give consideration to identifying its failures and how it could have been prevented if the current procedures had been followed. If any gaps in the current policy and procedures are found, then to update them within 2 months to incorporate the learning.
  4. The landlord to contact the local authority to ensure that it has all the relevant information with regards to the resident’s reason for homelessness, incorporating its own errors in dealing with the matter in the first instance. It should work with the local authority to support the resident in looking for suitable alternate accommodation and complete referrals to external agencies if required and agreed with by the resident.
  5. The landlord to provide evidence of compliance and confirm its intentions with regards to the orders within 4 weeks