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Places for People Homes Limited (201906836)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 201906836

Places for People Homes Limited

2 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. This complaint is about the landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of damage caused to his property during heating works.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident is an assured tenant and the landlord has described the property as a fifth-floor studio apartment.
  2. The landlord has not been able to locate a copy of the resident’s tenancy agreement so has provided a standard template.
  3. The tenancy agreement requires the landlord to ‘keep in repair the exterior and structure of the premises, including… internal walls, floors… and plasterwork’. It is also obliged to ‘keep in repair and proper working order any installations provided by the landlord for space heating, water heating and sanitation’.
  4. The landlord has a responsive repairs policy that shows it will categorise repairs reported to it as either ‘emergency’ or ‘other’. For the ‘other’ category, it is required to complete repairs within 28 calendar days. It sets out that pre-inspections will be needed in cases with complex repairs or where a full diagnosis cannot be made through discussion with the resident. It adds that decorations are the responsibility of the resident but that it will either address the necessary works or issue a decoration voucher if the property condition needs to be reinstated after a repair.
  5. The landlord has a two-stage complaints policy with responses required within 10 working days of the stage one complaint and within 20 working days of the stage two complaint escalation.
  6. The landlord has a compensation policy that allows for payments to be made to residents for service failure such as unnecessary delay or damage caused to a resident’s property.

Summary of Events

  1. The resident and the landlord’s contractor exchanged text messages from 18 April 2019. These demonstrate that:
    1. the resident reported various damages to decorations on 18 April 2019
    2. the contractor replied on 23 April 2019 and asked to arrange an inspection
    3. the resident advised on 23 April 2019 that he had cleared up the mess but he wanted the contractor to remedy the damage caused and arrangements were made for the contractor to inspect on 24 April 2019.
  2. In the meantime, the resident wrote to the landlord on 20 April 2019. He raised concern that damage had been caused by a heating installation two days earlier and that he may incur a charge due to the landlord’s intention to undertake a property inspection following a tenancy end notification he had submitted. He listed damage that he said had been caused by the heating contractor, said he should not be held responsible for these and provided supporting photographs. The damage was to wall plaster, the bathroom ceiling, wallpaper, a toilet seat and bathroom vinyl flooring.
  3. The landlord replied to the resident on 23 April 2019. It advised that some of the items were minor decorative damage or due to the new radiator being smaller than the previous one. It apologised, said lessons would be learned and proposed to undertake the property handover inspection after the contractor had attended to rectify any identified works.
  4. The landlord wrote to the resident on 3 May 2019 following a discussion and apparent agreement that day that an ‘expression of dissatisfaction’ would be closed. It noted that there had been agreement that it would:
    1. provide a decoration voucher to the resident
    2. replace the new radiator with a larger version
    3. repair (or replace if repair was not possible) bathroom vinyl
    4. create a new access panel in the bathroom for the heating controls.

It said the resident had agreed to contact it the following week to arrange an inspection so that next steps could be confirmed. It added that difficulties had been caused by the internal layout of the flat and positioning of the heating meter and controls.

  1. The resident wrote to the landlord on 21 May 2019 and 15 June 2019 – he apologised that he had been busy so had not been able to contact the landlord as planned. A property inspection was subsequently agreed for 4 July 2019.
  2. The resident chased the landlord on 30 July 2019 and 7 August 2019 for the agreed decoration voucher and confirmation of next steps in writing.
  3. The landlord copied the resident into an email of 12 August 2019 that said the delay with the decoration voucher was due to a member of staff leaving and indicated that the landlord was intending to renew the bathroom ‘due to the panelling surrounding the HIU unit and subsequent access to the metering equipment’.
  4. The resident approached this Service in late August 2019 which led to a request made on 17 September 2019 for the landlord to consider the resident’s complaint.
  5. The landlord’s internal records show that it attempted to speak to the resident on 24 and 26 September 2019 but was unsuccessful in arranging a visit that it determined was needed to be able to respond to the complaint.
  6. The landlord issued a stage one complaint response to the resident on 11 October 2019. It said that this was in response to contact via this Service and apologised for poor contractor communication, failed appointments and damage caused to decorations, the bath panel and flooring. It concluded that:
    1. it had already agreed for a £100 decoration voucher to be awarded
    2. the bath panel would be replaced that day and the flooring would be assessed for either repair or renewal.
  7. The resident wrote to the landlord on 16 October 2019. He noted that another inspection had occurred when he said he was told that further compensation was warranted. He mentioned further plaster had fallen away from the bedroom wall, he had not been sent the £100 decoration voucher and no mention had been made of the replacement of his toilet seat and a larger radiator. He added that his bath panel was the only item that had been repaired but this had led to further damage.
  8. The landlord wrote to the resident on 22 October 2019. It advised that:
    1. the resident would be able to collect a £140 decoration voucher from a decoration company – this was made up of £100 because of the smaller size radiator and £40 due to the damage to the bathroom wall
    2. it would be able to fill any holes in the bathroom wall caused during the bath panel repair
    3. it understood that the resident would be obtaining a quote for the bathroom flooring
    4. it was happy to replace the toilet seat.
  9. The resident wrote to the landlord on 29 October 2019. He highlighted what the landlord had agreed on 3 May 2019 and said there was a discrepancy as to what the decoration voucher was designed to cover given he had previously been told a larger radiator would be installed in place of the smaller radiator and that the voucher was to be awarded in addition. He confirmed that the bathroom wall had been damaged during the replacement of the bath panel.
  10. The landlord advised the resident on 30 October 2019 that it would look into replacing the radiator with a larger version. It made offers on 3 November 2019 and 11 November 2019 to visit the resident to assess each outstanding repairs item.
  11. The resident wrote to the landlord on 22 December 2019. He confirmed he had been unable to accept the landlord’s calls as he had been unwell although he was unsure why another inspection was necessary. He added that he had still not received a decoration voucher.
  12. The resident chased a resolution on 20 January 2020 and sent a text message to a member of the landlord’s staff offering for them to inspect on 31 January 2020.
  13. The resident wrote to the landlord on 7 February 2020 and advised that he would now withhold rent payment as he had heard nothing since its inspection on 31 January 2020.
  14. The landlord issued a final complaint response to the resident on 20 February 2020 – it said this was in response to his correspondence of 20 January 2020. It upheld the complaint and concluded that:
    1. the stage one complaint response had not assessed any distress and inconvenience caused to the resident and some repairs issues remained outstanding
    2. a visit on 31 January 2020 had been undertaken and it was agreed that the landlord would replace bathroom flooring, fill holes and re-decorate walls in the bathroom and living room and wallpaper the hallway (so a decoration voucher was no longer needed)
    3. works were expected to commence during the week of 2 March 2020
    4. kitchen and bathroom upgrades were scheduled for the next year
    5. compensation of £200 would be awarded for a combination of communication failures and distress and inconvenience caused to the resident.
  15. The landlord wrote to the resident on 26 February 2020 – it offered some flooring and wallpaper choices. The resident replied on 27 February 2020 – he advised the wallpaper was acceptable but requested an alternative for the flooring as it did not match his current flooring. It was agreed later that day that the resident would prefer a like for like replacement for the flooring.
  16. The landlord and resident exchanged emails between 10-16 March 2020 where it was noted that there had been a telephone conversation on 6 March 2020 and they had agreed that the kitchen and bathroom replacements would be conducted during the 2020/21 year.
  17. The resident wrote to the landlord in late March 2020 – he queried when works would be completed and confirmed receipt of the £200 compensation. He denied that he had asked for works to be suspended and said that he had advised of his shifts and availability but not heard back from the contractor.
  18. The landlord wrote to the resident on 30 March 2020. It advised that non-emergency works would not be completed until the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and that these would be done as a priority given they should have been completed before the lockdown.
  19. The landlord’s internal records show that it made a note on 1 May 2020 that the resident was self-isolating due to medical vulnerability issues.
  20. The landlord’s internal records show that it reviewed the case on 20 July 2020 due to the resident’s continued approach to refuse rent payment. It noted that an appointment had been cancelled by the resident prior to the Covid-19 lockdown and that it would ask its contractors to proceed. It provided an update to the resident that day which told him to expect contact from its contractors and that there would be arrangements made to ensure compliance with current government guidelines.
  21. The landlord wrote to the resident on 5 August 2020 and advised that it had appointed a contractor to complete the wall plaster repairs and decorations as well as the bathroom flooring replacement.
  22. The resident replied to the landlord on 11 August 2020. He told the landlord that he was terminating his tenancy at the end of August due to the repair problems, rent demands and difficulties he had experienced with members of staff.
  23. The resident approached this Service in December 2020 and advised that the promised repairs had not been completed and he had felt compelled to vacate the property as it was in an uninhabitable state.

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.
  2. The Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Principles are:
  • Be fair
  • Put things right
  • Learn from outcomes

This Service will apply these principles when considering whether any redress is appropriate and proportionate for any maladministration or service failure identified.

  1. It is not disputed that the landlord needed to carry out works to the resident’s heating system. The landlord has not provided evidence of how it established that these works were required but the resident has not disputed that they were necessary.
  2. The landlord’s contractor undertook works to the property on 18 April 2019 and the resident provided the contractor and the landlord with a list of damaged items within two days. The resident evidenced this damage with photographs and the landlord and its contractors have not disputed that these were a result of the heating installation works. It advised the resident in May 2019 that this damage was partly caused by the layout of the flat but this Service has not seen evidence to this effect and there is no record of any steps taken by the contractor to mitigate the likelihood of damage – this represented service failure on the part of the landlord.
  3. The landlord initially advised the resident that it would allow its contractors to attend to rectify any identified works but within two weeks of the report, it proposed to award a decoration voucher to the resident to put right some of the damage and to repair or replace bathroom vinyl flooring. As part of this proposal, it advised it would need to inspect the resident’s property. The initial response by the landlord was therefore appropriate – it considered a financial remedy in line with its repairs policy to issue decoration vouchers (where reinstatement of property condition is required following a repair) and it advised that it needed to inspect the property damage in line with its repairs policy to pre-inspect where a diagnosis cannot be made over the telephone.
  4. Although the landlord said it would award a decoration voucher in May 2019, it did not make it clear how the resident would receive this. There was still confusion in October 2019 when the landlord advised the resident that he would need to collect the voucher from a decoration company and the resident queried the voucher amount as the amount (and what it was designed to put right) seemed to have changed between May 2019 and October 2019. This delay and lack of clarity was unreasonable and meant that the resident had to chase the payment on several occasions.
  5. It is not disputed that the proposed property inspection occurred in early July 2019 but this Service has not seen any evidence that an outcome to this inspection was retained or provided to the resident. It failed to carry out any remedial works to the property until October 2019 and even then it only attended to the bath panel. Although the resident was unavailable for the pre-inspection during part of May-June 2019, the landlord delayed unreasonably in carrying out works after it inspected the property damage in July 2019 and it is of concern that it did not retain a copy of its inspection findings.
  6. When the landlord initially considered the resident’s complaint in October 2019, it became apparent that some of the damage reported by the resident in April 2019 had not been included in its assessment. For instance, it failed to address the damage to the resident’s toilet seat and seemed to have decided not to install a large radiator (as it said it would in May 2019). This was unreasonable and meant that the landlord said that it would need to inspect the property again.
  7. It is not disputed that the landlord’s further inspection occurred in late January 2020. This additional delay was partly caused by the resident being unavailable during much of November-December 2019 although the landlord would not have needed to carry out this visit if it had assessed each of the resident’s reported damaged items in July 2019 and retained a record of its findings.
  8. As a result of this further inspection, the landlord decided to replace the resident’s bathroom flooring and conduct decoration works rather than award a voucher. These decisions were reasonable and demonstrated that the landlord was resolution-focused albeit it should already have provided the resident with the decoration voucher by this point.
  9. The landlord planned to conduct the remedial works in March 2020. The landlord and resident were in contact during February-March 2020 but, based on evidence seen by this Service, no appointment had been made by the time that the government introduced Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. The guidance published on 28 March 2020 said that landlords should not access properties unless for serious or urgent issues. It was not until June 2020 that new guidance was published that allowed for routine repairs to re-commence. The delay from March-June 2020 was therefore not due to service failure on the part of the landlord.
  10. The landlord reviewed the case in July 2020 and told the resident at the beginning of August 2020 that it was now able to conduct works. However, the resident informed the landlord that he had given notice to finish his tenancy by the end of that month. The failure to complete repairs during July-August 2020 was also therefore not due to any service failure on the part of the landlord.
  11. Overall, there was a delay between April 2019 and August 2020 in the landlord rectifying damage that was caused to the resident’s property by heating system improvements. It had an opportunity to implement a remedy once it inspected the resident’s property in July 2019 but the repairs were incomplete by the time the resident vacated the property in August 2020 – this was inappropriate as it was well outside the 28-day timescale its repairs policy sets out for non-emergency repairs.
  12. In mitigation, there were short periods when the resident was unavailable (21 May-15 June 2019 and 3 November-22 December 2019) and Covid-19 lockdown restrictions caused delay from March 2020. However, the landlord contributed to delays from July 2019 and by the time it revisited the matter, it decided it would need to re-inspect the resident’s property. It said that this was due to staff turnover but it is of concern that the landlord’s record-keeping was such that it did not hold information of what works it had already determined to be necessary.
  13. The resident advised this Service in December 2020 that he had vacated the property due to the landlord’s failure to carry out repairs. However, no evidence has been seen by this Service to demonstrate that the property was uninhabitable due to the outstanding repairs and the resident mentioned an intention to end his tenancy when he initially reported damage to his property in April 2019.
  14. Nevertheless, there was a lengthy period when there was lifted vinyl flooring in the bathroom, damaged wall decorations in various rooms and other faulty items such as a bath panel and toilet seat. These were evidently a source of frustration and inconvenience to the resident.
  15. The landlord apologised for its service failures and awarded £200 compensation. This is within the range of compensation that the Ombudsman recommends for a service failure that was of short duration. The Ombudsman’s Remedies Guidance recommends an award of between £250-£700 for ‘failure over a considerable period of time to act in accordance with policy’. Given the length of time involved in this case, a compensation award within this range would have been appropriate.
  16. Although the landlord has advised the resident on a couple of occasions that it would learn lessons from the service failure, it offered no detail on this. It initially told the resident in April 2019 that it would work with its contractor to avoid similar issues in future. However, damage was again caused to the resident’s property by the contractor in October 2019. The landlord has not demonstrated any specific actions taken to improve the workmanship of its contractors or that it learned lessons from its own failures to retain inspection findings and progress repairs after inspections. This meant that the landlord failed to act in accordance with the Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution principle to ‘learn from outcomes’.
  17. In summary, the landlord contributed to delays between April 2019 and March 2020 in remedying damage that its contractor caused to the resident’s property. It failed to follow up on an initial inspection in July 2019, delayed in progressing the required repairs during July-October 2019 and had to re-inspect the property in October 2019 and January 2020. Its compensation award of £200 and general comments about lessons learned did not offer sufficient redress for these service failures.

Determination

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord in its handling of the resident’s reports of damage caused to his property during heating works.

Reasons

  1. The landlord delayed unreasonably in putting right damage to the resident’s property that its contractors caused during heating works. Its compensation award was not sufficient given the circumstances of the case.

Orders

  1. The landlord to pay the resident additional compensation of £100 in recognition of the distress and inconvenience caused to him by the service failures identified in this report.
  2. The landlord to review its handling of this case and identify specific learning points it can implement to improve contactor performance and put things right promptly if damage is caused to a resident’s property in future.

The landlord should confirm compliance with these orders to this Service within four weeks of the date of this report.