Slough Borough Council
10 June 2022
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 is about the landlord’s handling of
- Reports of damage, noise and repairs following the neighbour’s loft extension work.
- Allegations of anti-social behaviour (ASB) made about the resident.
- Staff related complaints including an incident when the resident was asked to remove her T-shirt in a public reception.
- What we can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Housing Ombudsman Scheme. When a complaint is brought to the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the complaint as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
- After carefully considering all the evidence, in accordance with paragraph 39(o) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the following aspect of the complaint is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction:
The landlords handling of damage, noise and repairs following the neighbours loft extension work
- Paragraph 39(o) says that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion seek to raise matters which the Housing Ombudsman, or any other Ombudsman has already decided upon.
- The resident has approached this service previously regarding reports of damage, noise and disrepair from a neighbour’s loft extension work. Our reference for the previous complaint is 201906260 and it was determined on 7 August 2020.
- The previous investigation found that there had been no maladministration by the landlord in respect of the handling of reports of debris, conduct of staff, or referral to third parties by the landlord but there had been service failure in complaints handling and the landlord’s overall response to the damage caused by the neighbours works.
- After carefully considering all the evidence, in accordance with paragraph 39(d) of the Housing Ombudsman scheme, the following aspect of the complaint is also outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction:
The landlords handling of allegations of ASB made about the resident
- Paragraph 39(d) says that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints, which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion were brought to the attention of the Ombudsman normally more than 12 months after they exhausted the member’s complaints procedure.
- In 2019, the relationship between the resident and her neighbour deteriorated and led to allegations of anti-social behaviour (ASB) being made by both sides.
- The resident contacted the landlord by email and made a complaint about the way the landlord had investigated ASB allegations made about her by her neighbour. The resident said that the allegations were false and that the landlord had not followed its procedures correctly. The resident said that there were ‘no witnesses, photos or evidence’ and that the landlord did not have the right to threaten her with eviction.
- The landlord recommended mediation but it was not something the resident wished to take up. A meeting took place on 24 July 2019 where a full discussion of the ASB issues took place and it was agreed that no further enforcement action would be taken by the landlord subject to the removal of posts on social media. The landlord emailed the resident on 13 August 2019 to verify this outcome, and this constituted its final response to the complaint.
- The resident contacted this service by phone on 11 October 2021 to first raise the ASB issues and request they were added to her complaint. This was more than 12 months since the landlord sent its final response.
Background and summary of events
- The resident holds a secure tenancy with the landlord and has lived there for over 15 years. The neighbouring property is privately owned.
- On 20 March 2020 landlord responded regarding complaints made about two different members of staff. The resident had said that her communication with them had been a ‘verbal tug of war’ and that the members of staff had been rude and unhelpful. The landlord said they were formally interviewed but said it was satisfied that their actions were not directed against the resident. The landlord said that it did not disclose actions taken as a result of staff related complaints.
- A landlord guidance note for investigating staff complaints says that “Although staff related complaints are exempt from the 3 stage corporate complaints procedure they are always taken seriously and are always fully investigated. You will receive a response to your complaint but we will be unable to tell you what specific action has been taken against an individual.”
- In June 2020, an incident occurred in a public reception where the resident said she was told to remove her Shelter T-shirt by a member of staff. The resident made a complaint about this incident which she described as embarrassing and humiliating. The resident said she was not wearing anything under her T-shirt and the incident was an example of bullying by the landlord. The resident has advised she did voluntary work for Shelter and has done voluntary work since she was a teenager.
- The staff member sent an apology to the resident but the issue was escalated to the second stage of the landlords complaints procedure by the resident.
- On 28 August 2020, the landlord responded to the resident at stage two regarding the complaint she had made about the member of staff asking her to remove her Shelter T-shirt. The landlord apologised and said that the member of staff had been interviewed about the incident. The landlord acknowledged that the staff member had misjudged the situation and he regretted his remarks which had been ‘intended in a jovial manner’. The landlord said that it took staff complaints seriously but would not disclose the actions taken as a result of the complaint investigations to complainants as a matter of procedure.
- On 9 December 2020, the resident made a complaint about a member of staff entering her property with a knife and said that the visit was ‘unannounced and uninvited’. The member of staff was a technical inspector with some hearing difficulties and was accompanied by another staff member. The resident described the presence of the operative’s knife as ‘illegal and shocking’.
- The landlord’s initial response to this complaint has not been seen by this service but the landlord responded on 1 April 2021 at stage two and said that “as a technical inspector, (the officer) will be required to carry out intrusive inspections and as such he maintains a small number of tools including a Stanley knife.” This was disputed by the resident who said it was not a Stanley knife from a toolbox. The landlord said in conclusion that the two members of staff had been ‘interviewed extensively’ and that there had never been any previous complaints regarding the conduct of either of the officers. The landlord considered the matter closed and did not escalate the complaint to the third stage.
- On 16 April 2021, the resident emailed the landlord and said this was the second time she had not been allowed to access stage 3 of the landlord’s complaints process. This was because the landlord had previously failed to invite to her to a meeting of the residents panel in 2019.
- The resident contacted this service on 22 April 2021 saying she had ‘reached a brick wall’ and wanted her landlord held to account. The resident said she has been ‘ignored, abused, accused and labelled’ by the landlord and she wanted to clear her name.
Assessment and findings
Incidents with Staff
- The landlord has investigated several complaints made about members of its staff. These have all been handled in the same way following the landlord’s procedure. Staff were interviewed and the landlord made attempts to verify what had happened.
- No evidence has been seen to suggest that the landlord failed to follow a suitable process for investigating these complaints or the complaints made previously about other officers in March 2020.
- In the case of the complaint made in December 2020 about the operative entering her home with a knife, the landlord found that the member of staff had not breached any code of conduct but acknowledged that due to the staff members hearing difficulties, communication was more difficult.
- In the case of the complaint made following the T-shirt incident in June 2020, the landlord interviewed the staff member and offered an apology for what had happened explaining that the staff member had misjudged the situation.
- While the incident in itself was clearly distressing for the resident, there is no indication that the landlord failed to follow the guidance outlined above in regard to complaints about staff. It was therefore reasonable for the landlord to follow its procedures not to take the complaint to the final stage of its complaints process.
- However, there has been service failure in providing suitable redress for the T-shirt incident where the landlord has acknowledged that the behaviour was misjudged. An order has therefore been made for the landlord to pay compensation of £100 to the resident.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman scheme, there was service failure in the landlord’s handling of staff related complaints including an incident when the resident was asked to remove her T-shirt in a public reception.
- The landlord apologised but did not provide further redress to the resident for the T-shirt incident.
- It is ordered that the landlord pay the resident compensation of £100 for the T-shirt incident and confirm it has done so to this service within 4 weeks.