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South Tyneside Council (202119436)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202119436

South Tyneside Council

7 November 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. This complaint is about:
    1. The landlord’s management of repairs within the property including cancelled repair requests, damp remedial works, and a replacement kitchen.
    2. The landlord’s handling of reports of staff misconduct.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident lives in a 3-bedroom house. The secure tenancy started in February 1996. The landlord is a local authority.

Scope of investigation

  1. What the Ombudsman can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (“the Scheme”). When a complaint is brought to this Service, the Ombudsman must consider all the circumstances of the case, as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
  2. It is recognised that the resident has made multiple complaints to the landlord. This investigation is limited to the complaint made in September 2022. For ease of reference, the landlord’s reference for this specific complaint is 387641. This report focuses on the action taken by the landlord to investigate the resident’s concerns, identify any unreasonable delays, and to put things right for the resident. Reference to historic events is made throughout this report to provide context only.
  3. The resident complained about the landlord’s handling of a fence repair in February 2023. The landlord considered this under complaint reference400729. She also made a complaint about a stock condition survey letter she received in early 2023. The landlord considered this under complaint reference 399486.The resident also made a complaint to this Service about the landlord’s handling of repairs to her fireplace. The Ombudsman has not seen evidence that these complaints completed the landlord’s internal complaint procedure. As such, in accordance with paragraph 42(a) of the Scheme, the Ombudsman will not consider them within this report.
  4. On 21 March 2021, the Ombudsman issued determination 201908131 considering the landlord’s handling of repairs, asbestos concerns, and complaint handling. The resident has complained about some of the same issues within her correspondence. In accordance with paragraph 42(l) of the Scheme, this Service may not investigate matters which the Housing Ombudsman has already decided upon. As such, complaints about the aforementioned issues which occurred within the scope of the previous complaint will not be considered.
  5. Paragraph 42(j) of the Scheme states that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which fall within the jurisdiction of another Ombudsman, regulator, or complaint-handling body. In this case, the resident’s landlord is a local authority, and it provides functions as both a landlord and as a local authority. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) deals with complaints about local authorities. Complaints about the right-to-buy process concern the landlord’s actions as a local authority in relation to the sale of its assets, rather than its actions as the resident’s landlord. The resident’s concerns relate to the property valuation and administration of her right-to-buy request. Therefore, the LGSCO is best placed to consider this complaint.
  6. The resident alleged the landlord shared information with her neighbour, a person who allegedly worked for the council. If the resident has concerns about the use or misuse of her personal data, she can approach the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO can investigate complaints about possible breaches of the Data Protection Act 2018. It is not part of this Service’s role to determine whether the landlord adhered to the Act, in accordance with paragraph 42(j) of the Scheme.
  7. The resident complained about misconduct of local councillors. As stated within paragraph 7, the resident would need to contact the LGSCO if she wanted to pursue a complaint about the local authority.
  8. The resident said the landlord acted illegally in its response to the resident’s claim for financial provision from “right to repair funding”. Within her correspondence to this Service, she also said the landlord discriminated against her. As this Service is an alternative to the courts, it is unable to establish legal liability or determine whether discrimination occurred, as this is a legal term which is better suited for a court to decide. This is in accordance with paragraph 42(f) of the Scheme.
  9. In April 2023, the resident complained about the conduct of staff towards her on social media. The resident submitted a screenshot from 2019. The landlord asked the resident to submit any evidence or information regarding any incidents which may have occurred in the past 12 months so it could investigate through its complaint procedure. The Ombudsman has seen no evidence that this complaint was considered formally or that the resident provided the information requested. Under paragraph 42(a) of the Scheme, this Service cannot consider complaints that have not exhausted the landlord’s complaints procedure. Under paragraph 42(c) of the Scheme, this Service cannot consider complaints that were not brought to the attention of the member landlord as a formal complaint within a reasonable period which would normally be within 6 months of the matters arising.
  10. In the resident’s submissions to the Ombudsman, she wanted specific members of staff to be held accountable for their actions. The Ombudsman does not consider or comment on how a landlord should deal with service failings by individual members of staff, in terms of any disciplinary proceedings. This is in accordance with paragraph 42(h) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, which states that this Service will not consider complaints which concern terms of employment or other personnel issues.

Landlord obligations

  1. Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 places a statutory obligation on the landlord to keep the structure and exterior of a property in repair. The landlord also has a responsibility under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, introduced by The Housing Act 2004, to assess hazards and risks within its rented properties. Damp and mould growth are a potential hazard and therefore the landlord is required to consider whether any damp and mould problems in its properties amount to a hazard and require remedying.
  2. In determining whether a property is unfit for human habitation under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, the key question is whether a property is “not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition” because of various factors, which include repairs, freedom from damp, and ventilation.
  3. The landlord’s complaint policy states it will not investigate a complaint that has not been reported to it within 12 months of the issue occurring. The landlord has a 2-stage complaint process for complaints that cannot be resolved informally. It aims to issue a stage 1 response within 10 working days and a stage 2 response within 20 working days. If an extension is needed at either stage, it should not exceed 10 working days.
  4. The landlord’s repairs policy explains it is the responsibility of the resident to allow access to the property for the landlord to carry out and complete all repairs and maintenance as per agreed appointments. Urgent repairs should be completed in 1-3 working days, routine repairs within 20 working days and planned repairs within 3 months. There are no timescales within the policy for planned or cyclical maintenance works. These timescales depend on the specific programme.
  5. The landlord’s internal works installation specification policy explains contractors or sub-contractors must not make any comments or pass opinions related to a housing maintenance decision or the landlord’s policies.
  6. The resident’s tenancy agreement says she shall allow entry at all reasonable hours to authorised representatives of the council for the purposes of inspection, repair, maintenance, or replacement of any part of the property.

Summary of events

  1. On 17 February 2022, the resident contacted the landlord to raise repair requests for broken roof tiles, a blocked downpipe, loose fencing, a hole in a footpath, windows needing cement and an issue with paintwork. She also said she was still waiting for work to the cavity wall that was previously recommended to address damp and mould within the property.
  2. A damp inspection took place on 21 March 2022. Work orders were raised to repoint the roof verge and brickwork under the windows.
  3. A roofer attended the property on 4 April 2022 and 25 April 2022. The resident provided photos of two cards that were left by the roofer stating no action was taken as scaffolding was needed. However, the landlord’s repair record states repointing and roofing works were completed at this time. The record also states a bricklayer installed an angle iron above the side door on 26 April 2022.
  4. The landlord’s repair records state it unblocked a downpipe on 5 May 2022.
  5. The resident contacted the landlord again on 1 July 2022 to follow up on the outstanding repairs. She explained contractors turned up several times, but they were not able to progress the repairs as scaffolding had not been erected. She also asked for an update about plans to remedy the damp in the kitchen.
  6. The landlord arranged a further damp inspection for 13 July 2022. Works were identified and scheduled. As per the landlord’s repair record, the lintel was renewed above the side door on 14 July 2022. The cavities to the kitchen walls were opened and cleared on 18 August 2022. Additionally, roofing works progressed with scaffolding and repointing.
  7. The resident made a complaint via a councillor in September 2022. She said the landlord had not maintained the structure or exterior of the property since 1996. She also said repairs were falsely marked as complete on the landlord’s system when they remained outstanding. She felt this was a deliberate action against her. She also complained about staff conduct and said she was insulted. She told the councillor this was recorded on CCTV. The resident complained about a neighbour’s behaviour in a follow-up email shortly after. The resident felt the neighbour was harassing her and making false accusations. She said the neighbour worked for the council. She was concerned the landlord had disclosed confidential information about her to the neighbour.
  8. Records throughout September 2022 demonstrate the landlord investigated the complaint internally and made enquiries with several staff. It referenced a visit to the resident’s property on 14 September 2022. Records of this visit have not been shared with this Service. It also spoke with the resident on 23 September 2022 about her concerns.
  9. The landlord raised a request for a survey for a replacement kitchen on 5 October 2022.
  10. The landlord issued its stage 1 response on 7 October 2022. It said:
    1. During a visit to the resident’s home on 14 September 2022, a surveyor identified dampness within the resident’s kitchen. To remedy this, it said it would replace the cavity wall insulation and provide a new kitchen. It said the major works team would contact her the following week to start planning the work.
    2. It identified 3 repairs had been incorrectly signed off as complete. It apologised for this and said there was no evidence that this was done on purpose. It said the team leader involved was no longer working for the landlord and so it could not investigate what happened here any further.
    3. As a result of the resident’s experience, it changed the way follow-on appointments were made throughout its repair service to ensure this did not happen again.
    4. It offered to raise the resident’s issues with her neighbour with the anti-social behaviour team, but she refused.
    5. It offered the resident £500 compensation to recognise the distress and inconvenience suffered due to the delay completing repair work.
  11. The resident escalated her complaint to stage 2 on 7 October 2022. She said she wanted the repairs to be completed within the landlord’s timescales and recompense for the landlord’s conduct and behaviour towards her.
  12. The landlord escalated the complaint accordingly. Internal repair notes state the damp could not be rectified until the existing kitchen was removed. This was due to the extent of the works needed.
  13. The landlord contacted the resident on 19 October 2022 to discuss the appointment for the kitchen designer. The landlord’s contact record states the resident said she was not satisfied with the choice or quality of the proposed replacement kitchen, and she would rather go without. Additionally, she was frustrated the proposed completion date of the replacement kitchen had changed. The landlord explained this was because the kitchen replacement would be done alongside the mould works. The resident followed up with an email the same day. She said she did not want a replacement kitchen. She explained she suffered with extreme difficulty breathing and she felt she was drowning.
  14. The kitchen surveyor attended the property on 21 October 2022. The resident contacted the landlord the same day and was distressed by his conduct. She said, “in asking if I could ask him a few questions, the inane grinning, laughing, attitude, was absolutely out of order. He went to walk out of the property, laughing and shaking his head, said a few words, he was well prepared to be nasty.”
  15. The landlord contacted the kitchen surveyor the same day and asked for a statement regarding the allegations made. He said the resident refused to let him into the kitchen and mentioned a long list of issues she had about her complaints and the landlord. He said he explained to her that he was only there to survey the kitchen, but the resident refused access and listed the reasons why she did not want a new kitchen. He left to refer the matter back to the landlord.
  16. The resident sent 4 emails to the landlord between 19 – 25 October 2022. These were acknowledged on 31 October 2022 due to annual leave. The landlord confirmed her complaint about repairs being cancelled without her knowledge and her complaint about staff conduct would be included at stage 2. It asked the resident if she wanted to raise a separate complaint about additional concerns mentioned within her emails.
  17. The landlord issued its stage 2 response on 4 November 2022. It summarised the stage 1 response and said:
    1. It carried out 3 lines of enquiry on its repairs system, customer service system and feedback system. It identified that other residents of the landlord had reported similar issues with follow on repair work not being completed.  It concluded that while the resident had received poor service, there was no indication or evidence that the resident had been targeted or maliciously singled out. It apologised for the distress caused.
    2. It identified 5 service improvements that had been implemented because of the resident’s complaint.
    3. It referenced historical reports of staff misconduct and the resident’s previous complaints that were closed. It said it had seen no evidence of previous staff misconduct and reiterated that the repairs cancelled without her knowledge did not happen maliciously or with intent.
    4. To resolve the reported damp issue, it needed to remove the existing kitchen and complete damp proofing works to the internal kitchen walls, including:
      1. Removing plaster.
      2. Installing a damp proof course.
      3. Applying a sand and cement render containing a salt retardant additive.
      4. Applying a thistle coat finish.
    5. It would then install a new kitchen, whereby the resident would be given a choice of units, worktops, tiling, paint, and floor covering from its range.
    6. It investigated the resident’s allegations about the kitchen surveyor with the surveyor and the surveyor’s manager. It also said it had used the kitchen company for 10 years and this was the first allegation received about a member of staff.
    7. It investigated the resident’s allegation that a member of the landlord’s staff had influenced the surveyor’s behaviour and found that the staff member concerned did not instruct the surveyor and had no contact with him about the survey.
    8. It offered to arrange for the customer feedback officer that the resident had been dealing with to accompany the surveyor to the property to inspect the kitchen to progress the works.
    9. It re-offered the £500 awarded at stage 1 and apologised for the delays completing the repairs.

Events after the end of the internal complaint procedure

  1. On 17 November 2022, the resident responded several times to the stage 2 response. She said she had internal and external CCTV within her property. She said she wanted a resolution that would allow her to cut ties with the landlord. She wanted the landlord to debate her request for a discount on the property via the right to buy scheme in view of the outstanding repairs.
  2. The landlord reminded the resident that its stage 2 response was its final response on 23 November 2022 and 5 December 2022. It directed the resident to this Service should she remain dissatisfied.
  3. An internal note from the landlord from 17 January 2023 indicates it had attempted to book in the remedial works several times, but the resident did not engage. Instead, she wanted to buy the property with a discount for the outstanding works. It checked with the local authority who stated her right-to-buy application had been withdrawn as the resident did not accept the offer.
  4. The resident contacted a Councillor in March 2023 and April 2023 to complain about her living conditions. The landlord contacted the resident several times in April 2023 to arrange an inspection so things could progress with the kitchen work. It then sent a letter in June 2023 to clarify the position with the damp works and kitchen replacement. Further to this, it offered a temporary decant which the resident refused.
  5. The landlord said a community safety and tenancy enforcement manager and officer offered to meet with the resident on 3 July 2023 to discuss comments she had made within her complaints, but she refused.
  6. Records indicate a kitchen surveyor attended in July 2023. The landlord said a support liaison officer also attended at this time and communicated with the resident over the period of work being undertaken in the kitchen. This Service has not seen a record of events between July and October 2023.
  7. The landlord informed this Service that kitchen works had been completed on 4 October 2023 and only the cavity wall insulation remained outstanding, which was being arranged.

Assessment and findings

  1. Where there are admitted failings by a landlord, the Ombudsman’s role is to assess whether the redress offered by the landlord put things right and resolved the resident’s complaint satisfactorily in the circumstances. In investigating this, the Ombudsman considers whether the landlord’s offer of redress was in line with the Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Principles: be fair, put things right and learn from outcomes.

The landlord’s management of repairs within the property including cancelled repair requests, damp remedial works, and a replacement kitchen

  1. The Housing Ombudsman’s spotlight report on damp and mould says a landlord should have a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould and must ensure its response to reports of the above are timely and reflect the urgency of the issue. This Service expects landlords to ensure there is effective internal communication between different teams and departments. Based on the information provided to this Service, the Ombudsman finds the landlord did not follow best practice in this case.
  2. The repair log for the property shows previous reports of damp and issues to external brickwork over the years. Additionally, a stock condition survey from February 2020 stated that the property suffered from moderate damp and mould, and black mould was observed to external walls and window reveals. It is concerning that the landlord has not evidenced the outcome from its previous investigations or what actions were taken as a result. This is a significant omission. As similar issues had been recorded during the resident’s occupation of the property, it should have put the landlord on notice that the damp reported in February 2022 required active management. While this report does not assess the historical incidents of damp or repairs, it provides context that the landlord’s records should have put it on notice of potentially ongoing issues within the property.
  3. The Ombudsman appreciates it can be difficult to identify the reason why a property is damp, and it is often caused by a combination of things. This is why investigations must be managed effectively and handled with a sense of urgency, to identify and resolve the problem as soon as possible. In response to the resident’s reports of damp in February 2022, it arranged for a damp inspection in March 2022. This was a reasonable course of action by the landlord.
  4. This Service has not been provided with a copy of the survey from March 2022. Without reviewing the survey, the Ombudsman is unable to conclude that the landlord acted appropriately. This is because it is unclear what areas were inspected, what was identified, the extent of the problem and the solutions recommended. The Ombudsman also cannot establish whether the landlord considered any health and safety risks to the resident and her family at this time. This is a record keeping failure.
  5. Repair records indicate the landlord requested 3 repairs to the exterior of the building following the survey in March 2022. The landlord failed in its management of these repairs. It accepted they were incorrectly recorded as completed. This meant they were not actioned within the repair timescales set out in the landlord’s repair policy and the resident had to chase for a response. Furthermore, the Ombudsman observes that no follow up appointments were made by the landlord following the marked “completion” of these repairs. Considering the property history, it would have been appropriate for the landlord to schedule a follow up appointment to check whether the external repairs had remedied the damp and whether any internal work was needed. The landlord’s lack of oversight was a service failure.
  6. The landlord arranged for a further damp inspection on 13 July 2022. At this point, internal damp works were identified, in addition to the external works referenced previously. While this Service recognises the landlord was arranging repairs, it was inappropriate for the landlord not to consider taking action to remove the mould. At this point, it had been 5 months since the resident had reported damp and mould within the property and the resident had made the landlord aware there was a child within the household. The potential health problems caused by mould are known, and therefore the landlord should have acted with greater urgency and considered whether it was appropriate to treat the mould, even if this only temporarily alleviated the problem while repairs were being arranged.
  7. The landlord failed to communicate effectively with the resident from March 2022 to September 2022. The resident was not updated regularly and spent time chasing for updates. Further, there were delays responding to emails and at times, the landlord did not clearly outline the next steps or give clear timescales. The resident was left unsupported even when she made it clear her living conditions were impacting her wellbeing. The Ombudsman determines that the communication failings exacerbated the situation, delayed the resolution of the substantive issue, and worsened the impact on the resident. This further undermined the landlord/resident relationship.
  8. The stage 1 response refers to a property visit by a surveyor on 14 September 2022. Dampness to the kitchen was identified. The landlord said it would rectify this issue and replace the kitchen during the works. A copy of the surveyor’s observations and recommendations has not been shared with this Service. This is a record keeping failure.
  9. Whilst it is a fundamental part of the Ombudsman’s role to consider whether a landlord has acted appropriately in response to a formal complaint or a request for repair, this will often necessitate consideration of how the residents own actions may have contributed to the situation. Rather than demonstrating bias in favour of the landlord, this is an example of the Ombudsman’s independent and impartial role in practice, as this Service considers the conduct of both parties and the impact on the substantive issue.
  10. During a call with the resident on 19 October 2022, the landlord recorded that the resident told it she would rather go without a replacement kitchen as she was dissatisfied with the quality of it. Following this, the resident emailed the landlord distressed because the proposed completion date had changed to early the following year. She said she did not want another year of, “damp, mould, mushrooms, rotting wallpaper, peeling paint, wet plaster, water covering floors, walls and cupboards, and rotting mouldy food”. The resident said she had extreme difficulty breathing and indicated this was due to her living conditions. She also said she would rather sit on the floor to cook and eat than have the replacement kitchen installed. The landlord progressed with the appointment for the kitchen survey on 21 October 2022. It was appropriate for the landlord to do this considering the problems identified within the property, the potential impact on the resident’s health and its legal obligations under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
  11. Within the stage 2 response, the landlord outlined the next steps and explained that to fully damp proof the kitchen walls, the kitchen needed to be completely removed. It offered to arrange for another member of staff to attend with the surveyor with a view to rectifying the damp as soon as possible. It was appropriate for the landlord to clearly outline the next steps and provide an option to the resident to have another member of staff present for inspections. In doing this, the landlord attempted to progress the repairs within a timely manner. The Ombudsman finds the landlord acted reasonably here.
  12. At stage 2, the landlord intended to complete repairs to remedy the damp and mould as soon as possible. This was appropriate, especially as the resident explained she was having difficulty breathing in the property. The Ombudsman would expect close oversight and management of the repairs to completion following the complaint. The Ombudsman has limited records of events which occurred after the end of the complaint process; however, it is a concern that the repairs to the kitchen were not completed until October 2023.
  13. Although this Service is not adjudicating on events which took place after the landlord’s final response, it is recognised that the landlord attempted to book repair appointments with the resident and offered a temporary decant. If the resident was refusing repairs or not allowing access, the Ombudsman would reasonably expect a landlord to seek legal advice about enforcing the terms of the tenancy agreement to gain access and complete the repairs. In this case, it is unclear whether the landlord did so. As such, a recommendation has been made for the landlord to review its actions post-complaint.
  14. The Ombudsman is not questioning the reasons why the resident refused to engage with the landlord in terms of progressing the repairs. However, the landlord would not typically be responsible for the delays caused in this instance.
  15. The landlord recognised within its complaint response the delays in addressing the resident’s repairs through to completion due to work orders being incorrectly closed on its repair log. It arranged a deep dive into its operating system and explained its findings to the resident to demonstrate the issues she experienced were a general service failure and not targeted at her. It apologised for the inconvenience caused and provided the direct contact details for its repair manager should the resident have further issues. It also offered compensation of £500. The compensation offered falls within the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance (published on our website). This considered the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident, the time spent by the resident pursuing the outstanding repairs and the failures identified and recognised by the landlord. The Ombudsman is minded that this was an appropriate remedy to the resident’s complaint.
  16. Within its complaint response, the landlord demonstrated that it had reflected on the resident’s experience and learnt from its mistakes. It identified ways to improve its future service provision and explained how this had already been implemented. Therefore, the Ombudsman finds the landlord acted in accordance with the dispute resolution principles and learnt from the outcome of this complaint.
  17. Overall, alongside its apologies to the resident, the landlord offered compensation that the Ombudsman considers was proportionate to the distress and inconvenience experienced by her in relation to the landlord’s failings. As such, the landlord has made an offer of redress to the resident which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint satisfactorily.

The landlord’s handling of reports of staff misconduct

  1. The Ombudsman considered whether the landlord adequately investigated and responded to reports of staff misconduct, and took proportionate action based on the information available to it. For staff misconduct complaints, landlords are expected to carry out an investigation. For example, the landlord would generally conduct interviews and gather evidence from all parties, making an informed decision based on its findings.
  2. In response to the resident’s general allegations of staff misconduct, the landlord conducted an interview with her on 11 October 2022. The Ombudsman finds this was appropriate in the circumstances and gave the resident an opportunity to explain her concerns. During this interview, notes reference historical allegations. The resident’s emails on this matter refer to her experiences of harassment, bullying, insults and cruelty, allegedly caused by members of the landlord’s staff. Within the stage 2 response, the landlord referred the resident to its previous complaint investigations concerning staff behaviour and explained it would not consider historic allegations within this complaint. It was reasonable for the landlord to manage the resident’s expectations here and to direct her to its previous complaint responses.
  3. Following the resident’s report of inappropriate behaviour from the kitchen surveyor on 21 October 2022, the landlord immediately contacted him to obtain his version of events. It also checked the feedback history for the kitchen company to see if there were reports of a similar nature. The resident also provided more information by email. The Ombudsman recognises that the landlord took the resident’s allegation seriously and acted promptly to investigate.
  4. The resident stated on several occasions that she had closed circuit television (CCTV) inside and outside of the property and video evidence to support her allegations. The Ombudsman has seen no information to suggest CCTV recordings were shared with the landlord. Additionally, any such recordings have not been provided to this Service.
  5. It is noted that the landlord’s policy states contractors/sub-contractors must not make any comments or pass opinions related to a housing maintenance decision or the landlord’s policies. As such, it would be expected for the kitchen surveyor to follow his specific instructions to inspect the kitchen only. The Ombudsman can understand why the resident would feel dissatisfied with this, however, considering the landlord’s policy referenced above, it was reasonable for the surveyor to explain he was solely there to inspect the kitchen and not to engage in conversation about other property issues. The surveyor said the resident informed him that she did not want a replacement kitchen. This matches the landlord’s notes from a call with the resident on 19 October 2022 and her email of the same date. Therefore, it is likely that the resident also said this to the surveyor.
  6. The resident alleged that a specific staff member had influence over the kitchen surveyor’s behaviour. The landlord investigated the accusation by checking the email and call history on its system. It found the staff member in question did not instruct the surveyor and there was no evidence of any contact between the two parties. As such, it rejected the resident’s accusation. The Ombudsman finds the landlord investigated this fairly and came to a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence available.
  7. While the Ombudsman does not dispute the resident’s experience, the Ombudsman has not seen any evidence which demonstrates that staff had behaved inappropriately or in a manner that was deliberately unhelpful. In the Ombudsman’s opinion, the landlord took the concerns raised by the resident seriously and sought to respond to the issues she brought to it. Its complaint responses addressed the issues she raised, and records show it carried out its own investigations. This showed the landlord was transparent with its findings. Based on the evidence available, the actions taken by the landlord in response to the resident’s concerns about staff conduct were proportionate and no failings were identified.
  8. The landlord attempted to progress matters by asking the resident if she would prefer another member of staff to attend the appointment with the surveyor. It offered for this member of staff to be someone who the resident previously had pleasant interactions with. The Ombudsman thinks this was appropriate in the circumstances to move the repairs forward and rebuild the landlord/resident relationship.
  9. The resident raised concerns about the conduct of a neighbour who allegedly worked for the council, citing aggressive, abusive, and threatening behaviour. The landlord acted suitably to refer the resident to its anti-social behaviour department. They were best placed to deal with allegations of this nature.
  10. Considering the evidence available, the Ombudsman identified no failures in the way the landlord investigated the resident’s reports of staff misconduct.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 53(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was reasonable redress in the landlord’s management of repairs within the property including cancelled repair requests, damp remedial works, and a replacement kitchen.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration in the landlord’s handling of reports of staff misconduct.

Reasons

  1. The landlord demonstrated throughout its complaint responses that it understood the inconveniences caused to the resident, and that it was aware of its own service failures and shortcomings. It offered fair and proportionate compensation, in line with the Housing Ombudsman’s remedies guidance.
  2. The landlord explained what it had learnt from the complaint and changes it had made to its repair provision to improve its services. This was in line with the Ombudsman’s dispute resolution principles and Complaint Handling Code, in which landlords are encouraged to look beyond the outcome of the complaint, and to see how it may be able to implement changes that could prevent the same failures from happening again in the future.
  3. The landlord demonstrated that it treated the resident’s concerns about staff misconduct seriously and promptly investigated the allegations.


Recommendations

  1. If it has not done so already, the landlord should ensure its compensation offer of £500 is paid to the resident within 4 weeks of the date of this report.
  2. It is recommended for the landlord to review events after its stage 2 response to assess whether there were any avoidable delays in gaining access to the property. If learning points are identified, it should consider whether any changes to its policies are required to improve its future repairs provision.
  3. The landlord should let the Ombudsman know its intentions regarding the above recommendations within 4 weeks of the date of this report.