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Sovereign Living Limited (202102355)

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COMPLAINT 202102355

Sovereign Living Limited

20 October 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. The complaint concerns the landlord’s handling of:
    1. repairs required to the garden wall of the resident’s property.
    2. The formal complaint into the matter.

Background and summary of events


  1. The resident is a tenant of the landlord, which is a housing association. The property is a house.
  2. The landlord’s repairs and maintenance policy describes the classifications it uses for different types of repairs. These include:
    1. Emergency repairs (respond within 24 hours). An emergency repair is defined as an incident that could seriously damage someone’s health or the property, or where a resident or their home may not be secure.
    2. Responsive repairs (respond within 28 calendar days). Responsive repairs are defined as incidents usually of a minor nature to an existing feature, or element of the home, requiring repair to make sure it continues to work or function.
    3. Major works (respond within 90 calendar days). Major works are issues identified by the landlord where multiple work orders are raised to complete the repair and further time will be required for the design, procurement and completion of the work. Examples given by the landlord of major work include the repair of flat roofs, chimneys and external walls.
  3. Section 4.5 of the repairs and maintenance policy states that the landlord may suspend its normal repair service during exceptional circumstances. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the landlord provided a reduced service for repairs. The latest update on its website at the time of this report informed residents that due to the lack of materials and skilled labour, delays to non-emergency repairs were expected to continue through November 2021.
  4. The landlord’s complaints policy says it operates a two-stage complaints process. When a complaint is received, the landlord will provide a response at stage one within ten working days. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response, they can request that the complaint is escalated. The landlord will then undertake a review of the complaint and provide a stage two response within 20 working days. This will be the landlord’s final response to the complaint.
  5. The landlord complaint policy also states that if it needs additional time to respond to a complaint, it may extend its response time at stage one by an additional ten working days and its response time at stage two by an additional 30 working days.
  6. The complaint policy does not describe any time limits for when an issue must be raised by a complainant for it to be considered in the landlord’s internal complaints process.
  7. The landlord’s repair logs state that:
    1. It was informed by the resident on 3 May 2018 that she believed that the garden wall had been hit by a car and was now leaning inwards.
    2. An emergency repair was raised. An operative attended on 4 May 2018 and recommended that the wall be replaced.
    3. A repair order was raised on 8 May 2018 to replace the top section of the wall with a panel fence. This was marked as being completed on 23 October 2018.
    4. On 8 February 2019 the resident reported that the wall had become unstable due to high winds. An emergency repair was raised for 9 February 2019.
    5. A repair order was raised to inspect the wall on 4 March 2019 to identify what work was required to make safe and repair the wall. This was marked as completed on 1 April 2019.

Summary of events

  1. At some point prior to 10 March 2021, a further report was made by the resident relating to the condition to the wall. On 10 March 2021 an internal landlord email recommended that the garden wall be taken down and rebuilt. The email also recommended that the job be added to the next financial year’s planned programme of works.
  2. On 18 March 2021 the resident contacted the landlord and requested to raise a formal complaint. She described the elements of her complaint as the lack of privacy due to the damaged wall and that her daughter had not been able to play in the garden for the last three years due to the condition of the wall. As a resolution to the complaint, the resident requested compensation in recognition of the loss of use of the garden.
  3. The landlord’s repair logs state that a work order was raised on 24 March 2021 to remove the existing timber fence and brickwork, then rebuild the brick wall.
  4. An internal email sent by the landlord on 20 April 2020 noted that the resident had posted on social media requesting an update on the status of her complaint. The landlord then wrote to the resident on 20 April 2020 and informed her that it expected the work to replace the wall to be finished by the end of the week.
  5. The resident replied on 20 April 2021. She agreed a time and date to discuss her complaint with the landlord on the telephone and noted that she had been reporting issues relating to the wall since 2018. On 21 April 2021 the resident sent photographs of the wall and described the inconvenience caused to her and her family during the lockdown of March 2020 by not having use of the garden.
  6. The landlord wrote to the resident on 22 April 2020 to inform her that her request for compensation had been passed on to the appropriate team, who would be meeting that day to discuss the matter. The resident replied on 22 April 2021 and requested to have any compensation offer be made in writing.
  7. The landlord wrote again on 22 April 2021 to update the resident. It informed her that a further meeting would be required the following day. The landlord sent a second update email on 23 April 2021 to inform the resident that it would provide a compensation offer in writing by 26 April 2021.
  8. An internal landlord email sent on 23 April 2021 confirmed that the work to the wall had been completed and provided photographs of the finished wall.
  9. On 26 April 2021 the landlord wrote to the resident and offered her £300 compensation. The landlord explained that it had taken into account its records of work raised relating to the wall since 2018 and that the resident had not been able to use the garden in the way she would have liked while work was outstanding. The landlord also informed the resident that it did not recognise the garden as an amenity in the same way that it would regard a room inside the property.
  10. The resident replied on 26 April 2020 and disputed the compensation offer. She noted that the landlord had not taken into account the garden being exposed for “weeks on end” and that she did not believe it had understood what her family had gone through.
  11. The landlord wrote again to the resident on 26 April 2021. It confirmed that it’s prior email to the resident was its final response to the complaint and she had now exhausted its internal complaints process.
  12. During a telephone conversation between the resident and this Service on 15 July 2021, the resident described the outstanding issues to the complaint as:
    1. The length of time it had taken for the wall to be rebuilt.
    2. How the landlord had handled the complaint.
    3. The compensation offered by the landlord was inadequate.

Assessment and findings

How the landlord handled repairs required to the garden wall of the resident’s property

  1. Where there are admitted failings by a landlord, the Ombudsman’s role is to consider whether the redress offered by the landlord put things right and resolved the resident’s complaint satisfactorily in the circumstances. In considering this the Ombudsman takes into account 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.
  2. The landlord acted fairly in acknowledging its mistakes and apologising to the resident. It looked to put things right by taking the decision to replace the wall, and in awarding compensation.
  3. In its email sent on 26 April 2020, the landlord offered £300 compensation in recognition that the resident had not “been able to use your garden in the way that you would have like to whilst the issue with the wall was outstanding”. The email also noted that the landlord’s compensation policy “does not recognise a garden as an amenity in the same way as it would a bedroom for example”.
  4. However, the landlord’s compensation policy does state that when considering compensation for a loss of use of a garden, it will calculate the loss of use of a garden during summer months as if it was a loss of a room.
  5. The compensation policy states that if a resident cannot use a room as a result of significant disrepair or ongoing major works, they should be compensated £25 per week for the loss of a living room or bedroom, and £50 per week for the loss of the kitchen or bathroom.
  6. It is unclear from the evidence provided as to how long of a period the garden had been affected by outstanding repairs since the original report of damage by the resident in May 2018.
  7. The landlord’s repair logs state that the work raised on 8 May 2018 to undertake repairs to the wall was completed on 23 October 2018. As per its compensation policy, the landlord should have taken into account the 12 summer weeks that the garden had a loss of use and compensated accordingly at £25 per week. The compensation for this period would total £300. However, repair work was also outstanding between 9 February 2019 and 1 April 2019, and for four weeks in March and April 2021 when the wall was replaced.
  8. Therefore, there was service failure by the landlord as it did not properly apply its compensation policy in making an offer of redress to the resident in recognition of the time and inconvenience caused by outstanding repairs to the wall, which included the 12 summer weeks in 2018.
  9. The Ombudsman’s own remedies guidance (which is available on our website) recommends payments of £250 to £750 in cases of considerable service failure or maladministration, but there may be no permanent impact on the complainant.
  10. In this case the landlord recognised the inconvenience caused to the resident during the time periods where repairs to the wall were outstanding and rather than continue to undertake repairs, the wall needed to be knocked down and completely replaced.
  11. It is therefore ordered that the landlord pay the resident an additional £250 compensation, for a total award of £550, to recognise; the loss of use of the garden, the inconvenience that this had caused to the resident and her family, and the fact that 12 weeks of the time period when the garden was out of use occurred during summer months.

The landlord’s complaint handling

  1. The landlord did not follow its complaints policy at either stage of its internal complaints process.
  2. The resident raised a formal complaint on 18 March 2021. This was acknowledged by the landlord in an internal email, but there is no evidence that it contacted the resident to inform her that it had opened a formal complaint.
  3. When the resident requested an update on the status of the complaint on 20 April 2021, the landlord replied and gave an update on the work to the wall but did not provide update on the complaint. The landlord did say that it would call the resident to discuss the complaint, however no record or notes relating to this call have been provided to this Service.
  4. When the landlord wrote to the resident on 26 April 2021 offering £300 compensation, the resident disputed the amount and stated her intention to bring the case to this Service. The landlord then made the decision to escalate the complaint and wrote a second email to the resident on 26 April 2021 confirming that she had exhausted its internal complaint process. This second email was referred to as a stage two response in the subject line.
  5. The landlord did not provide a stage one complaint response that addressed the elements raised by the resident in her 18 Match 2021 complaint. Moreover, the landlord did not undertake a review of the complaint when it provided a stage two response.
  6. Had the landlord provided a full stage one response, this would have enabled the resident to highlight any outstanding issues she wished to have reviewed. The landlord would have then been in a position to review the actions it had taken, whether it had properly followed its policies and procedures, and whether the resolution it had offered the resident was reasonable.
  7. The Ombudsman’s remedies guidance suggests a payment of £50 to £250 in cases where there has been service failure which had an impact on the complainant but was of short duration and may not have significantly affected the overall outcome for the complainant. There is no evidence to suggest that the landlord’s position would have changed if it had issued a stage two complaint response. Therefore, although there were errors in the landlord’s complaint handling these would not have significantly affected the outcome of the complaint. However, in line with the guidance, it would be appropriate for the landlord to pay the resident £100 compensation for any distress and inconvenience caused by its failures to follow its complaint policy and properly address the elements of her complaint.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was service failure by the landlord in respect of its handling of repairs required to the garden wall of the resident’s property.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was service failure by the landlord in respect of its complaint handling.


  1. The landlord recognised the inconvenience caused to the resident by not having the full use of the garden when repairs to the wall were outstanding.
  2. The landlord apologised and awarded compensation. However, it did not properly follow its compensation policy when it calculated its award.
  3. The landlord did not follow its complaint policy as it did not provide a stage one response to the complaint and its final response to the complaint did not represent a comprehensive review of how the complaint was handled.


  1. The landlord is ordered to:
    1. Pay to the resident a further £250 compensation for its service failure in how it handled repairs required to the garden wall. This is in addition to the £300 compensation already offered in its complaints process, bringing the total compensation to £550 for this element of the complaint.
    2. Pay the resident £100 compensation for its service failure in how it handled the complaint.