Thirteen Housing Group Limited
4 January 2021
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 the residents:
- reports of anti-social behaviour (ASB);
- request to transfer to an alternative property.
Background and summary of events
- The landlord opened an ASB case on 7 November 2017 following an email from the resident referring to visitors to his neighbour’s flat, drug use, and fights nearly every weekend with the police involved. He requested a move and stated that other neighbours would corroborate his report. The landlord telephoned the resident the next day and he reported another incident along with his concern about the elderly residents nearby. The landlord agreed to visit him at home on 13 November 2017 but the visit did not go ahead as he was unwell.
- The landlord sought information from the police on 13 November 2017, who provided details of incidents since January 2017. There were police reports made between January and April 2017, some of which appear to have involved the disturbances which the resident had reported to the landlord.
- The landlord reviewed the case on 8 January 2018, noting that incidents were continuing and the resident had requested a transfer due to nuisance. The landlord left a voicemail for the resident on 9 January 2018 (following his contact with customer services about a transfer) asking him to make contact to discuss his transfer request and the nuisance reports. It telephoned him again the following day and arranged a home visit for 15 January 2018 but this visit was postponed due to staff illness. The landlord rearranged the visit for 29 January 2018 which was postponed due to the resident’s hospital treatment and he advised that he would contact the landlord once he was recovered. The landlord emailed the resident on 5 February 2018 wishing him well with his recovery and asking him to make contact when he was well enough for it to visit.
- The landlord visited the resident on 20 February 2018, when they discussed nuisance from the neighbour and her visitors, and noted that the resident had reported incidents in the past, including to the police, but no action was taken. He had reported incidents between the neighbour and her boyfriend starting between 11pm and 3am including banging, slamming doors and fighting. He advised that the situation was not as bad as previously but he was still being disturbed by visitors and slamming doors and he had ongoing concerns about the neighbour’s drug use. He asked the landlord to visit the neighbour and give an initial warning and the landlord agreed to do so. The resident agreed to report incidents to the landlord, ASB team, police and Crimestoppers and the landlord advised that it would need these reports to prove ASB and provided relevant contact numbers. The resident also agreed to the installation of a noise monitor if the noise worsened.
- The landlord made an unannounced visit to the neighbour, gave her a verbal warning, and advised her to stop ASB, nuisance and annoyance at her home and she agreed to comply.
- On 20 March 2018 the resident reported a disturbance where his neighbour asked another neighbour to call the police to arrest her boyfriend. The landlord telephoned the resident on 26 March and several time thereafter, leaving messages, before writing to him on 13 April 2018, to advise that it had tried to contact him. It asked him to make contact if he was still having problems with ASB and stated that, if there was no contact within the next seven days, it would close the complaint. The landlord did not close the case at this time and telephoned the resident again on 22 May 2018, leaving a message. The landlord intended to do a letter drop and if there was no response, it would close the case. It then sent a general letter to residents on the street on 12 June 2018, advising how to report any ASB issues, and since no reports were made, it closed the case on 26 June 2018.
- The next time that the resident reported issues with his neighbour was 29 August 2018 when he called the landlord to discuss a transfer. He advised that issues with his neighbour were ongoing and the landlord was to pass this information to its ASB team. It explained that, for a transfer, the resident would need to register with the choice-based lettings (CBL) scheme and until investigations were complete, it was unlikely the ASB team would consider any priority to move. The resident already had a live CBL application and had placed one bid, which had been unsuccessful.
- There were no further reports until 3 December 2018 when the resident telephoned the landlord about his neighbour and discussed moving to a larger property so that a carer could stay at night due to his medical needs. The landlord advised him to provide medical evidence and said it would make an Occupational Therapy (OT) referral. The resident called again on 7 December 2018 to discuss providing information from his doctor and the landlord also advised him to speak with the local authority’s housing benefit department regarding any financial implications of moving to a two bedroom property.
- On 31 January 2019 the resident emailed the landlord stating that he had been complaining about his neighbour for two years and the landlord had not acted and reiterating his need for a two–bedroom property. The following day the landlord advised him that it would review his housing application and requested proof of his medical needs and his need for a two–bedroom property including an OT assessment if applicable. It also asked for details of recent ASB incidents.
- The landlord’s email of 5 February 2019 noted the chronology of the resident’s contact with it and its responses. It stated that it was unable to uphold the complaint as it could see that the resident had been given advice and support by members of staff over a number of months about ASB and moving home, particularly about his medical needs, a two–bedroom property and how this would affect him. It advised that staff could provide further advice on rehousing which would involve making an application to the CBL scheme, providing medical information as appropriate and then bidding on advertised properties.
- The resident’s email of 7 February 2019 noted that he got on well with his neighbours apart from the one who was known to the police and the landlord but nothing had been done to remove her. He again reiterated his desire for a two-bedroom property. On the same day the landlord left a voicemail asking the resident to call.
- The landlord telephoned the resident on 8 February 2019 noting that staff had explained the process that he needed to follow and he had also been advised to contact the local authority’s housing benefit department as moving to a two bedroom property could affect him financially. The landlord was also to visit the resident at home. An email was to be sent confirming the landlord’s response which the resident accepted.
- This email was sent on 8 February 2019 and the complaint closed. The email advised that, in order to move to a new house, the landlord must follow certain processes to ensure consistency. The OT appointment (which the resident had declined previously) would need to go ahead to fully assess his needs and allow a decision to be made on the banding of his application. The landlord also noted that he had been asked to provide medical evidence that he needed a carer to stay overnight to support his request for a two–bedroom property. It again advised him to speak to the housing benefit department about any financial impact of this. It asked if it was convenient to visit to discuss how best it could support him with moving to another property (although the date suggested appears to be a mis-type).
- The landlord visited the resident on 13 February 2019 and telephoned the housing benefit department on his behalf during the visit. It advised what documentation was required including a letter from his GP stating that he required overnight carers. The resident agreed to an OT assessment. The landlord advised that it could reopen the ASB case but the resident said he did not want to but wished to move within a month. The landlord advised a timeframe could not be put on this. On 15 February 2019 the landlord advised the resident how to access online the relevant form regarding overnight carers. The OT assessment took place in March 2019 with a recommendation of the type of property required.
- There is no evidence of further contact between the resident and landlord until June 2019 when he advised that he intended to raise his complaint with this Service. The landlord responded on 10 June 2019, that his complaint had not completed its complaints procedure and he might wish to escalate his complaint in order to approach this Service but due to it being a policy decision, the original decision would not change. On 27 September 2019 the resident telephoned this Service to raise a complaint about ASB and that the landlord had shut down his complaints.
- The resident’s emails of 2, 3 and 4 October 2019 stated that he wanted a move immediately and he was concerned that the landlord had been “reckless” with his safety since someone had been released from prison and the police attended every day. In the landlord’s response it said that it would contact the police and investigate the issues raised. It reiterated that, to transfer, the resident needed to place bids on the CBL scheme website, if any advertised properties met his needs. It then contacted the police who advised that there had been no recent incidents.
- On 11 October 2019 the landlord advised the resident (following a letter from this Service) that it had responded to his complaint on 8 February 2019 but the complaint had not exhausted its complaints procedure. If the resident wanted his complaint to be escalated to stage two, he needed to explain the reasons why he wanted the original decision to be reviewed along with any supporting evidence.
- On 14 October 2019 the resident disputed that his complaint had not completed the complaints procedure, noting that his complaint started three years ago and the landlord ignored him. He noted some of the issues which had occurred regarding his neighbour, including fights, noise and banging on his door and threatening him (as recently as that Saturday).
- The resident telephoned this Service on 15 October 2019 referring to ongoing ASB and regular visits from the police. He was advised about completing the landlord’s complaints procedure but stated that he did not wish to communicate with the landlord.
- In the resident’s email to the landlord of 15 October 2019, he said that he could not bid for properties and would need a transfer but no one would wish to transfer to his property due to the neighbour. On the same day, the landlord noted that it had sent an email to the resident but it was returned as undelivered and so staff hand-delivered a letter advising about bidding for properties as the resident had a live application. The resident’s email of 16 October 2019 requested information about transfers and mutual exchanges; the landlord explained both in an email the same day and advised that, as he had a ground floor property with an over bath shower (as recommended by the OT) he was considered to be adequately housed and his application was not given medical priority.
- On 17 October 2019 the resident stated that he did not know how to bid for a property. He was concerned that the landlord had not ensured his safety and that the previous week his neighbour’s visitors had banged on his door at 2am mistaking it for his neighbour’s door and this was followed by noise. In the landlord’s response of 18 October 2019, it explained in more detail how to bid and in its email of 21 October 2019, it advised him that his application was active and a staff member could telephone him to answer his questions.
- In its email of 22 October 2019, the landlord explained how to bid for properties (including log in details) and how to apply for a mutual exchange. In its email of 29 October 2019, it explained that the resident had already had an OT assessment and was found to be suitably housed so no further medical assessment was required. It advised him to bid for properties and, if he qualified, he would be contacted. It also advised that his stage one complaint had been considered and was complete.
- On 10 December 2019 the resident telephoned this Service referring to issues with his neighbour and that he was unable to bid for properties as when online it stated transfers were not possible. On 23 December 2019 the resident sent this Service a copy of the landlord’s email dated 29 October 2019, stating that it had closed his complaint.
- The resident’s telephone call to this Service on 30 April 2020 noted noise from his neighbour above who dropped things on the floor. On 30 April 2020, this Service asked the landlord to update the resident about the status of his complaint. The landlord left the resident a voicemail on 12 May 2020 and sent him an email asking him to clarify what the problem was, why he was unhappy with the service received and what he would like it to do. It offered to discuss this via telephone or correspond via email. The resident responded on 14 May 2020 referring to a variety of disturbances by his neighbour and stating that as the landlord would not move his neighbour, he wanted it to move him. He said that he was looking to rent a property privately, but he would be suing the landlord for the extra rent he had to pay.
- On the same day the resident asked the landlord what it was going to do next, as it had not acted over the last three years. The landlord acknowledged this email the same day and responded on 19 May 2020 that it would escalate the complaint from February 2019 to the next stage of its complaints process. It advised that the complaint would be reviewed and a response sent within 10 working days.
- In the landlord’s final complaint response of 20 May 2020, it confirmed its position as follows:
- the resident was previously provided with advice on how to move either through a mutual exchange or a transfer and had also been advised to report ASB if this was continuing. An ASB case was opened on 7 November 2017 and closed on 26 June 2018 and no case had been opened since then as the resident had not reported any new incidents and the landlord could not take action without reports. It encouraged him to make any new reports of ASB if this was still an issue and explained how to do so;
- the resident’s housing application was renewed on 15 October 2019 with a band 4 general needs priority and there had been no recent activity, with the last bid placed on 4 July 2018. From the landlord’s recent discussion with the resident, when he said he was looking to move within the next month to a private property, this was an option but he would need to give four weeks’ notice of his intention to move. If he wished to remain a tenant with the landlord, he needed to review properties available through the choice-based lettings scheme and place bids;
- the complaint had been thoroughly investigated and it was unable to find any new evidence to change the original outcome of the complaint, for the reasons shown above. It explained what to do if the resident considered the complaint unresolved.
- Following the landlord’s final complaint response, there appears to have been one further report when, on 26 June 2020, the resident noted that his neighbour brought him food at 12:40am and told him that she wished to move but the landlord had not done so. In a telephone call with this Service on 21 July 2020, the resident confirmed the outcome he wanted was to move to another property.
Assessment and findings
- The focus of this investigation is the period of time prior to the end of the complaints procedure on 20 May 2020. This is because the Ombudsman will only consider complaints which have exhausted a landlord’s internal complaints procedure, so that we can be sure the landlord has had an adequate opportunity to address the issues internally before we intervene. As a result, this investigation does not seek to assess, or make findings in relation to, events which took place after the end of the complaints process. However, some details are included for context and in the interests of informing the Ombudsman’s position on necessary future actions.
- The tenancy agreement stated that the tenant or visitors must not “do anything or allow anything to be done which causes or is likely to cause, a nuisance, annoyance or disturbance…” Therefore, it was necessary for the landlord to investigate any reports of ASB and take appropriate steps to resolve any issues it identified.
- The landlord’s ASB policy stated that:
- in dealing with ASB, the landlord will use a range of interventions available from non-legal warnings and agreements, to legal sanctions. In each case the landlord will assess the details and using a problem-solving approach determine the most appropriate and proportionate course of action to take, if any, and dependent on the quality of the evidence available;
- where there is a suggestion of criminal activity (such as drug dealing), the landlord will encourage tenants to report the issues direct to the police or Crimestoppers;
- the landlord will continue to work with existing community safety partners and other relevant agencies to tackle ASB.
- The landlord logged an ASB case in November 2017; arranged a home visit promptly; and sought information from the police, all of which were appropriate steps to take having received reports of ASB from the resident. The home visit had to be postponed twice but this took place on 20 February 2018 and the landlord provided appropriate advice about how to report incidents to the police and other relevant agencies and agreed use of a noise monitor if noise worsened. It also visited the neighbour (as agreed with the resident) and issued a verbal warning about ASB. The investigation cannot provide details of the conversation with a third party (due to data protection); but the landlord handled the visit appropriately. The last report of ASB made by the resident at this time was in March 2018. The landlord tried to make contact with him and asked other residents to report any ASB they were experiencing. However, since there were no further reports at this time, it was reasonable for the landlord to close the case in June 2018.
- By December 2018 the resident’s focus appears to have been a move to a two-bedroom property and in February 2019 he stated that he did not want to re-open the ASB case. Whilst it is understandable that the resident did not wish to do so since reporting incidents to the landlord is time-consuming, the landlord could only deal with ASB via recording an ASB case and responding according to its ASB policy. For action to be taken, evidence was required and this would need to take the form of reports from residents. Therefore, without reports from residents or an ongoing ASB case, the landlord was not in a position to take action regarding ASB.
- When the resident referred to ASB incidents again in October 2019, it was appropriate that the landlord sought information from the police who advised that there had been no recent incidents. Although the resident referenced ASB concerns in his emails, these appeared to be historical incidents. It was therefore appropriate that the landlord’s stage two response confirmed that, in order to take action, it needed to receive ASB reports and the landlord provided contact details about how to do so, including reporting to other relevant agencies. The Ombudsman is satisfied that there was no maladministration by the landlord in its handling of the resident’s reports of ASB.
- At the time of the complaint the landlord let its properties via a CBL scheme. As from November 2020, the landlord no longer lets all of its properties via this scheme and has set up its own lettings scheme which it will contact applicants about. However, at the time of the complaint, the landlord was a partner in the CBL scheme.
- This Service cannot comment on whether the landlord made the correct decision regarding the resident’s application for a transfer on medical grounds, or that priority was not awarded on the basis of any medical needs. These aspects of the complaint are outside the jurisdiction of the Housing Ombudsman Service as, in accordance with paragraph 39(m) of the Scheme, these matters fall within the jurisdiction of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO). Instead, this investigation has looked at how the landlord handled the resident’s request for a transfer.
- The resident requested a transfer firstly due to ASB by the neighbour and then, since December 2018, he requested a two–bedroom property so that a carer could stay at night. Under the CBL scheme policy, the landlord was to give impartial advice to all applicants needing help with how to use the lettings scheme.
- The landlord consistently responded to the resident’s queries about his application for an alternative property and provided appropriate advice about: what medical information could be provided for the priority of his transfer application to be increased; the status of his application; how to bid for properties; mutual exchanges; and the possible financial implications if he moved to a two–bedroom property. It also telephoned the housing benefit department on his behalf during a home visit for additional information in that regard.
- The landlord acknowledged that the resident did not want to bid for properties and instead wanted it to offer him a property directly, but it confirmed that process needed to be followed for consistency. The landlord’s vacant properties were allocated via the CBL scheme so it was necessary for the resident to pursue a move to an alternative property by placing bids on any properties that met his needs. However according to the landlord, the resident had only placed one bid (in July 2018) since his application had been live and that bid was unsuccessful.
- The Ombudsman is satisfied that the landlord has acted fairly and taken adequate steps to advise the resident to provide medical evidence to support his request for a two–bedroom property. It has consistently provided him with written advice about how to bid for properties as well as talking about this by telephone and visiting him at home. This Service is satisfied that there was no maladministration by the landlord with regard to the complaint that it had not moved the resident to an alternative property as he requested.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in relation to the resident’s:
- reports of ASB;
- request to transfer to an alternative property.
- The landlord responded appropriately to the ASB reported by the resident in November 2017 by logging an ASB case; arranging a home visit; seeking information from the police; visiting the neighbour; and issuing a verbal warning. There were gaps between reports of ASB and when no further reports were received either from the resident or other neighbours, it was reasonable that the landlord closed the ASB case in June 2018. The resident subsequently advised that he did not want the ASB case re-opened in February 2019. It was appropriate that the landlord explained that in order to take action it needed recent reports of ASB incidents and it has provided advice to the resident about how to do this.
- The landlord acted fairly and took adequate steps to advise the resident to provide medical evidence to support his request for a two–bedroom property. It has consistently responded to the resident’s queries by providing written advice about how the CBL scheme operates and how to bid for properties as well as talking about this by telephone and visiting him at home.
- The Ombudsman recommends that the landlord should contact the resident about any ongoing and recent ASB incidents and seeks the resident’s agreement to log an ASB case if so.