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Trident Housing Association Limited (202002463)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202002463

Trident Housing Association Limited

5 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. The complaint concerns the landlord’s:
    1. Handling of repairs to the property following a leak from a radiator.
    2. Refusal to reimburse the resident for damage to his personal items caused by the leak.
    3. Formal complaint into these matters.

Jurisdiction

  1. What we 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 the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the case as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated. After carefully considering all the evidence, the following aspect of the complaint is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

The landlord’s refusal to reimburse the resident for damage to his personal items

  1. Paragraph 25(a) of the scheme states that the Ombudsman will consider complaints from “a person who is or has been in a landlord/tenant relationship with a member landlord”.
  2. In his letter of complaint send on 1 May 2020, the resident made a compensation request for the damage caused to his personal items by the radiator leak. The landlord passed on this request to its insurance provider.
  3. The Ombudsman is unable to investigate the resident’s concerns regarding the insurer’s decision on his claim. This is because the Ombudsman can only investigate complaints about social landlords, who are members of the Scheme. The insurer is not a member of the Scheme and therefore the Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about its activities. The insurer is a separate organisation from the landlord and the landlord was not responsible for the insurer’s decision regarding the resident’s claim. However, the Ombudsman has considered the landlord’s response to the resident’s request for compensation and whether this was reasonable in view of all the circumstances.

Health and Wellbeing

  1. As part of his complaint, the resident has requested compensation for the trauma he experienced as a result of the leak and the damage it caused. The Ombudsman does not doubt the resident’s comments regarding his health, but this Service is unable to draw conclusions on the causation of, or liability for, impacts on health and wellbeing. However, consideration has been given to the general distress and inconvenience which the situation has caused him.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The resident is an assured tenant of the landlord, which is a housing association. The property is a flat in a communal building.
  2. The landlord categorises its repairs as emergency (attend within 24 hours) and routine (attend within 28 days). Emergency repairs are defined as “an immediate risk to the safety or security of you or your home”. Examples of an emergency repair given by the landlord include major leaks, blocked toilet (when there is only one toilet in the property), and a total heating failure (no heating and hot water).
  3. The landlord operates a two-stage complaint policy. When a complaint is raised, the landlord will acknowledge it within two working days and then send a stage one complaint response. The expected timescales for providing the response will be given in the acknowledgement letter, although the landlord notes that this would normally be ten working days.
  4. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response, they can, within 20 working days of receiving the response, request an escalation. A review of the complaint will then be undertaken by a complaints panel and a stage two response sent within 20 working days. This will be the landlord’s final response to the complaint.
  5. The complaint policy also states that it will not progress a complaint if the complainant had already started court action or an insurance claim into the matter.
  6. The landlord’s compensation policy states that it will consider paying a goodwill gesture when a complainant has received poor service or suffered inconvenience. Section 5 of the policy describes the circumstances where it will not consider a compensation payment. These include claims that would normally be dealt with by its insurers, claims covered by its liability insurance, and claims for personal injury.

Summary of events

  1. On 9 April 2020 the resident contacted the landlord and informed it of an issue with a radiator valve in the property. He also raised concerns that a previous leak, he had experienced from the property above, would reoccur when the property above became occupied. The landlord raised a work order to examine the radiator.
  2. On 11 April 2020 the landlord received a report from the property below the resident of water leaking from the ceiling. The landlord raised an emergency repair for 12 April 2020. A landlord operative and a heating engineer attended. The landlord’s repair log marked this work as being completed on 12 April 2020.
  3. An internal landlord email from the operative who attended described what happened during the visit. The email said that:
    1. They informed the resident of the leak into the property below and that the source was likely to be from his bedroom. The resident informed them that he had problems with the bedroom radiator being on all the time and that a repair had been arranged for that upcoming week.
    2. The operative then examined the radiator. During this examination, the radiator valve failed and caused a large amount of water to flood the property. The resident became very angry.
    3. The operative isolated the water, and the radiator was then made safe by the heating engineer. The resident apologised for becoming angry and a wet vacuum was used to remove the water. The operative and engineer helped the resident clear up items from the floor. The resident then became angry again. The engineer left the property and attended the property below to examine the leak.
    4. The operative provided the resident with their details and then joined the heating engineer in the property below.
  4. On 14 April 2020 the heating contractor called the landlord. The landlord’s notes of the call state that it was informed by the contractor that due to the resident’s conduct towards their heating engineer, they would no longer attend his property.
  5. The landlord’s repair logs state that on 15 April 2020 the resident reported that the toilet in the property was not flushing and there was no water from the taps. An urgent repair was raised, which was marked as completed on 15 April 2020.
  6. The repair logs further state that the resident informed the landlord on 18 April 2020 that flooding had reoccurred in the property and to the landing outside. An emergency repair was raised to remove the water from the property and landing, which was marked as completed on 18 April 2020.
  7. On 2 May 2020 the resident wrote a letter of complaint to the landlord. He described the elements of his complaint as:
    1. An operative attended the property relating to a leak into the flat below. While examining the radiator in the bedroom, the radiator burst causing hot water to flood the property and set off the fire alarms.
    2. The water caused significant damage to his personal items.
    3. While he accepted that he became angry and upset due to the circumstances, the operative and heating engineer who attended behaved in an unprofessional manner.
    4. Following the leak, the resident did not hear from the landlord until he contacted it on 15 April 2020 to inform it that he had no running water or a working toilet in the property.
  8. As a resolution to the complaint, the resident requested a compensation payment of £9,475, which he broke down as:
    1. £2,000 for personal effects.
    2. £1,000 for flooring and furniture.
    3. £475 for the television.
    4. £6,000 for personal injury and trauma.
  9. The landlord wrote to the resident on 1 May 2020. It informed him that it had opened a formal complaint and that it aimed to provide him a response within ten working days.
  10. The stage one complaint response was sent to the resident on 12 May 2020. The landlord apologised to the resident for the poor level of service he had received and therefore upheld the complaint. It confirmed that it had passed on his compensation request to its insurance company.
  11. The landlord also called the resident of 12 May 2020 and left a voicemail message asking him to contact it in order to raise work orders to reattach the radiator and assess what further work in the property was required.
  12. The landlord repair logs state that an engineer attended on 12 May 2020 to repair a leak to a radiator and that an appointment was arranged for 15 May 2020 to undertake a survey of the property in order to replace the radiators.
  13. The resident wrote to the landlord on 1 July 2020 and requested an escalation of the complaint. This email has not been provided to the Ombudsman; it is therefore not clear what grounds the resident described as the reasons for his request, if any.
  14. The landlord replied to the resident on 1 July 2020. It informed the resident that it had escalated the complaint and it aimed to provide a response within 20 working days. The landlord’s email described the stage two complaint process but did not summarise any outstanding issues or desired outcome given by the resident from his escalation request.
  15. On 23 October 2020 the resident wrote to the landlord and requested to receive a final response for the complaint.
  16. The stage two complaint response was sent to the resident on 6 November 2020. It informed the resident that it had not upheld its appeal and that it had previously passed on his complaint to its insurance company, who informed it that the complaint was not an insurance matter.

Assessment and findings

The landlord’s handling of repairs to the property following a leak from a radiator

  1. Upon being informed by the resident’s neighbour of a leak from the resident’s property, the landlord raised an emergency repair and attended both properties within 24 hours. This is in line with the response times listed in the landlord’s repairs policy.
  2. During the appointment, a radiator burst causing water damage to the resident’s personal items. In its stage one response, the landlord accepted that the resident experienced poor customer service following the radiator leak. The landlord did not contact the resident following the emergency repair until he informed it that he was without running water, and it was not until the resident raised a complaint that it arranged follow-on work to identify any outstanding issues in the property caused by the leak and to replace the radiators.
  3. Although the landlord apologised to the resident and passed on his claim for compensation in relation to his damaged personal items to its insurer, the landlord did not consider awarding compensation for the poor service and delays experienced by the resident. This was not in line with its compensation policy and was therefore a service failure by the landlord.
  4. The landlord’s compensation policy does not give any guidance on the level of payments it should consider offering. The Ombudsman’s own remedies guidance (which is available on our website) suggests a payment of £50-£200 in cases where service failure has had an impact on a resident but was of short duration and may not have significantly affected the overall outcome.
  5. Therefore, in order to fully resolve this aspect of the complaint, a payment of £200 should be paid to the resident in recognition of the poor customer service he experienced, the time he was without a flushing toilet and running water, and the delays in arranging follow-on work.
  6. It was reasonable for the landlord to refer the resident’s claim for damage to his personal possessions to its insurer, in line with its compensation policy. As explained above, the Ombudsman cannot comment on the outcome of the insurance claim. The landlord would not be expected to pay compensation for the resident’s possessions itself after the insurer declined the claim. This is because the landlord would only be expected to pay compensation if it had caused damage to the resident’s possessions through negligence in causing the leak or unreasonable delays in fixing it. The landlord was entitled to follow its insurer’s decision that it had not been negligent in this case. Although there were delays in carrying out follow up repairs, the leak itself was fixed within 24 hours and there is insufficient evidence to show that the damage could have been prevented if the landlord’s operatives had acted differently when they attended the repair. The landlord would not be obliged to pay compensation simply because there had been a leak as residents are advised to take out their own insurance to cover their possessions in case of such incidents.

The landlord’s formal complaint

  1. The landlord followed its response times at stage one of the complaint. However, the landlord did not respond to all of the elements raised by the resident in its stage one complaint response.
  2. The resident had raised concerns regarding the conduct of the landlord’s operative and the contactor’s heating engineer. This was not addressed in the landlord’s complaint response. The landlord’s internal correspondence showed that the contractor had contacted it about the events that occurred during the appointment and its operative had written an email describing what had happened.
  3. As these accounts were in dispute with the resident’s recollection of events, it would have been reasonable for the landlord to inform the resident of these different accounts and explain that without corroborating evidence, it would not be in a position to take any further action. The landlord would not be able to compel its contractor to attend the resident’s property again as the contractor said the resident had behaved inappropriately towards them. Although, as above the landlord should have explained this to the resident in its responses to his complaint.
  4. The Ombudsman has not disregarded the resident’s concerns about the conduct of the operatives who attended. However, the resident has not provided any supporting evidence to either the landlord or this Service which disputed the other accounts. Without supporting evidence, it is not possible for the Ombudsman as an impartial and independent arbiter to say which version of events is correct. Moreover, it is outside the Ombudsman’s role to investigate employment matters and therefore we would not assess any specific action which the landlord may have taken regarding the staff member concerned or comment on this as part of our assessment of this complaint.
  5. Therefore, while the landlord would not have been expected to have taken action due to the lack of corroborating evidence, that it did not address this element at all in the stage one response was a service failure.
  6. The landlord did not follow its response times at stage two of the complaint process, nor did the stage two response undertake a sufficiently thorough review of the complaint.
  7. The resident requested an escalation of the complaint on 1 July 2020. Although this was outside of the 20 working-day window for requesting a review, the landlord replied on 1 July 2020 and escalated the complaint through its process. The landlord informed the resident that it would provide the response within 20 working days.
  8. The stage two response was not sent to the resident until 6 November 2020, five months later. The stage two response did not address this delay or any elements of the case, other than that it was informed by its insurance company that the resident’s complaint was not an insurance matter.
  9. A landlord’s second complaint response would be expected to review how it responded to the complaint at the first stage and address any outstanding issues and/or desired outcome described by a complainant when they requested the escalation.
  10. As this was not done, this would constitute a service failure by the landlord. The resident experienced a significant delay in receiving a stage two response and the elements of the complaint were not properly addressed. In not addressing the failures described above at stage one, the landlord missed the opportunity to offer an acceptable resolution to the resident that could have resolved the complaint at stage two and prevented the further delay of the resident bringing his case to this Service to consider.
  11. The Ombudsman’s remedies guidance suggests a payment of £250 to £750 in cases of considerable service failure or maladministration where there may be no permanent impact on the complainant. As an example of what should be considered for this level of redress, the guidance suggests “significant failures to follow complaint procedure, escalate the matter or signpost the complainant”.
  12. It would therefore be appropriate for the landlord to pay the resident £250 compensation for its failures to address all the elements of the complaint at stage one of its process, the significant delay in providing the stage two response, and not undertaking a proper review of the complaint at stage two.

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 to the property following a leak from a radiator.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration by the landlord in respect of the formal complaint.

Reasons

  1. The landlord accepted that the resident had experienced poor customer service and delays in relation to the repairs following the leak. However, it did not offer compensation for this in line with its compensation policy.
  2. The stage one complaint response did not address all of the elements of the complaint raised by the resident.
  3. The stage two complaint response was provided to the resident after a significant delay and did not represent a comprehensive review of how the complaint was handled at stage one of the landlord’s process.

Orders and recommendations

  1. For the service failures and reasons set out above, the landlord is ordered to pay to the resident £450 compensation. This payment should be made within four weeks of the date of this report. The landlord should update this Service when payment has been made.