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Wandle Housing Association Limited (202014677)

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COMPLAINT 202014677

Wandle Housing Association 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 is about the landlord’s:
    1. Administration of the rent account and its subsequent decision to recover a refund made in error.
    2. Failure to respond to a data protection request.


  1. What we can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Housing Ombudsman Scheme. When a complaint is brought to the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the case as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
  2. After carefully considering all the evidence, in accordance paragraph 39(m) of the Scheme, the following aspect of the complaint is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction – the landlord’s failure to respond to a data protection request. Paragraph 39(m) of the Scheme says that the Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, fall properly within the jurisdiction of another Ombudsman, regulator or complaint-handling body.
  3. The evidence shows that the representative made a subject access request on 19 November 2020 and the landlord responded on 16 December 2020. Determinations about whether an organisation has complied with data protection rules is a matter for the Information Commissioner’s office, not the Housing Ombudsman.

Background and summary of events


  1. The resident has an assured tenancy with the landlord that started in May 2018. The property is a two-bedroom flat. In making her complaint, a family member of the resident acted as her representative.
  2. The tenancy agreement said that the weekly rent/service charges payable was £223.40.
  3. The tenancy agreement said that the resident must pay rent and all other charges for the property in advance on the Monday of each week. It added that, if a resident did not pay rent, it might apply to court to have them evicted.
  4. The landlord has a two-stage complaints procedure. It aims to respond to complaints at stage one within ten working days and at stage two within twenty working days.

Summary of events

  1. From June 2018 the resident received housing benefit which covered her housing costs in full. Each week she was charged rent of £118.09 (this should have been £223.40 in line with the tenancy agreement – paragraph 6) and every four weeks a housing benefit credit was made of £893.60 (which covered four week’s rent at the correct rate).
  2. By April 2019 the resident’s rent account was in credit by £4,737.44. At this time the housing benefit paid reduced to £478.40 every four weeks which covered inaccurate rent that was accruing weekly, which had increased to £119.60). This meant that the credit on the rent account no longer increased.
  3. On 27 July 2020 the rent account was in credit by £4,715.34. The resident asked for a refund of rent and asked that a month’s rent was left on the account.
  4. On 25 August 2020 the local authority confirmed that there was no housing benefit overpayment for the resident. Two days later, the landlord gave her a rent refund of £4,177.92.
  5. On 22 September 2020 the landlord debited the resident’s rent account with the sum of £4,633.64 which was made up of the refund of £4,177.92 and the credit left on the account of a month’s rent (paragraph 11).
  6. On 23 September 2020 the landlord wrote to the resident saying that the rent arrears were £4,592.30 and asked her to contact it within five days to avoid a Notice of Seeking Possession.
  7. On 7 October 2020 the landlord wrote to the resident saying that the rent arrears were £4,822.62. It then sought a Notice of Seeking Possession.
  8. The resident made a formal complaint by phone on an unknown date. The note of the call said that the resident had anxiety for which she took medication and the ongoing situation about the threat of eviction was causing a lot of stress. The resident did not believe she should have to pay back the money back as she received it in good faith. She also said she had agreed to pay the money back but she was in an “agitated state at the time” and agreed, even though she did not mean to.
  9. Meanwhile, on 15 December 2020 the landlord had sent its stage one complaint response to the resident under its formal complaints procedures. It explained that it had spoken to the resident on 8 September 2020 once it became aware that the refund of rent had been made in error. It said it had advised that the payment did not belong to the resident and had made a mistake. It explained that the wrong rent amount of £118.09 had been applied to the rent account which led to the build-up of a false credit. In conclusion the landlord said that the resident had agreed to pay £80 monthly towards the arrears, which she had since not stuck to. It apologised for any inconvenience its error might have caused.
  10. On 17 December 2020, following contact from the resident, the landlord escalated the complaint to stage two.
  11. On 29 December 2020 the landlord issued its final response to the resident under its formal complaints procedure. It re-iterated how the rent credit had occurred and stated that the resident would have to pay this money back and it had taken the refund from the resident’s rent account which had put the account in arrears. The landlord said it was willing to take a payment of £40 a month towards the arrears and confirmed it had not taken any legal action against the resident. The landlord apologised that it had got things wrong and apologised for any inconvenience or distress this had caused. It added that it would learn from this experience and work to improve its service in the future.
  12. The landlord signposted the resident to the Ombudsman.
  13. When she approached the Ombudsman, the representative said that the threat of eviction had caused the resident distress.

Assessment and findings

The landlord’s administration of the rent account and its subsequent decision to recover a refund made in error.

  1. The landlord made an error when setting up the rent account because it did not set up the amount of rent due correctly. This meant that from June 2018 to April 2019 the housing benefit paid was in excess of the rent by £421.24 a month; that resulted in an account credit of £4,737.44 by April 2019. The landlord’s handling of the rent account was not appropriate as it did not set up the account accurately.
  2. When the resident requested a refund of the credit on the rent account, the landlord did not undertake thorough checks. While it ensured there was no housing benefit overpayment, it would have been reasonable for it to have carried out a basic check to ensure the figures on the rent account were correct.
  3. Had the landlord done so, it would have recognised that the resident’s rent was covered in full by housing benefit and no rent payment was received from the resident herself and to query how such a credit had arisen. That should have alerted the landlord to the fact that there was something wrong and to question how it could refund over four thousand pounds to a resident who has not paid any rent herself. That in turn should have led to some investigation as to why the rent account was in credit. Had the landlord done basic checks before making the refund, it would likely have realised that the rent amount had not been entered correctly on to its system and therefore that the rent statement was not accurate.
  4. In relation to the failures identified, the Ombudsman’s role is to consider whether the redress offered by the landlord put things right and resolved the complainant’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 as well as our own guidance on remedies.
  5. In this case, the landlord contacted the resident as soon as it became aware of its mistake (which was within two weeks – paragraph 17). It also apologised for any distress and inconvenience caused to her (paragraph 19).
  6. It was reasonable for the landlord to ask the resident to pay the monies back, as she has an obligation to pay rent (whether or not it is covered in part, or in full by housing benefit) as set out in the tenancy agreement. Accordingly, the landlord’s decision not to reduce the amount of money to be repaid was reasonable. The landlord has also offered reasonable repayment terms to the resident which, should she adhere to them, should avoid legal action being taken against her.
  7. The action taken by the landlord is reasonable redress for its errors; financial compensation is not appropriate here as it would be reasonable for the landlord to credit any compensation to the rent account.
  8. As of June 2020, the rent statement showed the rent due of £125.87 a week, which suggests that the rent has not been corrected. I have made a recommendation with respect to the rent account, below.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 55 (b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the Ombudsman considers that the landlord has made redress to the resident which resolves the complaint with respect to its administration of the rent account and its subsequent decision to recover a refund made in error.


  1. There was clearly a failure by the landlord in its administration of the rent account and in giving a refund to the resident that was not due. It has apologised for any inconvenience and distress caused to the resident and has offered reasonable repayment terms for the rent that was refunded in error. The Ombudsman considers that the action taken by the landlord was reasonable and proportionate. 


  1. It is recommended that the landlord takes the following action:
    1. Carry out an exercise to ensure that the figures on the resident’s rent account are correct and write to the resident and representative with the outcome of that exercise.
    2. If appropriate, liaise with the local authority or the Department of Work and Pensions with regards to the resident’s housing benefit (which is now paid as part of Universal Credit). 
    3. Take steps to reassure itself that the errors in setting up this rent account were a one-off and this is not a systemic problem.
    4. Undertake staff training in the administration of rent accounts so that mistakes made in this case do not re-occur.