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Westminster City Council (202017009)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202017009

Westminster City Council

2 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 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. Handling of the resident’s reports of outstanding repairs to and the security of his front door.
    2. Associated complaint handling.

Background and summary of events

Policies and procedures

  1. As per the landlord’s tenant handbook, it is responsible for repairs to outside doors.
  2. The expected timescale to get an appointment for a repair is 20 days, as per the landlords website’s revised repair timescales following the corona virus pandemic.
  3. Section 4.2 of the landlord’s compensation and payment schemes confirms that compensation payments can be made to residents for distress, including inconvenience, frustration and uncertainty.
  4. Section 4.1 of the compensation and payment schemes confirms that the following must be considered by the landlord when determining if compensation should be paid:
    1. Has it failed to do something?
    2. Has the resident suffered time, trouble, distress and inconvenience as a result?
  5. Table A of the landlord’s compensation and payment schemes confirms its following one-off compensation rates:
    1. From £50 for the residents time and trouble in progressing the complaint.
    2. From £500 per year for the distress and inconvenience experienced by the resident.
    3. For delays in undertaking agreed recommendations from a complaint investigation, the procedure details the amount payable as “on its merit”.
  6. The landlord’s tenant handbook confirms that residents are responsible for providing access to it for inspections and repairs at reasonable times.
  7. As per the landlord’s complaints policy, it aims to send a response at both stages of its complaints process within ten working days.

Background

  1. The resident is a tenant of the landlord, residing in a flat, and he is disabled.

Summary of events

  1. On 30 March 2020, the resident emailed the landlord, stating the following:
    1. He raised concerns over having had “three no show appointments” by its contractor prior to their latest visit on 20 March 2020, and he reported that he had incorrectly been informed that draught excluders had been fitted from the outside of his property while he was inside.
    2. The contractor had informed him that his front door needed to be “updated and changed”, as this was letting in too much draught, which affected his arthritis from cold air entering his bedroom via gaps in the door that heating could not resolve. The resident reported that his neighbours all had the “privilege” of having double-glazed front doors, while he did not.
  2. The landlords records confirm that, on 20 April 2020, it had visited the resident’s property to inspect the front door there for draughts to see what repairs could be carried out to this. It had assessed that the door could be made to fit the frame better, by reducing the gap to the bottom of the door. The landlord also suggested that it make a referral for an occupational therapy assessment of the front door for the resident.
  3. On 6 May 2020, the resident emailed the landlord, which is summarised as follows:
    1. The resident had been liaising with its contractor in respect to the issues with his front door being draughty, but things had not yet been resolved, with cold air continuing to enter via gaps despite the draught seals on the door, and he had not yet heard from it about the above occupational therapy assessment.
    2. A contractor had informed him that the front door had security issues, as this was “very wobbly”, but yet they did not want to change his front door.
  4. On 11 May 2020, the landlord’s records confirmed that its contractor had attended the resident’s property to complete repairs to the front door, which they had stated could be carried out. However, he had refused the repair, as he wanted a new front door, and had raised concerns about this for his disability.
  5. The landlord then recorded that, on 10 June 2020, it reduced the gap at the bottom of the resident’s front door and fitted new draught excluders to this. The front door was noted by it to have been found to have had three operational locks, worked “perfectly” and was “very secure”.
  6. On 1 July 2020, the landlord emailed the resident to confirm that it had spoken to the occupational therapist who had completed the above assessment at his property during the previous week, and that “a recommendation will be made for a new door set to be installed.” This work would be raised by it, once the formal report was received from the occupational therapist, who had agreed to make the above recommendation. Although the landlord noted that it completed works on 7 July 2020 to overhaul the door, adjust the hinges to raise this and receive latches and a deadlock, and to fit new handles to the door.
  7. On 22 July 2020, the above occupational therapy assessment report was issued, which detailed that the following work was required to the resident’s property:
    1. Provision of a half step by his front door.
    2. Replacement of the front door lock on front door with a door handle. This was due to the current lock being low down, with no door handle to push the door open.
  8. On 21 October 2020, the resident submitted his stage one complaint to the landlord, stating the following:
    1. He had been a victim of burglary on 20 October 2020, and he felt that “this would not have happened, had [his front] door been replaced as requested”. Furthermore, the resident felt that his health and safety were not being prioritised by the landlord, for which he had asked for a new door.
    2. He wanted the complaint to be investigated and compensation “for [his] losses due to how the matter was handled.” The resident explained that he had his items stolen during the burglary, and thieves in his property going through his belongings, with the landlord’s operative who had subsequently temporarily secured his front door querying why this was glass-panelled and not double-glazed, unlike most of his neighbours.
  9. On 26 October 2020, the landlord’s records confirmed the installation by its contractor of the resident’s new front door on 23 October 2020, along with a new thumb turn lock and a new night latch. The contractor also confirmed that the property was now secure, but that the resident did not believe that the new door was “permanent” and needed clarification on this.
  10. On 18 November 2020, the landlord provided its stage one complaint response to the resident, which is summarised as follows:
    1. It apologised for the delay in acknowledging receipt of his complaint, having seen the complaint on 3 November 2020 due to its backlog of cases.
    2. It confirmed that it had reviewed the issues previously reported to it in respect to the front door, which were relating to the draught and his disability that it had carried out repairs and referred him for an occupational therapy assessment for. However, the landlord had found “no evidence that the security of the door was an issue nor could [it] find any security reports to support this.
    3. Following the burglary at his property, it had installed a temporary door blank to maintain the security of his home, until the new front door could be installed there. It took eight weeks for the manufacturer to provide the new front door, for which the landlord would contact the resident to arrange a suitable appointment for installation once this had been received.
    4. It did not uphold his complaint, as there was no evidence that it could find to suggest that the front door was insecure, and it did not identify any failures to provide services to him. Therefore, the landlord could not consider the resident’s request for compensation.
    5. It suggested that he submit a claim against his home contents insurance for the loss of his personal possessions. The landlord also provided the resident with its website’s address for submitting a public liability claim against it, if he felt that it had been negligent in its duty of care.
  11. On 21 November 2020, the resident requested the escalation of his complaint by the landlord, stating the following:
    1. It had previously assessed his front door to be safe, and that “no-one could break into it”.
    2. Following its inspection of 24 June 2020, it had found the front door needed to be replaced due to the age of the door that had bent and was letting in cold air even with draught excluders fitted making this “not suitable for purpose anymore”, as per its email to him of 1 July 2020.
    3. From his point of view, the front door was assessed to need replacement; “there had been four months between that time to do something about it”, yet he had now been informed that he would not get a new front door. The resident disputed that a “30+ year old timber front door with single-glazed wired glass” was a secure front door, which he had arranged to be looked into and understood this to be an internal and not front door that was “not safe. He also reported being unable to lock his windows as he had never been supplied with keys to them, which the burglar was now aware of.
    4. He did not have home contents insurance, as this was too expensive due to his area’s reputation for burglaries and his property’s location within five metres of a tree.
  12. The landlord’s records confirmed that the resident’s new front door was fitted on 27 November 2020.
  13. On 12 March 2021, the landlord provided its final stage complaint response to the resident, which is summarised as follows:
    1. It apologised for the time that it had taken to reply to his complaint and for its communications, which were below its expectations. The landlord also highlighted that the resident’s new front door did take longer than it had expected to provide, which was partly due to the corona virus pandemic restrictions for carpentry works, and the delay in the receipt of the report from the occupational therapist.
    2. However, there has been no reports of his existing front door being insecure or posing a security risk from its contractor, following their visits to his property. Therefore, the landlord did not consider this to have contributed to the reasons for the burglary at the resident’s property. Although it agreed to see if it could either source new keys to his windows or install new locks for them once the current corona virus pandemic working restrictions were eased.
    3. In settlement of his complaint, it offered him £100 total compensation, which was broken down into £50 for its poor communication, and £50 for his time and trouble in progressing the complaint that it partially upheld.
  14. On 25 March 2021, the resident referred the complaint to this Service, which is summarised as follows:
    1. The resident had an “ongoing battle” in getting the landlord to address his concerns over the front door of his property, which was previously “blank wood” with “no security locks or peep hole”. Although it had attended to this after the resident had been burgled, he did not feel that this was sufficient. He did not feel safe and secure in his own home.
    2. The resident felt that the landlord should fit a “safe and secure” double glazed door to his property, like his other neighbours’ homes, and offer him compensation for the loss of his belongings, “the loss of security and confidence” in the property, and the “continued stress” that the situation had caused him.
    3. Since the resident had submitted the complaint, the landlord had fitted a double-glazed door that was majority glass with a plastic panel, but he felt that the new door was for the rear entrance to a property, and that it “could easily be broken into again.”
  15. The resident subsequently informed this Service that the amount of glass in his new front door made this “unsafe”, and that this was 80 per cent glass but should have been nearer to 20 per cent glass. He also attributed the burglary at his property to him having never received a window key from it to lock the window from which the burglar escaped, for which he requested such a key from it together with £2,000 damages for the cost of his stolen items, as well as a new front door.

Assessment and findings

Repairs to and security of front door

  1. The resident has previously raised concerns over the effect of the draught from his front door on his health and wellbeing in light of his disability. The Ombudsman does not dispute his comments regarding his health, but we are unable to draw conclusions on the causation of, or liability for, impacts on health and wellbeing or award damages for these. This because we do not have the authority or expertise to do so in the way that a court or insurer might. However, we have considered the general distress and inconvenience which the situation has caused him.
  2. The resident has also requested that the landlord compensate him for his loss of personal belongings following the burglary at his property. It is nevertheless additionally not within the scope of this investigation to determine the landlord’s liability for the resident’s damages from the burglary, in the way that a court or insurer might, because we do not have the authority or expertise to do so. However, we have considered whether the landlord’s handling of the resident’s front door’s repairs and security was appropriate, and whether it acted in accordance with its policies, procedures and other obligations.
  3. Following the resident’s reported concerns from prior to 30 March 2020 over the draught coming into his property from the front door, the landlord inspected the property on 20 April 2020. This was a fair action for it to take to understand the nature of the issue, and was in line with its repair obligations to do so from its tenant handbook and website, above at paragraphs 2 and 3, respectively.
  4. During the landlord’s inspection of 20 April 2020, it assessed that a repair was required to the resident’s front door for draughts by reducing the gap to the bottom of the door. Its contractor subsequently tried to carry out these repairs on 11 May 2020; however, the resident refused the repair as he wanted a new front door instead. This was nevertheless contrary to its tenant handbook above at paragraph 7, as he was obliged by this to allow the landlord access to carry out the repairs that it deemed necessary to complete at reasonable times.
  5. The landlord was then granted access by the resident to his property on 10 June 2020, when it reduced the gap at the bottom of the front door which was causing the draught. It also recorded that it had reviewed the safety of the front door on that date, and had assessed this to be secure. This was a reasonable action for the landlord to take to address the resident’s previously reported concern about the draught entering via his front door, as well as his later reports from 6 May 2020 that the door had security issues, by attending and investigating these matters.
  6. The landlord also arranged for an occupational therapy assessment to be carried out at the resident’s property for his front door in light of his disability in June 2020, and it noted that it overhauled, adjusted and fitted new handles to this on 7 July 2020. The recommendations from the subsequent occupational therapy report on 22 July 2020 did not suggest there were any concerns over the security of the front door, neither did this recommend a new front door, but rather the provision of a half step and a door handle.
  7. The landlord had nevertheless committed to providing the resident with a new front door on 1 July 2020, following a conversation with the occupational therapist who had completed the above assessment. This did therefore contribute to the delay in the replacement of his front door, as it had looked to the follow the recommendations of the report, together with the corona virus pandemic restrictions for carpentry works at the time, as outlined in its later final stage complaint response to him of 12 March 2021.
  8. The resident was then a victim of a burglary at his property on 20 October 2020. This prompted his stage one complaint on 21 October 2020, where he felt that the landlord was responsible for this, due to its delay in replacing his front door. It evidenced, however, that it had completed two visits to inspect the front door, in addition to arranging the occupational therapist’s visit for this, as described above.
  9. There were nevertheless no suggestions of concerns by the operatives or the occupational therapist who had attended the resident’s property over the security of his front door during any of the above visits. The landlord did, however, provide him with details on how to make a claim against its public liability insurance if he felt that it was negligent in respect of this, and this was a reasonable action for it to take. This is because it had assessed the resident’s front door to be secure, and it was appropriate for it to rely on its operatives’ and occupational therapist’s expert opinions of this in the absence of any other expert evidence to the contrary, but he had continued to dispute this and to request damages for his lost belongings, which he could claim against its insurance.
  10. The landlord also acknowledged that it had taken longer than expected for the resident’s front door to be replaced following its commitment to do so, for the above reasons that were outside of its control, as well as due to the fact that it told him on 18 November 2020 that it took the manufacturer eight weeks to provide a new door. It therefore offered him compensation of £50 on 12 March 2021 for its poor communication in respect of this.
  11. This award was fair in recognising any distress and inconvenience that the resident experienced as a result of this, and was in line with the amounts recommended for such compensation by the landlord’s compensation and payment schemes above at paragraphs 4 to 6 and by this Service’s remedies guidance. It additionally agreed on 12 March 2021 to either source new keys to his windows or install new locks for them once the current corona virus pandemic working restrictions were eased, in light of his report that he had not been provided with window keys, which was reasonable.
  12. While it is concerning that the resident reports that he continues to have security concerns about the high percentage of glass in his new front door, this matter is outside of the scope of this investigation. This is because the Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints that are made prior to having exhausted the landlord’s complaints procedure, and there is no evidence that such a complaint from him has done so yet.

Complaint handling

  1. The landlord provided its stage one complaint response of 18 November 2020, 20 working days after receiving the residents stage one complaint of 21 October 2020. This was not in accordance with the tenworkingday timescale for it to do so at both stages of its complaints process, as detailed in its complaints policy above at paragraph 8, although it apologised to him for its delay in doing so in its response.
  2. Following receipt of the resident’s final stage complaint of 21 November 2020, it provided its final stage complaint response to this on 12 March 2021. This was also not in accordance with the above tenworkingday timescale in its complaints policy, but was almost three months later than this, which was an inappropriately excessive delay.
  3. The landlord therefore apologised to the resident for the above delay in its final stage complaint response, and this also offered him £50 compensation for his time and trouble in progressing the complaint. This award was fair as it recognised the difficulties that its above complaints handling delays would have caused him in accordance with the amount recommended by its compensation and payment schemes for this above at paragraph 6, and was additionally in line with this Service’s remedies guidance’s recommendations.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has offered redress to the resident prior to investigation which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint about its handling of his reports of outstanding repairs to and the security of his front door satisfactorily.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the landlord has offered redress to the resident prior to investigation which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint about its associated complaint handling satisfactorily.

Reasons

  1. It took longer than necessary for the landlord to fit the resident’s new front door. It apologised to him for this, explained that this was for reasons outside of its control, and offered him fair compensation for its poor communication in respect of this.
  2. The landlord failed to provide timely responses to the resident’s stage one and final stage complaints. It also apologised to him for this and offered him fair compensation for his time and trouble in progressing the complaint.

Recommendation

  1. It is recommended that the landlord pay the resident the £100 compensation that it previously awarded him, and provide him with the new window keys or locks that it agreed to, if he has not received these already.
  2. The landlord should contact this Service within four weeks to confirm whether it will follow the above recommendation.
  3. The Ombudsman accepts that, because of the present restrictions due to the corona virus pandemic, the timing of the above actions will depend on what is reasonable in the light of Government guidance regarding the health of the resident and of the landlord’s staff.