Westminster City Council
18 August 2023
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 resident’s:
- Reports of repairs required to various parts of the property, partly due to water damage.
- Reports of damage to the wooden floor of the property.
- Formal Complaint.
- The resident is a secure tenant of a two-bedroom flat that is managed by CityWest Homes on behalf of Westminster City Council and will be referred to as the landlord throughout the remainder of this report. The tenancy commenced in July 2005 and the resident is understood to be vulnerable and her children also reside in the property.
- The resident reported several concerns to the landlord about water damage in the property in 2019 which affected the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. It is not clear when these issues were first reported to the landlord, but it is noted that the resident advised the Ombudsman that some areas of the property had been in a poor state of disrepair for at least seven years, with the kitchen and bathroom in her view requiring significant repairs. The reports of water damage which the resident raised were attended to, however the plastering and decorative works required to finish the repairs to the ceiling and walls in these areas were not completed and remained outstanding in November 2019, when contractors reported being unable to complete the works because the ceilings were very porous.
- The landlord’s contractor attended or attempted to attend the property on several occasions between November 2019 to January 2020, however for reasons which are unknown, the resident did not grant access to the property and so the plastering and decorative works, which were classified as routine and necessary to finish the works, were not completed. The resident also reported to the landlord that its contractor had damaged the wooden floor in the property.
- There is no record of the resident raising a formal complaint with the landlord about the delays in completing the plastering and decorative works to the kitchen, bathroom, and kitchen until May 2022. The landlord considered the complaint and, in its response advised the resident that it could not consider complaints which were received more than one year from the date the issues giving rise to the complaint were identified. This meant that some aspects of the resident’s complaint to the landlord were not considered. In its response the landlord acknowledged and apologised for the severe delays in completing the outstanding repairs and awarded the resident compensation for the service failures and inconvenience caused as a result. The resident escalated the complaint to stage two because she considered that the compensation of £150 offered by the landlord was not fair or reasonable.
- The resident was dissatisfied with the landlord’s final complaint response which had increased the compensation offered to £300 which she did not consider reflected the full distress and inconvenience caused to her. The resident felt that the landlord did not recognise the seriousness of the issues.
Assessment and findings
- Although this service notes that the resident expressed the view that some areas of the property have been in a poor state of repair for several years, this investigation has primarily focussed on events from 2019 and the landlord’s handling of the works related to the plastering and decorating of several areas in the property following water damage.
The landlord’s handling of repairs required to parts of the property, partly due to water damage
- The works relating to plastering the ceilings, walls and completing decorative works in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom following water damage were recorded on the repairs log for the property from as early as June 2019, and remained outstanding in February 2020 by which time the resident had refused the landlord’s contractors access to complete the necessary works on at least two occasions. The reasons the resident refused access to the property are not known because this is not specified in the landlord’s records and there is no evidence the landlord liaised with the resident in this regard. This was a failing on the landlord’s part as in accordance with the terms of its tenancy agreement, the resident is required to provide access at reasonable times for repairs to be carried out and it would have been reasonable to have liaised with the resident to try to progress matters.
- The resident queried the outstanding works with the landlord on or around 28 February 2020 and the records show that a work order was raised on this date for these works to be completed with a target date of 18 May 2020. Although the landlord’s policy does not specify a timeframe by when the landlord aims to complete work classified as non-urgent it is not, in the Ombudsman view, unreasonable for the resident to expect that such works will be completed within six weeks of the landlord recognising the need for repair, and the landlord’s target date for completing these works largely accords with that expectation.
- These works were not completed by the time the UK government announced the national lockdown in response to the pandemic on 16 March 2020. The lockdown meant the landlord was not able to complete routine repairs to its properties during the following dates:
- 23 March 2020 when the first lockdown was announced until 10 May 2020 when the conditional plan for lifting the lockdown was announced.
- 31 October 2020 when the second lockdown was announced until 2 December 2020 when a tiered system was reintroduced.
- 4 January 2021 when the third lockdown was announced to 8 March 2021 when the phased exit from the national lockdown commenced.
- There were significant periods of inactivity in the case file outside these timeframes. It is noted that there was no record of the landlord informing the resident of the impact the pandemic and Government restrictions had on its ability to carry out these repairs.
- The first lockdown ended in May 2020 and there is no record of the landlord interacting with the resident to try to complete these repairs until 18 June 2021 when the resident refused to book an appointment and requested that a surveyor attend the property to inspect the areas which required repair. The reason for declining the request to book an appointment and requesting an inspection are not documented. Although there is no record of the resident contacting the landlord about these repairs until June 2021, the thirteen-month delay from when these works were scheduled to be completed (taking into account the impact of the lockdowns) was not reasonable, especially in view of the lack of communication from the landlord.
- The landlord did not attempt to complete these works until 28 September 2021 when the contractor allocated to the works cancelled the appointment after contracting covid. The resident was reported as being offensive towards the contractor because of this further delay and the contractor asked the landlord to re-allocate the works to an alternative contractor. This service does not condone the poor treatment of staff or contractors and notes that the resident also contributed to the delays in completing these works by refusing to schedule appointments and denying reasonable access to the property when requested and prior to this appointment being scheduled. The landlord subsequently cancelled the works on 16 November 2021. It is noted that the resident was not advised of the decision to cancel these works; this decision without notifying the resident was not appropriate. The landlord should have informed the resident of this decision and also reminded her of the obligation to grant reasonable access to the property to complete repair works. This was a failing which likely delayed the completion of the works.
- In her complaint to the landlord in May 2022 the resident asked for the outstanding repairs to be completed. The landlord subsequently carried out an inspection of the property on 24 June 2022 as part of its response to the stage one complaint and this identified 25 separate issues with the property which largely accorded with the repair works reported by the resident as remaining outstanding. The landlord made a commitment to complete these repairs which included other damage to the walls and flooring in its response to the stage one complaint on 24 June 2022. This was the right thing to do as the resident was unaware of the landlord’s previous decision to cancel the works.
- There were then further delays in arranging for these works to be completed. Some of the reasons for the delay are attributable to the resident who advised the contractor she did not want an appointment until September 2022. The dates for completing the necessary works were communicated to the resident in the landlord’s response to the stage two complaint; however, these works remain outstanding at the time of preparing this report in July 2023. This is more than 12 months after the landlord agreed to complete these works as part of the outcome of the stage one complaint and more than 38 months from when the works were due to be completed on 18 May 2020.
- It is clear from the evidence available that there were significant gaps and omissions in the landlord’s record of its interactions with the resident and that the landlord did not complete the repairs to parts of the property following water damage by appointment in accordance with its commitment to completing non‑urgent repairs.
- This service notes that the landlord has tried to put right the errors made in its handling of these repairs since the resident contacted the Ombudsman and following advice from a contractor who attended the property, has agreed to replace the resident’s kitchen because it is considered to be beyond repair. Some of the repairs reported by the resident remain outstanding and the kitchen is yet to be replaced.
- Even allowing for the delays caused by the pandemic and the instances when the resident refused to schedule the repairs or grant access to the property for the repairs to be completed, the extended delays in resolving these repairs were significant. The resident’s repeated enquiries to the landlord and the formal complaints made did not result in the landlord progressing the completion of these works. The delays in completing these repairs and the fact that some aspects remain outstanding are such that they amount to maladministration.
- 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 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 as well as our own guidance on remedies.
- The landlord’s offer of £300 covered the various repairs but a breakdown was not given. This sum does not reflect the impact on the resident – the frustration, distress and inconvenience caused by the significant delays in carrying out repairs. The sum of £600 better reflects this impact and an order has been made to that effect below. This figure takes into account that some of the delays were due to the resident refusing to schedule appointments.
- The stage two complaint responses which the landlord issued to the resident in October 2022 did not specify when the works to replace the kitchen, complete the decorative works and address the issues with the flooring would be completed. It is noted that some of these works remain outstanding at the time of drafting this report. An order has been made, below, for the landlord to address these issues as a matter of priority.
The landlord’s handling of damage to the wooden floor of the property
- The landlord was first aware of the resident’s complaint that a contractor damaged areas of the property on 18 June 2021 when the contractor was attempting to schedule an appointment to complete the outstanding plastering and decorative repairs in the property. The resident had also sent photographs of the property to the landlord by that stage. That message was passed onto the landlord by the contractor; however, there is then no record of this issue being considered until after the resident referenced the matter in her formal complaint. This delay was not appropriate and amounts to a service failing as the landlord ignored a complaint raised by the resident on at least two occasions – firstly when the photographs were sent and secondly when the complaint raised with the contractor was not considered. Residents should not have to raise formal complaints through the formal complaint procedure in order for these types of issues to be addressed by the landlord.
- Despite this delay, the landlord considered this matter appropriately when responding to the resident’s formal complaint. This is because an inspection was carried out on the property on 24 June 2022 which was shortly after the resident referenced the issue for the second time in her stage two complaint. This inspection identified that several areas of the property were damaged as a result of previous works and required repair. In terms of the damage to the wooden floor alleged by the resident, the inspection found that damage to one panel was likely caused by resin or some type of adhesive and not from an item dropped by a contractor, as suggested by the resident. The inspection identified other damage to the wooden flooring in the hallway likely caused by the installation of the composite door as well as the damage to the wall between the door frame and the wall. The landlord arranged for a further inspection of the damage to the wooden flooring and advised in its stage two responses that the damage would be repaired and offered an apology for the delay in responding to the issue. This was the right thing to do.
- However, the landlord did not consider the full impact on the resident by these failings. Accordingly, financial compensation of £200 is appropriate for the impact of the delays – the frustration and inconvenience – in investigating and repairing the floor.
The landlord’s handling of the resident’s associated formal complaints
- The landlord’s corporate complaints procedure has two stages and requires the landlord to provide a written outcome at both stages of the process in ten working days. When it is not possible to adhere to the timelines specified, there is a commitment to sending a holding response which explains the reasons for the delay and outlines when a response will be issued.
- The evidence suggests the resident made a formal complaint to the landlord in late May 2022 which was responded to on 24 June 2022 which more than the ten working days specified in its complaints procedure. The resident escalated the complaint to stage two of the process on 5 July 2022, and the landlord issued its first formal response on 7 October 2022. A further stage two response was issued to the resident on 21 October 2022, The shortcomings in the landlord’s initial stage two response were largely addressed in this second response although its initial stage two response ought to have properly addressed the issues raised by the resident.
- At 75 and 85 working days respectfully, these responses were issued significantly outside the ten working days specified for concluding stage two complaints. While a delay does not always constitute a service failure, it is noted that the landlord did not regularly update the resident on its consideration of the stage two complaint or specify when a response would be issued. The lack of activity in the case file indicates that the landlord was not continuing to manage the resident’s complaint and so in these circumstances this failure to conclude the investigation in a timely manner constitutes a failing.
- Financial compensation of £250 is appropriate for the evident frustration and inconvenience caused to the resident by the landlord’s poor complaint handling as well as the time and trouble taken, including having to come to this Service to try to progress matters.
- In accordance with paragraph 52 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration by the landlord in its handling of the resident’s:
- Reports of repairs required to various parts of the property following water damage.
- Reports of damage to the wooden floor of the property.
- Formal complaint.
Orders and recommendations
- The landlord should take the following action within four weeks of the date of this report and provide evidence of compliance to the Ombudsman
- A manager within the landlord to write to the resident with an apologise for the failings identified in this report.
- Pay the resident direct the sum of £1,050 made up of:
- £600 for the impact of the delays in arranging for the repairs to the property following water damage to be completed.
- £200 for the impact of the delay of investigating and carrying out the floor repair.
- £250 for the impact of the complaint handling failures.
- Agree a mutually convenient date (within four weeks) with the resident for a full inspection of the property to evaluate the outstanding repairs.
- Provide the resident and the Ombudsman with a timetable for those repairs that should take place within one month of the inspection.
- Submit evidence of its compliance with this Order to the Ombudsman within four weeks.