Case Study 34: Anti-social behaviour: neighbour dispute - Complaint resolved by a Designated Person (Tenant panel).
Ms W complained about how her landlord dealt with an incident involving her and a neighbour. In particular, she complained about the landlord’s decision to send her a letter stating that her actions constituted a serious breach of her tenancy.
The landlord wrote to Ms W to say that it had tried to meet with the previous day. It had received several reports that she and another resident had approached another flat, banged on the door, shouted abusively through the letter box and interfered with some of the resident’s belongings. The letter explained to Ms W that ‘This incident of harassment is a serious breach of your tenancy agreement’ and referred to the relevant sections in Ms W’s tenancy agreement. The letter also stated that the police had been informed of the incident.
Ms W disputed the landlord’s account of events. She said that she was in her own flat at the time and raised concerns that the landlord had not discussed the matter with her before issuing the letter. She also pointed out that one of the witnesses had later withdrawn their statement.
Ms W also made a request to see her housing file. The information provided included a note (with redactions) that indicated that she had been seen standing nearby and was not a participant in the incident. Ms W maintained that she was not present at the time, but that even if she had been, it would not have been a breach of her tenancy to be standing nearby.
In response to her complaint, the landlord acknowledged that it could have made a further attempt to meet her before sending the letter, although this would have been unlikely to have resulted in a different outcome. The landlord noted that Ms W had been clear that she had not been involved, but the evidence had convinced it that she had, at least, been present.
Ms W referred her complaint to the Ombudsman. The outcome she was seeking was the retraction of the letter and an apology from the landlord.
Ms W also referred the complaint to the landlord’s Designated Tenant Panel. Under the Localism Act 2011, complainants are able to ask for their complaint to be considered by a ‘designated person’ after their landlord’s internal complaints procedure has been exhausted. A designated person can be an MP, a local councillor or a designated Tenant Panel.
A designated person can help to resolve a complaint in one of two ways – by trying to resolve the complaint themselves, or by referring it directly to the Ombudsman. However, a designated person has no legal authority over a landlord’s policy or procedure, and the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over designated persons.
The Tenant Panel reviewed the complaint and decided that although the landlord had been correct to investigate the incident, it should have tried harder to meet Ms W and the letter should have more appropriately reflected the disagreement between neighbours. The Panel recommended that the landlord should remove the letter from Ms W’s file and suggested that the landlord and Ms W take part in mediation.
The landlord accepted the Panel’s decision and apologised to Ms W for any offence caused. Ms W still wanted us to consider her complaint; and whilst the Ombudsman cannot comment on the decisions of a designated person in considering the landlord’s actions we concluded that by complying with the Panel’s recommendations, the landlord had taken reasonable steps to resolve the complaint.
This case demonstrates how a Tenant Panel can help to resolve a complaint locally.