Case Study 37: Repairs and complaint handling - Formally resolved

Miss M’s complaint was about her landlord’s response to her reports of damp and mould in her property, and in particular about the time that the landlord took to complete works which it had agreed to do in its responses to her complaint.

Miss M initially complained to the landlord about the problem in January 2013. Part of her complaint was that the landlord had been unreasonably slow to address the disrepair, as it had told her that it needed to carry out external works, which had not been done.

In March 2013, as part of its response to Miss M’s complaint, the landlord agreed to carry out insulation works. However in June 2013, the landlord upheld Miss M’s complaint at the final stage of its complaints procedure. It concluded that there had been delays in carrying out works that it had agreed earlier in its complaints process, and that her home should be insulated as a priority as soon as possible. It also offered to redecorate her three bedrooms as a goodwill gesture. In September 2013 Miss M contacted the landlord to ask why the insulation works had still not been carried out. The complaints team told her that the matter had been passed to the housing service but the works were not started and neither team updated her. Miss M chased the matter up again in February and March 2014 but was passed between teams without any work starting or explanation given to Miss M. In fact the landlord did not respond at all to any of Miss M’s communications.

Miss M contacted the Ombudsman in May 2014 to ask for our help in getting the matter resolved. As part of its response to our enquiries, the landlord gave us the same explanation that it had been giving Miss M for the last year, which was that enquiries had been made with the housing service to confirm the position with the insulation works.

As a result of our intervention, the landlord visited the property and then said that it had now decided not to go ahead with the insulation works that it had told Miss M it would do over a year ago. It had instead begun a programme with an energy company to provide a different type of external insulation. However, as this programme was reliant on the energy company’s funding, it had delayed the timing of the work, although it said that Miss M’s home would-be included in the next batch of works to be carried out.  

We found that the landlord’s handling of the repairs that it had done, as well as those that remained outstanding was not acceptable. It had failed to ensure that these were completed within a reasonable timeframe; in particular the insulation works had been outstanding for 17 months, despite the fact that the landlord’s own decision at the final stage of its complaints procedure had directed that the works should be done as a priority.

We noted that the landlord had already offered to redecorate, but decided that taking into account the extensive delays and the failure to follow up on actions which had been promised this was not a proportionate offer of redress.

We also found that the landlord’s handling of Miss M’s complaint was poor, and did not reflect any of our dispute resolution principles (be fair, put things right and learn from outcomes).

The evidence of the poor internal communication between the housing and complaint teams and the landlord’s equally poor communication with both Miss M and the Ombudsman demonstrated that its culture did not enable dispute resolution.

We found maladministration in this case. We ordered the landlord to produce an action plan for Miss M with specific dates when the outstanding works would be completed, and to pay her £750 in recognition of the inconvenience caused to her by the exceptional delays in carrying out the works. We also recommended that the landlord should review its approach to complaints handling and consider additional training.

This case highlighted the importance of landlords ensuring that any offer made as part of a response to a complaint should be provided in a reasonable timeframe. In addition landlords should always ensure that regular updates are provided to tenants, with meaningful information and not repeated ‘holding’ responses.