The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains the Council has delayed in taking action following her complaint of damp and mould in her temporary accommodation. She says the problem is ongoing and is affecting her and her child’s health. The Council was at fault as it delayed in responding to her initial complaint, and delayed in completing the required work to solve the problem. Although it has paid her £120 compensation for part of the delay, this is not sufficient to remedy the delay and distress caused. The Council has agreed to complete the required work and pay Ms X a further £200.
- Ms X complains the Council has delayed in taking action following her complaint of mould and damp in her temporary accommodation. She says the problem is ongoing and is affecting her and her child’s health.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended) I have decided there are good reasons to look at what has happened since April 2017. This is when Ms X first complained to the Council about the mould and damp. She says there have been ongoing delays since then and the problem of mould and damp in the property is ongoing.
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I made enquiries of the Council and considered the information it sent me.
- I considered information provided by Ms X.
- I gave the Council and Ms X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before issuing my final decision.
What I found
- The Housing Act 2006 provides the legal framework setting out councils’ duties towards those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness in their area.
- The Code of Guidance to Local Authorities (2006) gives practical guidance as to how councils can apply the law. It is not a substitute for the legislation but councils must have regard to it.
- The Act says councils must ensure that suitable accommodation is available for people who have priority need, are eligible for assistance and who are unintentionally homeless. This is known as the main homelessness duty.
- Once a council accepts it owes an applicant the main homelessness duty, it has a duty to provide them with accommodation. If longer term accommodation is not immediately available, the Council must provide short term temporary accommodation. The law says this accommodation must be suitable for their occupation, which includes ensuring properties are maintained to an acceptable standard.
- In 2017, the Council accepted Ms X was homeless and it owed her the main homelessness duty. The Council offered her temporary accommodation and she moved in to the studio flat with her child in January 2017.
- On 12 April 2017, she emailed the Council to complain about mould and damp on the walls in the main living space.
- By 24 April 2017, the Council had not responded to her, so she emailed the Council again.
- In October 2017, Ms X emailed the Council again. She said there was mould and damp in the corner of the living room and in the corner of the bathroom.
- On 12 October 2017, the Council replied saying it had asked its repairs team to deal with the matter.
- On 16 October 2017, Ms X sent in photographs of the mould which the Council forwarded on to its repairs team.
- On 13 November 2017, Ms X emailed the repairs team. She said no action had been taken to resolve the issue and the mould was still present in the living space and bathroom.
- By December 2017, the Council had not taken any action. Ms X emailed the Council to complain about the delay and said the mould was affecting her child’s health.
- The Council replied to her email on 18 December 2017. It apologised and said it would contact her within 10 days to arrange an inspection of the property.
- On 9 January 2018, Ms X emailed her MP. She told him about the mould and damp in her property and said the Council were not acting in response to her complaints. She said the mould and damp was affecting her and her child’s health. She asked the MP for help to get the Council to act.
- On 18 January 2018, a surveyor visited Ms X’s property. The surveyor inspected the inside and outside of the property. He found there was a downpipe missing from the guttering system, causing water to run down and infiltrate the external wall of the building and spread into Ms X’s flat. He listed the work needed was to renew the downpipe, treat the mould in the flat and re-decorate the affected areas.
- Between January 2018 and April 2018, Ms X says she rang the Council about every two weeks to chase up the work but the work was not completed.
- In February 2018, Ms X’s MP wrote to her to say he had contacted the Council on her behalf and would contact her again once he had a response.
- On 9 April 2018, Ms X contacted the Council. She said that there had been no action since the surveyor visit in January 2018. She said the mould and damp was still present and still affecting their health. She requested a meeting with the Council to discuss the matter.
- On 19 April 2018, the Council replied to her email. It apologised for the service she had received and said her email had been passed on to the repairs team.
- In May 2018, the Council closed the job in error, cancelling the work to replace the guttering downpipe, treat the mould and re-decorate as needed.
- On 14 June 2018, the Council sent Ms X a final complaint response. It apologised for the lack of action. It said there had been confusion about who was responsible for the work, and it had cancelled the work in error. It said it would learn from its mistake, and awarded her compensation of £120. It said it calculated this in line with their compensation policy, as £5 for each of the 24 weeks delay that it had not completed the required works identified on 18 January 2018. However, as part of its response, it did not arrange for this work to be completed. Instead, it arranged a further inspection of the property on 19 June 2018, and said after this inspection works would be completed as appropriate.
- On 19 June 2018, the Council inspected the property. It identified the extractor fan needed repair. It said once the fan was repaired, it would arrange for the mould to be treated and the walls re-decorated. The inspector told Ms X the damp was caused by a lack of ventilation.
- On 8 August 2018, Ms X brought her complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
- The Council repaired the extractor fan on 4 September 2018. It said it had passed the follow on works of mould treatment and decoration to a contractor who would contact her within seven days to arrange an appointment.
- Council records show it allocated the follow on works to a contractor on 13 September 2018. It set the target completion date as 8 January 2019.
- On 3 October 2018, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman contacted Ms X to discuss her complaint. She said the Council had not contacted her to arrange a date to complete the follow up work. She said the damp and mould was still present and was continuing to affect hers and her child’s health.
- On 24 October 2018, the Council raised a new job to replace the missing guttering downpipe. It said this work was scheduled for 17 December 2018.
- On 20 December 2018, Ms X told the Ombudsman that no damp treatment or redecoration had yet been completed in the property.
- Ms X first complained to the Council about the mould and damp in April 2017, but the Council did not arrange a surveyor to visit the property to complete an inspection until 18 January 2018. This nine-month delay arranging an inspection of the property is fault.
- The surveyor identified the missing guttering downpipe as the cause of water infiltrating the wall of Ms X’s flat on 18 January 2018. The surveyor raised jobs to replace the pipe, treat the mould and re-decorate as needed, but this work was not completed and the job was closed in error in May 2018. In its complaint response dated 14 June 2018, the Council acknowledged its mistake and offered Ms X £120 compensation, which she accepted. However, it did not arrange for the work to be completed, but instead arranged a further inspection of the property. The Council has been unable to explain the reasons for not re-instating the work. The inspection in June 2018 did not identify the missing downpipe which led to further delay in completing the required work.
- It was only in October 2018 that the Council raised a job to replace the downpipe, and the work was scheduled to be completed on 17 December 2018. This is an 11-month delay from when the required work was identified on 18 January 2018, to the work being scheduled for completion. This further delay is fault.
- The Council paid Ms X compensation which was an appropriate remedy for the identified error and delay between January and June 2018. However, by not re-instating the work to replace the downpipe, it did not fix the problem causing the damp and mould. Ms X continued to have mould and damp in her flat which she says has affected hers and her child’s health. I cannot say whether or not the damp and mould has directly affected Ms X’s or her child’s health. However, the amount of compensation already paid is not sufficient to remedy the distress caused to Ms X by the delays, the time and trouble taken to bring her complaint and the length of time she has had to live with damp and mould in her flat.
- Within one month of the final decision the Council has agreed to:
- Complete the work to replace the missing guttering downpipe (if not already completed), treat the damp and mould in the flat and carry out re-decoration work as required.
- Pay Ms X a further £200 to remedy the distress caused by the delays and for the time and trouble taken trying to resolve her complaint.
- I have completed my investigation. I have found fault causing injustice and made recommendations to remedy the injustice caused.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman