London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (18 005 760)

Category : Housing > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 26 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains that insulation works were carried out on her property despite her withdrawing her consent. Ms X says that this has caused her distress and has made her property unbearably hot. The Ombudsman finds there was some fault in the Council’s communication about the insulation scheme, which it has apologised for. It appears the Ombudsman cannot consider the actions of the contractors who were responsible for the works because they were not acting on behalf of the Council.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains that the Council:
  • failed to notify her that a surveyor would be visiting her property regarding installing insulation;
  • issued out of date flyers about the insulation;
  • carried out the insulation work without her consent;
  • allowed a surveyor to visit her which took longer than twenty minutes and included photographs being taken and personal questions being asked.
  1. Ms X says this has caused her distress and has made her property unbearably hot.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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 a complaint where the body complained about is not responsible for the issue being raised. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(1), as amended)

  1. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided to me by Ms X and the Council. I also discussed the complaint with Ms X. I provided Ms X and the Council with an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. As part of the Council’s commitment to supporting energy-saving insulation measures in the borough it offered insulation works as part of the Energy Company Obligation 2 programme. The Council has explained that it identified potentially suitable properties. It said that Council owned homes were generally automatically eligible for the free insulation, however the council’s Statement of Intent provided flexibility and the opportunity to include other tenures and so widen the benefits of the programme. Ms X’s property, which is owned on a shared equity basis with the Council, was considered to be eligible for the insulation.
  1. The Council sent letters to residents providing information about the scheme on 22 February 2018. This letter explained that surveys would start the following week. The third party surveyors involved in the project had already started to leaflet and call at some of the properties, prior to the Council’s letters being delivered, including Ms X’s. This caused confusion.
  2. The Council spoke with Ms X on 22 February. At this time they became aware that the surveyors were visiting properties. The Council contacted the surveyors and asked them to cease visits until the dates agreed in the Council’s letter.
  3. The Council said it subsequently discussed the scheme with Ms X and provided some more details about it. It said that an appointment for the installation was agreed between Ms X and the insulation company for 22 March 2018. The contractual agreement for the insulation was between a third party contractor and the home-owner or occupier.
  4. On 19 March Ms X contacted the Council to say that she had changed her mind about the insulation and wanted to cancel the appointment because she had concerns that the insulation could cause damp.
  5. The Council contacted the insulation company to cancel the appointment at Ms X’s property. This message was not passed on by the insulation company to its staff who carried out the insulation works on 22 March as originally planned. Ms X was not at her property at the time, but has explained that the insulation staff completed the works on her premises but without entering the property.
  6. Ms X made a formal complaint to the Council. In its response, the Council acknowledged that the surveyors had prematurely carried out letter-dropping when letters should have been posted by the Council before this happened. It apologised to Ms X for this. The Council explained that the process of prior notification has been clarified with the surveyors for subsequent phases.
  7. In its response the Council said that the questionnaire used does include questions about income and health but anonymity is preserved and the data is used only to monitor the overall performance of the programme and to provide evidence of the households benefiting from it. It said that the surveyor does not accept that he was rude but does acknowledge that certain questions may seem intrusive. The Council said that following Ms X’s complaint, it has asked that surveyors take more time to explain the process in future.
  8. The Council has explained that the installation company has sent a written apology and offered compensation of £30 as a gesture of goodwill because they wrongly installed the insulation after Ms X had cancelled it.
  9. Ms X was unhappy with the Council’s response and asked for her complaint to be considered at stage two of the Council’s corporate complaints process. The Council responded by saying that the stage one response had adequately addressed Ms X’s concerns, explaining the errors that led to her property receiving the insulation.
  10. The Council offered Ms X £300 in compensation for the poor communication which led to her receiving the insulation.

Analysis

  1. Ms X complains that the Council failed to notify her that a surveyor would be visiting her property regarding installing insulation and regarding the flyers that were out of date when received. The Council acknowledged that it was at fault in the communication made with residents prior to the surveyor’s attending. It apologised for this, which appears appropriate in the circumstances.
  2. Ms X also complains that the surveyor visited her property which took longer than twenty minutes and included photographs being taken and personal questions being asked. Ms X also complains that the insulation company carried out insulation work without her consent.
  3. The Council said that the questionnaire used included questions about income and health but anonymity was preserved and the data was used to monitor the overall performance of the programme and to provide evidence of the households benefiting from it. It is unclear to me whether this questionnaire was the responsibility of the Council or the surveyors involved. The Council has explained that the purpose of the questionnaire was to monitor who benefitted from the scheme. It was open to Ms X to refuse to provide the data to the surveyor should she not wish to share it or to ask the surveyor or the Council for an explanation as to the purpose of the questions before answering. I therefore do not consider the Council was at fault.
  4. The contract for the works appears to have been between Ms X and the third-party contractor, not the Council. I cannot investigate these matters further. This is because I cannot investigate complaints about the survey or insulation companies as they are not providing services on behalf of the Council. The evidence supports that the Council notified the contractor of Ms X’s cancellation and so any subsequent actions by the contractor were its responsibility. It is open to Ms X to pursue these matters further with the contractors involved.
  5. I recognise that the Council has paid Ms X £300 in compensation for the poor communication which led to her receiving the insulation. I have not found fault in the Council’s communication with the contractor when Ms X requested the cancellation of the insulation.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman finds there was some fault in the Councils communication about the insulation scheme, which it has apologised for. The Ombudsman cannot consider the actions of the contractors who were responsible for the works because they were not acting on behalf of the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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