London Borough of Southwark (15 004 660)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Feb 2016

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council delayed in taking action to provide the remedy agreed for a previous complaint about private housing disrepair. It then failed to carry out necessary electrical work and failed to document inspection of the works undertaken. The Council also failed to keep an appointment it made for the fitting of a smoke alarm.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr B, complains the Council failed to take all necessary and appropriate action in respect of works deemed necessary in default to address disrepair at his home, for which an Improvement Notice was served and proceedings issued against the landlord.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She 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, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
  2. If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr B provided about his complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and took account of its response. I provided Mr B and the Council with a draft of this decision and considered comments received in reply.

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What I found

  1. Mr B complained to the Ombudsman previously about the Council’s failure to take action against his landlord who had not complied with an improvement notice served in 2010 requiring him to carry out repairs. The Ombudsman found the Council had failed to keep records of actions taken. The Council agreed in March 2015 that to remedy the complaint it would pay Mr B £250 and would visit the property to complete outstanding work and inspect for any new issues. In August 2015 when the Council had not completed the outstanding works as promised, Mr B came back to the Ombudsman.

Events in 2015

  1. In February 2015 the Council got an estimate for the schedule of works from an approved building contractor. Although the contractor felt some external works to the property would be beneficial the Council considered these works could not be justified using public funds. In particular the Council reported that there was no evidence of water ingress as there had been previously. The Council took the view that fresh enforcement action should be taken against the landlord if the exterior deteriorated in future to such an extent again. The schedule of works was revised accordingly and the contractor submitted a revised estimate in March. The estimate was later revised again in May when some redecoration to the living room was added to the listed works.
  2. In June 2015 the Council’s officer went to look at the property. Mr B complained of a leak from the flat above, but although there was residual staining from previous leaks the ceiling was found to be dry. The Council’s contractor also confirmed there was no evidence of damp or water ingress since the previous inspection in February. The contractor re-located the light fitting so that if there was a future leak in the same location this would not be affected.
  3. In July 2015 the Council’s officer and the contractor met at the property again. The contactor had raised concerns about where scaffolding might be erected to do repairs to the external downpipe and guttering which had been identified as the cause of penetrating damp to Mr B’s bedroom. But on inspection it was found these repairs had already been done (presumably by or on behalf of the landlord), and this explained why the ingress to the bedroom had stopped. The guttering and downpipe works were therefore removed from the schedule of works, and interior plastering work could now be done.
  4. On 3 August the contractor wrote to the Council saying all works were complete, that there was still no evidence of water ingress, and that electrical works had been checked by his electrician.

Delay in getting the works underway

  1. Following the Ombudsman’s previous decision in March 2015, work should have been progressed swiftly to provide the agreed remedy. But there was a delay in getting the works underway. That was fault.

Inspection and sign-off of the works

  1. In August 2015 Mr B alleged that he Council had signed off the agreed works without due inspection. The Council said that this was not the case, as no invoice for the works had been paid. The Council told Mr B it had received the invoice and would make an appointment for the works to be inspected. Responding to my enquiries about the final inspection, the Council says this was done on 22 September 2015. But the Council has provided no evidence to support this. The failure to properly document the inspection was fault.

The schedule of works

  1. Mr B complains that the schedule of works included a number of items which have not been dealt with.

Dampness and mould growth

  1. One of the items of disrepair listed was damp and mould growth, requiring work to the guttering to prevent water ingress to the flat. As set out above, the Council found that the guttering works had been done and so were no longer necessary. The Council has said that the invoice for other associated works should be viewed as confirmation that the work has been carried out. An invoice does not in itself confirm work has been done satisfactorily and evidence of inspection is needed to verify this.
  2. The second item on the schedule highlighted by Mr B and under the same heading related to the water penetration to the kitchen ceiling. The Council found no evidence of ongoing water ingress and consider the problem resolved. On balance given the Council’s findings and provided it has carried out the rest of the works under this heading (remedial plastering and associated decorating), there appear to be no grounds for continued investigation of the root cause of the leak.

Fire safety

  1. The schedule of works also required electrical inspection and the carrying out of any recommended works. The Council has provided an electrical inspection report dated 21 January 2016. The report classifies the bathroom light fitting as potentially dangerous. The guidance notes on the report explain that where this classification is used, the safety of those using the installation may be at risk, and remedial works are recommended as a matter of urgency. The Council takes the view that such works are precautionary only and while the light fitting would benefit from upgrading it does not intend to take any action to address this. Given the risk identified by the electrician, that is fault.
  2. The schedule also required a working smoke alarm to be fitted. The Council’s contractor made at least one appointment with Mr B to fit the alarm in mid December. That appointment was not kept and Mr B was not told it would not go ahead. The failure to keep to the appointment made was fault. The alarm was fitted in mid-January 2016.

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Agreed action

  1. As a result of the failings identified above, Mr B was caused distress and inconvenience and was put to some time and trouble chasing the Council and pursuing his complaints. To remedy this, I recommended that the Council takes the following action, within four weeks of the date of the decision on this complaint:
  • Completes the required work to the bathroom fitting to bring this to the required safety standard;
  • Completes and fully documents a fresh inspection of all works listed on the schedule, and provides Mr B and the Ombudsman with a copy of the final inspection report;
  • Issues with Mr B with a formal written apology; and
  • Pays Mr B a further £250.
  1. The Council has agreed to my recommendations.

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Final decision

  1. The action agreed above will provide a suitable remedy for the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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