The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council failed to respond to complaints of air poisoning and landlord harassment Ms X made by letter in October 2015. But when the Council later considered her evidence it decided there was no action it could take. It is unlikely it would have made a different decision at the time.
- The complainant, who I will call Ms X, complains the Council has failed to respond adequately to her complaints about her housing conditions, and gas safety, in a licenced HMO, and harassment by her landlord.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have:
- considered the complaint and the copy correspondence provided by the complainant;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with the complainant; and,
- written to Ms X and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.
What I found
- Ms X lives in a privately rented room in a house in multiple occupation (HMO). The Council issued a licence to the landlord for the HMO from 2 March 2015.
- In April 2015, Ms X wrote to the Council saying she believed her health was being affected by the air in her room, which was poisonous. She asked the Council to help her by testing the air. She also complained the landlord had told other residents she had mental health problems. Ms X has a letter from her doctor from 2014, saying she has no history of mental illness.
- The Council replied saying it could not help her as there was no evidence of a defect to the property it could take action over.
- In October 2015, in a letter to the Council’s Housing Benefits team about a benefit decision, Ms X mentioned these problems again. Housing Benefit passed the letter on to the Council’s Private Housing Team. There is a note on file that Ms X telephoned an officer from the Private Housing Team, but got cut off. The officer could not ring her back as he had no telephone number for her. There is no evidence the Private Housing Service did anything in response to the letter referred on by Housing Benefit.
- In June 2016 Ms X complained. She enclosed a gas safety notice dated 27 April 2016 saying the kitchen boiler had been disconnected. The notice said Ms X had complained of symptoms of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning. The boiler was disconnected as a safety precaution and she was advised to have the boiler serviced.
- The Council responded saying it would arrange an inspection. But in response to the Council’s enquiry, the landlord supplied a gas safety certificate issued for the boiler on 6 May 2016 by a registered (CORGI approved) gas engineer. The certificate shows the kitchen boiler was inspected and passed with no defects. The Council cancelled its own inspection. Its officers are not qualified gas safety engineers and could not add to the inspection by the gas safe engineer.
- Ms X was not happy with the Council’s response. She complained to the Ombudsman. She had a report from a test she had paid for herself. The Council told us it did not have an open complaint from Ms X, so we asked it to complete looking into the complaint through its own procedure.
- The Council considered Ms X’s private report, but says it provided only numerical analysis and no interpretation or recommendations. Ms X said the report says that Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) was high in her home. There was a recent gas safety certificate. The Council said there was no evidence of a defect with the boiler or anything its Private Housing Team could take action about. It suggested Ms X contact its Environmental Pollution Team. She did not want to do that. She said she wanted the private Housing Team to deal with it.
- The Council also considered what Ms X had said about her landlord harassing her. But it decided there was not enough evidence for it to take any action. It advised her to report any incidents to the police.
- During my investigation, Ms X provided further data from private air analysis from her home. The Council has considered this. But it remains of the view there is no evidence of disrepair and it would be appropriate for Ms X to contact its Environmental Pollution Team.
- The Council responded to Ms X’s contact in April 2015. It did not consider it could act on the information provided.
- Ms X next mentioned her concerns in October 2015 in a letter about Housing Benefit. The Housing Benefit Team properly referred those concerns on to the Private Housing Team. There is no evidence Private Housing responded to that letter. There is evidence of a cut-off telephone call made by Ms X, but not of any response from Private Housing Services following the letter referred from Housing Benefit. This was fault. It would have caused Ms X some anxiety. But, having considered what happened later, I do not find it likely the outcome would have been any different if the Council had responded at the time.
- After Ms X complained again in 2016, the Council considered her information, including her own private air quality reports. It checked that the boiler was inspected and got a copy of the gas safety inspection certificate. It has concluded there is no evidence of a repair problem affecting the air quality. It suggested Ms X contact its Environmental Pollution Team for advice.
- The Council has also considered what Ms X has said about her landlord harassing her. But it has decided there is not enough evidence to justify taking any action.
- The failure to respond to the letter referred to Private Housing Services by Housing Benefit was fault. But the Council has now considered Ms X’s evidence and decided it cannot help her. Other than the delay, I find no fault in the way the Council reached its decisions. So it is not for me to say whether that decision was right or wrong (see paragraph 2). The delay in getting a final response from the Council will have caused Ms X some avoidable upset. But I also note that she did not follow it up herself for a further six months. I am not minded to recommend the Council do anything further now.
- There was fault by the Council in failing to respond to Ms X’s letter raising concerns in October 2015. To that extent, I uphold her complaint. However I am satisfied with the Council’s actions and have completed my investigation.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman