The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council’s delivery partner and its contractor delayed in providing Mr B with a quote for replacement doors. As a result he may have lost out on grant funding.
- The complainant, whom I will call Mr B, complains that, because of the failure of a delivery partner, he has been disadvantaged in the Council’s Energy at Home scheme which would have provided a larger grant for replacement doors (alongside cavity wall insulation) if it had been completed in 2015/16. The grant available with the current delivery partner is less and the Council has refused to match the former grant level.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. 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))
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered all the information provided by Mr B together with information provided by the Council.
- I sent my draft decision to Mr B and the Council and considered their comments.
What I found
- In December 2015 Mr B enquired about funding for cavity wall insulation and replacing his porch doors under the Council’s Energy at Home scheme.
- Under the scheme, the Council helps people install energy-saving home improvements such as insulation, energy efficient glazing and external doors or heating system upgrades. It also helps them access grants and find an installer to carry out the work.
- Mr B was referred to Company X for an assessor to visit his property and prepare an energy assessment report.
- Mr B says the assessor told him he would qualify for funding towards cavity wall insulation with a £200 contribution from himself, and a £1000 grant towards the cost of replacing his porch doors.
- On 8 February 2016 Company X followed its normal process of sending out a request to quote to two sub-contractors. They did not reply which meant the next stage in the process (Company X contacting the customer) was not triggered.
- On 15 March 2016 Mr B telephoned Company X and it chased up the contractors.
- On 16 March 2016 one of the contractors said it could not provide a quote for the porch doors. Company X explained to the other contractor that it would ideally like all quotes accepted by 21 March 2016.
- On 22 March 2016 the contractors gave Mr B a quote for the cavity wall insulation and a two panel sliding porch door. They explained they could not find a supplier to provide a four panel sliding door which Mr B needed. Company X recorded in its notes that Mr B would get back to them regarding the quote.
- Mr B spoke to Company X again on 29 March 2016 to discuss the quotes and the possibility of using the funding to replace his front door instead of the porch doors. He could not accept a quote for the two panel sliding door as this would leave a very narrow entry and exit. Company X told him it was no longer possible to access the grant before the end of March deadline.
- Mr B made further enquiries about pursuing the scheme in September 2016. The Council explained that, although the scheme was still running, Company X was no longer the delivery partner. With regard to the cavity wall insulation, the current grant terms were different to those previously available but the Council agreed to match any shortfall so Mr B would not pay any more than he would have done under the previous scheme. However, there is no grant currently available for the cost of installing doors. Mr B considers the Council should fund the installation of a new front door as he has missed out on grant funding for this. The Council has declined. It did however agree to add him to a waiting list in case funding becomes available in future.
- If Mr B had received a grant in 2015/16, he would have paid £200 towards cavity wall insulation and received £1000 grant funding towards a front door or porch.
- The information pack given to Mr B at the outset explains the procedure for the Energy at Home scheme as follows:
- At stage 1 the Energy at Home Advice Service helps applicants with information, advice and guidance on the energy-saving home improvements they might want to make together with details about the Energy at Home scheme and what grants and finance options are available;
- At stage 2 the Advice Service refers the applicant to Company X who makes an appointment for an assessor to visit. The assessor then sends the applicant a home energy assessment report;
- At stage 3, if the applicant has decided which measures he wants to install, he can contact Company X to arrange a quote. Company X provides the applicant with a quote for the works including the full cost of the works, the amount of grant the applicant is eligible for and the amount he needs to pay himself;
- At stage 4, if the applicant decides to proceed, he receives a form and grant guidance notes. He must complete and return the form if he wants to use the Home Energy Top up Grant. The form provides details of ownership of the property and any planning requirements;
- At stage 5 the applicant should contact Company X to arrange the installation.
- Mr B says he lost out on a £1000 grant towards a new front door which he would have accepted as an alternative to porch doors.
- Even if the contractors had quoted sooner, I cannot say for certain that Mr B would have completed all the necessary steps before the deadline. He would have had to refuse the quote and request an alternative quote for a front door, receive and accept the alternative quote, complete a grant application form and return it to the Council who would then decide whether or not the grant should be approved.
- There was no obligation on the Council to provide funding until Mr B had accepted a quote and obtained a grant. I cannot therefore conclude he definitely lost out on the £1000 grant as a result of the delay in obtaining the quote. However, he will always have the uncertainty of not knowing whether, but for the fault, the outcome could have been different.
- Mr B says Company X told him a visit from the contractor would guarantee the grant funding. The Council says Company X does not know why he was under this impression as this is not the normal process. Clearly, a contractor’s visit would not secure grant funding as Mr B would have had to apply to the Council for a grant and have this approved. However, there is clearly a conflict of evidence about who said what to whom. In the absence of tangible evidence to support one version of events over the other, I cannot reach a conclusion on this point.
- Mr B says he was told there was no time limit for obtaining a grant. In the absence of tangible evidence to prove exactly what was said, I cannot reach a conclusion on this point. However, Company X’s notes of a telephone conversation with the contractors on 16 March 2016 states, “we would ideally like all quotes to be accepted by the 21st”. This suggests Company X was aware of the end of March deadline.
- The Council has agreed to pay Mr B £250 in recognition of his uncertainty about whether, but for the faults identified, the outcome could have been different.
- I uphold Mr B’s complaint. The Council’s delivery partner and its contractor were at fault in failing to ensure he received a quote within a reasonable time.
- The Council has provided a satisfactory remedy for the injustice suffered by Mr B so I have completed my investigation.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman