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Somerset West and Taunton Council (19 013 805)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 04 Sep 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr C, a private landlord, says a Council officer gave him a verbal reference on behalf of a tenant which led him to let his property to the tenant. Mr C says the tenant did not pay her rent and damaged his property. He says this caused him injustice because he had to evict the tenant and redecorate. The Council has accepted it was at fault. It recognises it did not provide adequate information to Mr C. It has agreed to pay Mr C a sum to recompense him for the losses he incurred and has reviewed its housing options operations.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I have called Mr C, owns a property in the Council’s area. He says he let it to a tenant, Ms T, because a Council officer, Officer O, gave her a verbal reference. He says the tenant quickly went into arrears and also caused numerous incidents of anti-social behaviour (ASB). He had to have Ms T evicted.
  2. Mr C says this caused him injustice because:
      1. The tenant did not pay her rent. He incurred expense having her evicted.
      2. She left the property in a poor state and required redecoration.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. 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)
  2. 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 spoke to Mr C. I wrote an enquiry letter to the Council. I considered the information I had gathered and wrote a draft decision.
  2. I sent the draft to Mr C and the Council and invited their comments.

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What I found

What should happen

  1. The Council’s website has a page with advice for landlords. It says ‘If you have accommodation that is empty and ready to let we also have a number of clients we are working with who are looking for accommodation, these clients are assessed and checked and affordability determined to ensure we are helping you to create sustainable tenancies and will remain available throughout the length of the tenancy to provide advice and assistance as and when required.’
  2. These private housing tenants enter into assured shorthold tenancies with the landlords. The tenant is named on the agreement and landlords can take legal action to have them evicted if they breach the agreement.
  3. If landlords wish to terminate the agreement for any reason, they can do so by issuing a notice for possession under s.21 of the Housing Act. If the tenant falls two months in arrears with their rent, the landlord can apply for an order for eviction under s.8 of the Housing Act 1990. If the tenant does not leave, landlords can apply for an eviction order.

What happened

  1. Mr C owns a property in the Council’s area. Mr C has retained an agent to deal with the property. It was vacant in early 2019.
  2. Officer O was a tenant liaison officer for the Council. It was her job to find properties that were available for those in need of social housing.

In January 2019, Officer O accompanied a prospective tenant, Ms T, to view Mr C’s property. Mr C’s agent also attended. Mr C’s agent says Officer O provided a ‘verbal reference’ for Ms T during this visit. Mr C says it was as a result of this reference that he agreed to enter into a tenancy agreement with Ms T.

  1. Ms T and her family moved in in February 2019. Mr C says that there were problems almost immediately. They abused neighbours. They regularly burned things in the garden. The Council and police received numerous complaints. The police came to the property on several occasions.
  2. Mr C’s agents instigated legal proceedings in July 2019. Ms C and her family were evicted. Mr C approached the Council in August 2019 asking it to pay for the damage done to his property and for the rent that had not been paid. He said Officer O had provided a reference and, without it, he would not have entered into a tenancy agreement with Ms C. The Council refused to pay him.
  3. Mr C complained formally to the Council. It replied in early November 2019. It refused to pay the unpaid rent or for damage to the property. It said there was no record of Officer O providing a verbal reference. It also said it could not have known in January what would later occur. It dismissed his complaint.

Mr C then complained to the Ombudsman. In early 2020 the Council wrote to Mr C accepting that it had been at fault and agreeing to pay him for his loss. The Council has since offered him a sum in recognition of the injustice he suffered.

Was there fault causing injustice?

  1. The Council has reviewed this case and says; ‘After reviewing the information of this case the Council recognises that its service delivery fell short of what is expected, in particular the lack of information, advice and assistance to help resolve issues throughout the length of the tenancy’.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to pay Mr C £4,428.11. This is a sum in line with Mr C’s claimed losses. Therefore, subject to Mr C’s comments, I intend to endorse it on the Ombudsman’s behalf. It has already paid him £750 of this sum.
  2. The Council also says: [it] has undertaken a major review of its housing options operations and developed a new Homeless Improvement Plan [which] includes the provision of additional staffing resource in the delivery of its private sector housing services. Newly appointed officers are to receive comprehensive training with a focus on building and maintaining effective working relationships with partners, including private sector landlords. The Council is to introduce a new private sector landlord pack of information that will include details of the advice and assistance that is available to them.
  3. I do not, therefore, intend to make any further recommendations.

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Draft decision

  1. The Council has accepted that it was at fault and has agreed to pay a sum in recognition of the injustice Mr C suffered. I have closed my investigation. It must do so within 14 days of the date of this decision.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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