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Bristol City Council (21 002 001)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 05 Oct 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs T complains the Council has not properly dealt with her landlord and taken action to prevent her being without electricity for three weeks. She says this caused her distress and took up her time to resolve. We do not find fault in the actions of the Council, it has worked to resolve issues and considered all the information provided to it to make a decision not to prosecute the Landlord. We cannot question a decision properly made.

The complaint

  1. Mrs T complains the Council;
  • Did not properly handle her case when she complained about a Landlord and the Council Officer was intimidating and put pressure on her during a telephone call; and
  • Did not take action to prevent the Landlord shutting off the electricity for three weeks.
  1. Mrs T says this caused her and her husband mental and physical stress, and they had to spend their time researching the Council’s actions rather than looking for employment.
  2. Mrs T would like the Council Officer who dealt with her case penalised, a new officer assigned to her case and to receive financial compensation from the Council.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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 read the complaint and a copy of all communications sent by the Council. I also spoke to Mrs T on the telephone.
  2. I invited Mrs T and the Council to comment on a draft decision and considered any comments made in response.

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What I found

  1. Private tenants may complain to their council if their landlord is harassing them or is trying to evict them. Local authorities have powers under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 to investigate complaints of harassment and illegal eviction, and to prosecute a landlord where he or she commits an offence.

Background of complaint

  1. Mrs T and her husband, Mr T, moved into a property on a short-term holiday let in November 2020. This was due to end in January 2021 but was later extended.
  2. The relationship between the Landlord and Mrs T broke down and they were requested to leave the property.
  3. Mrs T contacted the Council for assistance in February 2021. She said the Landlord had been unreasonable requesting repeated access to the property for electrical testing. Mrs T also complained the Landlord was now threatening eviction. Mrs T felt they had an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) and were entitled to a relevant notice period. She complained the Landlord was harassing her.
  4. The Council advised it felt there may be an AST in place, and that Mrs T should seek legal advice. It began an investigation into the Landlord about the allegations of harassing behaviour.

The Council’s case handling and telephone call

  1. The Council liaised with the Landlord and asked Mrs T if she would allow further electrical testing, which she declined. The Council also asked Mrs T if she would agree to a one-month notice period to leave the property, and recorded that she agreed.
  2. Mrs T said the Council Officer who rang her about the one-month notice period put a lot of pressure on her to accept and used an intimidating tone of voice and speech. She alleges this was because the Officer was working from home and took advantage of the fact the phone calls were not recorded.
  3. In response to Mrs T’s complaint, the Council said it did not have a recording of the call and that the Officer had denied speaking to Mrs T in the manner she alleged. The Council reviewed written communication between the Officer and Mrs T and found the messages were always very polite. The Council said it had no evidence to support Mrs T’s claim and did not uphold her complaint.
  4. Mrs T also said the Council Officer had not dealt with her case correctly and had not responded to her like other organisations such as the Police had done so.
  5. Mrs T later raised a number of other issues with the Council about the Landlord. These included disruption to electricity, water and internet access, as well as the placing of cameras around the property Mrs T was staying at with her husband. Mrs T also raised an issue about the competency of the individual carrying out works on behalf of the Landlord.
  6. The Council responded to these issues by liaising with the Landlord and other authorities where necessary. It also documented these reports as part of its ongoing investigation.
  7. In September 2021, the Council wrote to Mrs T advising it is not in a position to take action against Mrs T’s Landlord under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 but will keep the situation under review, and the case is still open.
  8. Mrs T and her husband responded to the Council’s decision saying that they did not agree and said it was the first time they had heard anything about the case for seven months.
  9. Mrs T said the Council did not keep her updated about the case. She contacted the Council on numerous occasions about various issues which were part of the case. These were mostly via email although there is also reference to some telephone calls.
  10. The Council responses were from a number of different officers. There was often daily contact between Mrs T and the Council.

Electrical supply disruption

  1. Mrs T said the Council should have taken action to prevent her Landlord turning off the electricity for three weeks during March 2021.
  2. The Council found this was due to an alleged electrical fault and liaised between the Landlord and Mrs T. It worked with both parties to restore the electricity.

Analysis

The Council’s case handling and telephone call

  1. The telephone call where Mrs T says a Council Officer spoke in an intimidating and pressurising manner was not recorded. The Council is not under an obligation to record calls. In response to the complaint, the Council has viewed written correspondence and found there to be no other recorded instances of such behaviour by the officer. There is no evidence to support Mrs T’s version of events. The Council has investigated this appropriately and I do not find fault with that.
  2. The Council has documented each time Mrs T and her husband have been in contact with it. At times it has been in daily contact with Mrs T. It has liaised with all parties involved and assisted in resolving issues. In response to the Council’s decision not to take action against the Landlord, Mrs T said it was the first update in seven months. I can see there has been many contacts in that time where the Council advised the case was ongoing, so I do not consider that to be the case.
  3. The Council has considered all the information presented to it and decided it is not in a position to take legal action. It has followed the correct process to reach a decision. We cannot question a decision properly made just because someone disagrees with it. I do not find fault by the Council in how it has handled this case, considered the information or communicated with Mrs T.
  4. It is important to note that the Ombudsman investigates Council’s and not individual officers. I have considered the communications from the Council as a whole when reaching this decision.
  5. The type of tenancy Mrs T has may be in dispute and is a matter for the Courts to decide if necessary, so I will not make comment on that.

Electrical supply disruption

  1. The Council took action to liaise with Mrs T and the Landlord when it became aware of the electrical supply disruption in March 2021. It spoke with all parties involved and worked towards a resolution of power being restored. I do not find fault with how the Council has responded to this matter.

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Final decision

  1. I close this case without a finding of fault against the Council. It has considered information provided to it and used it to make a decision, and we cannot question a decision properly made. The Council has regularly corresponded with the complainant and I do not find fault in its handling of the case.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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