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London Borough of Redbridge (21 003 663)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 30 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs B complained that the Council failed to resolve disrepair problems in her privately rented property since December 2019. We found the Council delayed in taking adequate action between December 2019 and June 2020, failed to keep proper records and delayed excessively in responding to Mrs B’s complaint. The Council has agreed to pay Mrs B £300 and improve its procedures for the future.

The complaint

  1. Mrs B complained that the London Borough of Redbridge (the Council) failed to resolve disrepair problems in her privately rented property since she first reported them in December 2019. This caused Mrs B frustration and distress living in the unsuitable conditions and time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, 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 have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Mrs B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

  1. Private tenants may complain to their council about a failure by the landlord to keep the property in good repair. Local authorities have powers under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to take enforcement action against private landlords where the council has identified a hazard which puts the health and safety of the tenant at risk. If a hazard is serious and presents an immediate risk, it is known as a category one hazard and if it is less serious or less urgent, it is known as a category two hazard. The Local Authority must take action when category one hazards are present and it is has discretion with regard to category two hazards.

What happened

  1. Mrs B first complained to the Council about disrepair in her rented property in December 2019. The problems included faulty doors, insecure and draughty windows, inadequate electrics and faulty flooring.
  2. The Council visited the property on 12 December 2019.There are no notes of the visit and no report of the Council’s conclusions. The landlord did some work to the flooring and the electrics. Mrs B says she emailed the Council in January 2020 but did not receive a response.
  3. In June 2020 Mrs B contacted the Council about a dangerous first floor window. She said it needed a window restrictor, so it would be safe for her child.
  4. The Council visited again in June 2020. It concluded the windows were ill-fitting, draughty and had defective seals. The Council sent a report to the landlord after the visit. It said the landlord had agreed that a specialist window company would visit and advise on the necessary work. In the interim all ground-floor windows needed locks and all first-floor windows needed restrictors . It did not identify any major issues and neither did it specify any category one or two hazards.
  5. On 2 July 2020 Mrs B complained to the Council. She said the landlord had done some works since December 2019, but the windows were still a problem. By the beginning of August 2020, the Council was satisfied that the landlord had done the work and closed the case.
  6. The Council received the complaint and said it would investigate and respond at stage one of its complaints procedure. Mrs B said an officer visited her property again in October 2020 but there are no records of the visit, and the officer has since left the Council.
  7. Mrs B complained again to the Council in December 2020. The Council spoke to her by telephone and then responded to her complaint from July 2020. It did not uphold her complaint but confirmed:
    • the officer should have prepared a report after the visit in December 2019 and reinspected to ensure the work had been completed to a satisfactory standard. It said the COVID-19 lockdown did have some impact on the ability of officers to visit but this had not started until 23 March 2020.
    • the officer who visited in October 2020 did not provide a response or any inspection notes.
  8. Mrs B said there were still problems with the windows and the shower. The Council arranged for a different officer to visit the property again, but this was delayed because Mrs B was unable to return to the country due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
  9. In the meantime, Mrs B escalated her complaint to stage two of the complaints procedure and the Council responded on 22 February 2021. It said the Council was at fault for the lack of notes or report of the visit in December 2019 and the subsequent delay until June 2020 in a second visit to check the works had been done. It did not consider the COVID19 restrictions accounted for the delay. It also found fault with the report produced in June 2020 as it did identify any category one or two hazards, so it was impossible to say on what basis remedial action was necessary and the officer did not re-visit to check the work. The Council partially upheld the complaint saying it had failed to meet its standards of transparency, responsiveness and effectiveness.
  10. The Council visited Mrs B in April 2021. It did not identify any major issues but noted there were still problems with the windows. The Council sent an informal notice to the landlord following the visit. Again, it said there were category 1 and/or category 2 hazards but did not specify what these were. It required the landlord to seal, paint and mould treat the windows, put a lock on the bathroom door, replace the shower hose and put a plastic trim on the bathroom tiling.
  11. Between May and June 2021, the landlord attempted to carry out the works. There were complaints from Mrs B about the landlord and vice versa. In June 2021 the Council sent a warning email that the work needed to be done as soon as possible. Mrs B was offended by the email as she did not consider she had done anything wrong.
  12. The Council visited the property again in July 2021, noting that that mild aesthetic works had been done and the windows had been painted. The Council noted a concern about damp and mould recurring but closed the case at the end of July 2021. Mrs B complained to us.

Analysis

  1. I agree that the Council was at fault for the way it dealt with Mrs B’s complaint of disrepair in December 2019. It failed to keep records of the visits or the findings and delayed in carrying out a second visit to check if the work had been done. It also failed to specify if any category one or two hazards had been identified. This caused Mrs B frustration and inconvenience, living with the disrepair for longer than she should.
  2. I also agree the Council was at fault for taking over five months to respond to Mrs B’s complaint and for having no record of the visit in October 2020. This caused Mrs B further frustration and time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.
  3. I do not find fault for the time it took to visit the property in 2021 as Mrs B was out of the country and unable to return due to the COVID-19 restrictions. I consider the Council took reasonable and timely action between April and July 2021 to ensure the work was done. The delay in completing the work was not due to fault by the Council.

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Agreed action

  1. In recognition of the injustice caused to Mrs B, I recommended the Council, within one month of the date of my final decision:
    • pay Mrs B £300; and
    • take steps to ensure officers carrying out inspections under the HHSRS, always keep proper records of the visits and their findings, including identifying whether any category one or two hazards have been found.
  2. The Council has agreed to my recommendations.

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Final decision

  1. I consider this is a proportionate way of putting right the injustice caused to Mrs B and I have completed my investigation on this basis.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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