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Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (21 004 307)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X alleges defective repair works commissioned by the Council led to damp and mould problems in her home. The Ombudsman could not conclude the works caused the damp and mould problems in Ms X’s home. However, there were defects in the repair works which required remedial action by the Council. The Council agreed a financial remedy to reflect the time and trouble Ms X was put to in pursuit of the matter.

The complaint

  1. I refer to the complainant here as Ms X. Ms X alleges defective repairs works commissioned by the Council led to damp and mould problems in her home. Ms X says the Council has avoided any taking any responsibility for the damp problems and treated her unfairly.
  2. Ms X says her home is a mess; half her clothing and footwear had to be thrown away; and the wallpaper in every room is peeling off. Ms X points out her son has allergies which are exacerbated by the damp and mould.
  3. Ms X wants the Council to meet the cost of putting right the external and internal parts of her home. Ms X says she paid the Council to act as her agent and wants a refund of the agency fee.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  3. 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)
  4. 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 examined the complaint and background information provided by Ms X and the Council. I discussed matters with Ms X by telephone. I sent my initial thoughts on the complaint to Ms X and the Council. I considered the Council’s comments in reply.

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What I found

  1. Ms X is a private homeowner. She successfully applied for a Home Repair Assistance Grant in 2019. Ms X entered into an agreement with the Council for certain roof works. The majority of the cost was covered by the grant with Ms X making a contribution towards the cost. The Council acted as Ms X’s agent. It commissioned a contractor to carry out the works.
  2. Ms X contacted the Council in January 2021 because she was experiencing severe damp and mould problems. She had experienced damp and mould in her home in the summer of 2020 but had not contacted the Council.
  3. A council surveyor visited Ms X’s home. The surveyor noticed problems with the work done by the contractor; certain airbricks had been filled in and render had been taken past the damp proof course. The surveyor asked the contractor to return to Ms X's home to remedy the problems.
  4. The surveyor was uncertain the identified defects were the cause of the damp and mould problems Ms X faced and so the surveyor arranged for an Environmental Health Officer to visit Ms X’s home.
  5. The Environmental Health Officer considered condensation was the likely cause of the damp and mould problems. Ms X disagreed. She made a formal complaint to the Council.
  6. I shall not repeat the details of the first and second stage complaint here for reasons of brevity and confidentiality. Before the Council’s final response to the complaint, it commissioned a survey of Ms X’s property which was done by an external surveyor.
  7. The survey did not conclude defects in the work carried out by the contractor led to the damp and mould problems in Ms X’s home. The survey did identify in the works done by the contractor which required remedial action. But the survey also pointed to other defective works which could have led to the damp and mould problems. These defects involve a damp proof coursing as well as lack of cavity insulation in a wall.
  8. Ms X says she had the cavity insulation in that wall removed on the advice of the Council. She also queries the findings of the survey as the surveyors did not conduct a full survey.
  9. The Council accepted the survey’s findings. It arranged further remedial work to correct the outstanding defects. However, it did not conclude the damp and mould problems had been caused by defects in the contractor’s work.

Finding

  1. The findings of the survey pointed to issues within Ms X’s property involving the damp proof course and cavity insulation which could possibly have caused the damp and mould problems.
  2. Given the findings, I cannot conclude defects in the works undertaken by the contractor caused the damp and mould problems in Ms X’s home. The cause of the damp and mould problems was investigated by the Council whether by its own officers or by the external surveyor. This was the correct approach taken by the Council.
  3. Ms X has a right to take legal action against the Council if she remains of the view the Grant works caused the damp and mould problems. This is a contractual right because the Council acted as her agent. I consider Ms X would be better served by doing so.
  4. However, it is clear the Council identified defects in the contractor’s work because of Ms X’s complaint. Had Ms X not complained, it is unlikely the Council would have noticed the defects and taken remedial action. I consider Ms X was put to unnecessary time and trouble in pursuing matters with the Council as the Council’s surveyor should have noticed the defects when inspecting the works on completion. I recommended a time and trouble payment of £100 to Ms X. The Council agreed with the recommendation.

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Final decision

  1. I do not find defects in works carried out by the contractor caused damp and mould problems in Ms X’s home. But Ms X was put to avoidable time and trouble in pursuing the matter with the Council. This warrants a financial remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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