London Borough of Ealing (23 000 441)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 01 Nov 2023

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained that the Council failed to adequately respond to her reports of a mice infestation in her private rented block of flats. In particular, she said there was a lack of engagement by the Council. We found the Council failed to keep Ms X informed and failed to keep records of telephone conversations with the managing agents. It also delayed in responding to Ms X’s complaint. In recognition of the injustice caused, the Council has agreed to apologise to Ms X and make a payment to her.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains that the Council failed to adequately respond to her reports of a mice infestation in her block of flats. In particular, she says there was a lack of engagement by the Council. As a result, she has had to live in a mice infested property and has been put to inconvenience in having to chase the Council to intervene with the landlord.

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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 significant injustice, or that could cause injustice to others in the future we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with an organisation’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 all the information provided by Ms X, made enquiries of the Council and considered its comments and the documents it provided.
  2. Ms X 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

Legal and administrative background

  1. The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 says it is the duty of every local authority to take necessary steps to secure, as far as possible, that their district is kept free from rats and mice and, in particular:
    • carry out inspections where necessary;
    • destroy rats and mice on its land and keep the land, as far as possible, free from rats and mice;
    • enforce the duties of owners and occupiers of other land.
  2. The Act says councils can:
    • issue a notice requiring an owner or occupier to carry out works; and
    • carry out the works and recover costs from the owner if they do not do so.

Key facts

  1. Ms X was living in a private rented flat. On 26 January 2022 she contacted the Council reporting a mice infestation in the block of flats. She said there was a significant infestation across the block and mice had been found in apartments and communal areas. She said she had contacted the managing agents but believed a more robust response to the problem was needed.
  2. On 11 February Ms X sent an email to the Council saying a contractor was visiting a small number of flats once a week laying bait traps but this was not sufficient. She said residents were becoming distressed and some of them were seeking temporary alternative accommodation.
  3. Ms X also contacted her local councillor (‘the councillor’) asking for support. He sent an email to the Council’s property regulation team on her behalf.
  4. On 21 February Ms X sent a chasing email to the Council. The following day an officer from the property regulation team, Officer A, sent an email to the managing agents saying the Council had received numerous complaints from residents about rodents in communal areas and in individual flats. He said he appreciated they and other responsible parties had tried to keep the infestation to a minimum but asked whether there were steps in place to reduce it further. The managing agents responded saying there was a communal pest control maintenance contract in place but a second contractor would be attending the site the following day to survey the buildings and report back.
  5. On 4 March the Council informed the councillor that an officer was liaising with Ms X and the managing agents and would be visiting the site. It said mice infestations in blocks such as these were impossible to fully eradicate because of the number of service ducts and entry points together. It said it would more likely be a case of managing the situation long term.
  6. The councillor passed on the update to Ms X. She responded saying she and other residents had been allocated a case officer by the Council but he had not been in contact with any of them. She said she had liaised with the managing agents who had carried out an investigation and agreed an action plan with a new contractor which included: renewing all bait boxes in the communal areas; visiting all flats to change/renew bait boxes as required; and reviewing any proofing works required.
  7. On 13 March Ms X contacted Officer A saying she had reported the matter on 26 January and had been sending regular updates by email. She asked the officer to acknowledge receipt of these emails and provide an update. She asked when he would be visiting.
  8. On 23 March Ms X sent another email asking for an update. She said she was yet to receive a single response from Officer A.
  9. On 27 April Ms X sent emails to Officer A and the property regulation team saying requests to proof ingress points in residents’ kitchens had been rejected by the managing agents.
  10. On 11 May the Council received an email from Ms X’s MP asking for an update on the situation and when a site visit would be conducted. The Council responded on 19 June saying communication had been ongoing with the agents. It said they had a programme of eradication in place so there was no point in serving any formal notices. The Council said the issue was the scale of the proofing needed because of the number of entry points throughout the development. It said it would be almost impossible to eradicate the problem and the solution lay in managing the pest population.
  11. On 27 June Ms X’s MP wrote to the Council’s chief executive requesting an update on the work being done to resolve the issues.
  12. The Council says there were various telephone conversations between Officer A and the managing agents.
  13. In early December Ms X complained to the Council. She said that, despite being told that Officer A would contact her and other residents, she was still waiting nearly a year later. She said assurances were given to her MP and her local councillor but the team had still not made contact with her. She said her mental health had been impacted by the situation and the infestation was continuing.
  14. On 21 December Officer A completed an inspection. He then sent an email to the councillor saying Ms X was present at the visit and confirmed there had been no sightings of mice in her flat since November but they could be heard in the walls. He said no apparent access points were seen in the flat and this was confirmed by Ms X. Previous access points had been filled and sealed off. No droppings were seen during the inspection however Ms X did keep the flat clean.
  15. The officer said the managing agents had been providing pest control treatment in communal areas and individual flats and bait stations were seen in the communal lobby. He said an email had been sent to all residents to book a pest control appointment as there would be an officer on site on 28 December 2022. He said he was awaiting pest control reports for the previous treatments which had taken place. These reports should explain the works the managing agents had in place to help eradicate the issue. The officer explained that, as there was a pest control programme already in place, the Council could not enforce further action. He said that, because of the location of the building, its size and the surrounding environment, the issue could not be fully eradicated. He said he would contact the managing agents to ensure pest control treatment was continuous, but he would be closing the case.
  16. On 4 January 2023 Ms X sent an email to Officer A in response to the update he sent to the councillor. She said that, although there were no visible droppings, she was experiencing urine excretion and ‘larvae’ in her kitchen and living room and had provided photographs of this. She said she had seen mice during the night on 27 and 28 December. She said the contractors’ visits were infrequent and the treatment was not effective.
  17. On 4 February Ms X told Officer A mice had entered her flat through the living room ceiling air duct on the night of 22 January and she sustained two small scratches and a bite mark during the night of 29 January.
  18. On 15 February the Council responded to Ms X’s complaint at stage 1 of its complaints process. It apologised for the delay in responding. It said that, where a pest infestation was identified, it had powers to require the person responsible to appoint a pest control expert to assess the infestation and recommend the most appropriate eradication measures and for those measures to be implemented. But, in this case, a pest control expert had already been contracted and mitigation measures had been in place for some time. So, there was no further action for the Council to take.
  19. Ms X was dissatisfied with the response and asked for her complaint to be escalated to stage 2. She explained that the crux of her complaint was the lack of engagement by the team. She said she raised her concerns in January 2022 and was informed that an officer would contact her. He did not do so, and she had to liaise with her local councillor and her MP to find out when the officer would contact her. She said that, due to inaction by the Council, she had carried the burden of trying to resolve the matter directly with the managing agents which had negatively affected her relationship with them and she had now been asked to vacate her property.
  20. Ms X complained to us on 17 April 2023.
  21. The Council issued a stage 2 response on 28 April 2023. It accepted the team was slow to react but said this was due to ‘the challenging times prevailing at that time’. It apologised for the inconvenience this caused. The Council referred Ms X to the Housing Ombudsman if she remained dissatisfied.


  1. Ms X reported the issue with the mice in January 2022, but the Council did not inspect the property until December. In response to a draft of this decision statement, the Council explained that an inspection was not required at the outset because there was no dispute between any parties that mice were present in the building and that action was needed. The Council’s responsibility is to enforce the duties of owners and occupiers of land to take necessary steps, as far as possible, to keep it free from rats and mice. It says the first step in such an investigation is to establish what steps the owners and occupiers are taking and Officer A was able to do this without inspecting the property initially. It is a matter for officers’ professional judgement as to whether an inspection is the best use of resources.
  2. However, I find the Council was at fault in failing to contact Ms X and keep her informed. She sent various emails requesting an update but did not receive a response. On 4 March the Council told the councillor that an officer was liaising with Ms X and the managing agents and would be visiting the site. Despite this, the officer did not contact Ms X or visit the site until December 2022. This caused Ms X distress and uncertainty and put her to the inconvenience of chasing a response.
  3. In its stage 2 response the Council accepted it was “slow to react and did not meet the high standard of service we strive for”. It apologised for the inconvenience caused. While this apology goes some way towards remedying the injustice caused, I have made further recommendations below.
  4. I find there is insufficient evidence that the Council properly investigated Ms X’s concerns. The evidence shows Officer A contacted the managing agents on 22 February 2022. They responded the same day saying there was a communal pest control maintenance contract in place, but a second contractor would be attending the site the following day to survey the buildings and report back. However, there is no evidence of any further contact with the managing agents.
  5. The Council says there were “various telephone conversations between the case officer and the managing agents but the exact time and dates are unknown as they were not logged”. It says, “due to the numerous contacts made with various parties not all telephone calls are logged only substantive points are recorded”. However, I have seen no evidence of any telephone calls between the Council and the managing agents. Failure to keep records of contact with the managing agents was fault and causes uncertainty about whether these conversations took place and, if they did, what was said.
  6. In December 2022 Officer A told the councillor he was awaiting pest control reports for the previous treatments which had taken place which should explain the works the managing agents had in place to help eradicate the issue. There is no evidence to show whether the Council obtained this information or what consideration was given to it. This was further fault. However, Officer A subsequently visited and was satisfied with the actions being taken by the managing agents.

The Council’s response to Ms X’s complaint.

  1. I find the Council delayed in responding to Ms X’s complaint.
  2. The Council’s complaints procedure states that it will respond at each stage within 20 working days. Ms X submitted a stage 1 response on 3 December 2022 but the Council did not respond until 15 February 2023. This was well outside its published timescales. Ms X made a stage 2 complaint on 19 February 2023. The Council responded on 28 April 2023 which, again, was well outside its published timescales. The delays in responding caused Ms X further frustration and uncertainty.
  3. In its stage 2 response, the Council referred Ms X to the Housing Ombudsman Service if she remained dissatisfied with its response. This was fault. The Council should have referred Ms X to us and not the Housing Ombudsman service. However, I do not consider this caused Ms X an injustice as she had already complained to us by this stage.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that, within one month, it will:
    • apologise to Ms X for the fault identified above; and
    • pay Ms X £300 in recognition of the distress caused.
  2. The Council has also agreed that, within two months, it will:
    • issue a reminder to relevant officers to keep appropriate records of telephone conversations; and
    • issue a reminder to relevant officers about which cases should be referred to the Housing Ombudsman Service and which should be referred to us.
  3. The Council should provide us with evidence it has complied with the above actions.

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Final decision

  1. I uphold Ms X’s complaint.
  2. I have completed my investigation on the basis that I am satisfied with the Council’s actions.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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