Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 26 Nov 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms B complains abut delay by the Council in completing repairs to garages she rents from it. The Ombudsman finds there was fault by the Council in this matter. In addition, there was fault in the Council’s communications with her abut the repairs and in its handling of her complaint. These faults led to injustice for Ms B for which a remedy has been agreed.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Ms B, complains the Council failed to take effective and prompt action to deal with leaks to the roof of two garages she rents from it. As a result, the garages were wet for a long period and she was caused stress, frustration, and time and trouble seeking to get the matter resolved.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered all the information provided by Ms B about her complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and considered the information it provided in response.
- I have taken account of the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies.
- Ms B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision and I considered all comments received before finalising my decision.
What I found
The garage repairs
- Ms B rents two garages from the Council. This is not linked to any residential tenancy. In May 2019 Ms B reported water ingress from the roof of both garages and she asked for them to be repaired.
- The Council was asked to provide me with evidence of the date the repair need was reported but it has not been able to do so. On the evidence I have seen I am satisfied the repair need was reported in May 2019.
- The Council the evidence has provided shows that a works orders for repairs in respect of garage X were initially raised on 9 July, and then again in November 2019 and February 2020. For garage Y, the evidence shows a works order raised on 8 November 2019.
- The repair to garage Y was completed on 30 January 2020; the repair to garage X was completed on 22 May 2020.
- The Council does not have a published timescale for the repair of rented garages, but says repairs are carried out as soon as there is availability. The timescale for planned housing repairs has a maximum timescale of 60 working days. Using this as a reasonable guideline, there were delays in completing the garage repairs in this case amounting to some five months (garage X) and nine months (garage Y). Those delays were fault.
Communications and complaint handling
- On 25 February 2020 Ms B complained to the Council. She set out that she had reported the repair need in May 2019 and had telephoned to follow this up on eleven occasions since then. She said had been given various responses, none of which were satisfactory in terms of resolving the issues. The responses included a promise of a call back which was not fulfilled; on another occasion she was told the Council had no record of the repairs.
- When it responded to the complaint the Council apologised for the poor service on call backs; for the incorrect information she had been given; and for what it referred to as ‘clear miscommunication throughout these repairs’. It said the work on the second garage had been completed on 4 March 2020. It said it would not offer a refund of rent for the length of time the repairs were outstanding, but offered £100 for inconvenience.
- Ms B was dissatisfied, and her complaint was escalated to the next stage of the Council’s complaints procedure. She pointed out that the response she had received was factually incorrect because the repair to the second garage had not yet been completed. In its response at this stage, the Council failed to acknowledge that it had provided incorrect information about the repair completion date. It said that given the amount of time taken to resolve the issue it had arranged for a new order to be raised for the repair. It offered an increased remedy payment of £125.
- In addition to the faults in the Council’s communications with Ms B about the repairs, there were faults in its complaint handling. There was delay, inaccurate information, and a lack of clarity and explanation.
Injustice to Ms B
- As a result of the failings identified in this case, Ms B was caused inconvenience by having garages which were suffering water ingress for much longer than should have been the case, and she was put to considerable time and trouble seeking to progress and resolve the matter with the repairs department and with the complaints department.
- In recognition of the injustice caused to Ms B by the faults identified in this case, I recommended that within four weeks of the date of the decision on this complaint the Council:
- Issues Ms B with a formal written apology; and
- pays her £500, in addition to the £125 previously offered.
- I further recommended that within three months of the date of the decision on this complaint the Council confirms to the Ombudsman the steps it has taken to ensure that, so far as is possible, the faults identified by this complaint do not recur.
- The Council has agreed to my recommendations.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis set out above.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman