Brighton & Hove Council repair delay kept man out of his home for over a year

In her report, issued today, the Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, says the man, who had a history of health problems, should have been able to return to his flat a year before he actually did. The effect on him, combined with serious health problems during this time, has been significant.

The Ombudsman says: “This is a completely unreasonable delay that could have been avoided or at least cut short. Instead, this man has been left to struggle on without proper accommodation for far too long.” The Ombudsman recommends the Council to pay the complainant £3,000 in recognition of the significant injustice he was caused.

The tenant complained about the Council’s delay in repairing his flat following a serious flood that caused so much damage he had to move out. The tenant, who has a history of physical and mental health problems, was offered temporary accommodation but felt it was unsuitable. He stayed on a friend’s sofa until the summer of 2011, when he was finally able to return home after over 18 months.

The investigation revealed that:

  • dehumidifiers were not installed until six months after the tenant moved out of the flat
  • repairs were then carried out for five months, but some pipes were neither checked nor insulated
  • the water system was refilled in preparation for the tenant returning home, but no heating was put on
  • a second major flood, from a burst pipe in a different area of the loft, caused significant damage and was not discovered for a month
  • further repairs were carried out and the keys were returned to the Council by the contractor.
  • there was no formal handover and when the tenant went home he found a number of outstanding problems
  • these problems were not resolved until a senior officer from the contractor became involved
  • before he signed off the works as complete, the officer discovered that 60 per cent of the pipes had still not been lagged and piles of wet insulation had been left in the loft.

All the repairs have now been completed and the complainant finally settled back into his home in summer 2011. However, the Council has said that he should have been able to return home by July 2010.

The Ombudsman found that:

  • there was an unreasonable delay in installing the dehumidifiers and starting the repairs
  • there was a lack of monitoring that might have prevented the matter from becoming so protracted
  • the second flood might have been avoided if reasonable precautions had been taken
  • there was no formal handover, which meant that outstanding issues were not identified and there was a further delay in addressing these issues
  • records were inadequate, which made it difficult to identify what happened, and
  • there was a lack of support for the tenant.

As well as recommending the £3,000 compensation payment, she welcomed the Council’s decision to pay the tenant £200 in recognition of a council tax error that led to his being pursued by bailiffs for council tax on his flat while it was uninhabitable; the £200 was paid during the course of the investigation to help him purchase essential items.

The Ombudsman welcomes the Council’s agreement to implement procedural changes to prevent similar problems happening again.

Report ref no 10 021 844

Article date: 20 December 2011