Social Housing Speed Read: Poor complaints handling prove costly for landlord
26th July, 2023
This month landlord Aster Group ("Aster") felt the wrath of the Housing Ombudsman, when they were ordered to pay a resident £5,700 in compensation.
This was after the resident, an 80 year old wheelchair user, was left with inadequate flooring and served with an “unreasonable” Section 21 notice.
The resident moved into the property in December 2019 and found the floor to be incredibly sticky because of a carpet laid by the previous tenant. Her footwear would stick to the floor, causing her to stumble. She alleged that the inadequate flooring affected her mobility and caused her to suffer a foot injury. This issue was first reported to Aster two days after the resident moved in.
In addition, the issues with the flooring meant that the resident felt she was unable to unpack and settle into her new home. She was forced to use a storage facility for five months and lived with boxes in the bathroom and bedroom. Due to financial constraints, she was unable to repair the flooring herself.
In January 2020, the local authority (after being contacted by the resident) asked Aster to resolve the issue, having identified the floor as a hazard. The following month a contractor attended to fix the floor, but the resident was later informed the works were cancelled.
The flooring remained unfixed and in March 2020 Aster took the decision to serve a Section 21 notice on the resident and requested that she vacate by June 2020. The resident sought legal representation.
Aster also refused to escalate the resident’s complaint through their internal procedures, believing that they were legal disputes. This is despite confirmation from her solicitor making it clear it was a third-party helping the resident with her complaint.
The Housing Ombudsman’s decision:
The Ombudsman made two findings of severe maladministration against Aster. One in regards to the flooring, the other relating the handling of complaints.
Landlords have a responsibility under Section 20(3) Equality Act 2010 to consider reasonable adjustments where a resident is known to have a disability that may affect their access of services. When letting a property to a tenant, a landlord is expected to ensure that the property is safe and free from potential hazards. This is particularly important where there may be mobility issues and the tenant is a wheelchair user.
The Housing Ombudsman found Aster had failed to have regards for its obligations under the Equality Act and did not ensure the property was safe when the resident moved in.
Additionally, the Ombudsman felt the landlord was “unhelpful, unsympathetic and heavy-handed” in serving the Section 21 notice.
These failures caused distress to the resident, affected her ability to settle into her home and costing her financially. This led the Housing Ombudsman to make the first finding for severe maladministration.
Aster’s mishandling of the resident’s complaint led to the second finding of mal-administration. It was found that Aster’s actions again, cost the resident financially and it was unreasonable for them to decline to respond or escalate the complaint for such a lengthy period, causing unnecessary delays.
The lack of investigation into the flooring complaint and record keeping failures led to action not being taken effectively, this was key to the Ombudsman’s decision.
What can social housing providers learn from this?
This case highlights the tough approach the Housing Ombudsman can take on landlords who do not take their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 seriously. It also shows the importance of abiding by internal procedures in relation to complaints and record keeping.
Another key take-away relates to Section 21 notices. Landlords should demonstrate these notices are used as a last resort, rather than in retaliation to resident complaints. For as long as they still remain a part of the law, Section 21 notices should be used after objective assessment of the evidence.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact Melanie Dirom or another of our expert Social Housing Lawyers.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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