The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration for Onward Homes after a vulnerable resident, whose heating was on full and would not turn off during the summer months, collapsed several times in her home – only to be found by her son.
The landlord regularly appointed the wrong contractors to the job and therefore no contractors turned up to remedy the situation.
The situation went on for four months, in which the Manchester resident, who has a progressive neurological condition which affects her speech and movement, was left in a home that made her feel unwell and physically sick.
On multiple occasions throughout the four months, the resident’s son found her collapsed due to the heat.
The landlord’s repairs policy states that it should attend any heating issues as an emergency and on the initial few reports, it did respond within those timescales but had various issues with delivery such as appointing the wrong contractor, a contractor apparently attending but there being no record and a contractor recording ‘no access’ but the resident saying no one turned up.
When the correct contractor did attend the home, nine days after the initial report, it applied a temporary fix.
A month later, the resident reported that the heating was on full again and would not switch off. The landlord once again raised the wrong contractor and no one turned up. When a contractor did attend, he said he was not familiar with the thermostat and would need to download a manual. No repairs were recorded.
A few days later, the same happened again and the landlord’s response was the same, appointing the wrong contractor and no one attending. The resident had to ask a contractor who had been sent to look at a neighbour’s radiator to fix it, in which he manually reset the thermostat.
The resident told the Ombudsman the flat was “horrendously hot”, and the door handles were hot to touch.
A month later, the problem reoccurred and the resident raised it again with the landlord. In response, it appointed the wrong contractor and so no one came. This then happened the day after too.
It was after this the resident’s son found her collapsed from the heat, in temperatures so hot the radiator valve cover had melted. The landlord called the resident the next day and left a voicemail asking to contact them if the problem reoccurred.
A formal complaint was not raised, but an apology letter and £50 goodwill gesture from the landlord was sent.
On the same day as the apology letter was sent, which stated that the issues wouldn’t happen again, the landlord once again appointed the wrong contractor and no one attended.
The resident chased this a couple of days later and an operative attended on the same day. However, they replaced the melted radiator valve cover but did not sort the heating issues.
Over the next week the resident reported the issue on several occasions with no repair happening. The following week the resident’s son once again raised a formal complaint against the landlord as he found his mother had collapsed again from the heat. He said he believed she would have died had he not found her.
The landlord did not raise a formal complaint as the son had “no authority to discuss her tenancy”.
A month later, the resident declined the £50 goodwill gesture, detailing how during one collapse she had had burnt her knee on the radiator and injured her back and hip, and that her doctor had referred her to a physiotherapist. In response, the landlord raised another emergency repair – but once again no one attended.
A week later, a similar pattern once again emerged, with the resident reporting the issue, the landlord not appointing the right contractor, no one turning up and the resident subsequently being found by her son collapsed on the floor. The thermostat was replaced the day after this.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise to the resident, pay £1,000 in compensation and ensure that it is fully up to date with the resident’s recorded vulnerabilities.
In its learning from the case, the landlord says it has improved its communication with residents, placed additional checks into the process on repeat repairs and doing more to support vulnerable residents.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The landlord clearly learnt no lessons from previous attempts to fix the issue. Time and time again it wasted the resident’s time and caused her more distress, including her collapsing from the problem on several occasions.
“The resident’s vulnerability was well known and whilst the landlord sometimes responded within the right timescales for the problem, it did not do enough to resolve it. When undertaking repairs, landlords must assure themselves that the root cause has also been fixed and follow this up with the resident.
“There were also several instances in this report that shine a light on how better record keeping could have helped the landlord in making this right. Our Spotlight report on Knowledge and Information Management contains recommendations around this, including specific ones on repairs.
“I’d urge the landlord and the wider sector to read those recommendations and take them on board to improve services.”
In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to provide a learning statement.
Onward Homes learning statement:
We are very sorry for the difficulties our resident has experienced in this case. We have apologised to our resident and have fully complied with the Ombudsman’s order.
Several lessons have been highlighted. Given the period of time between the events and findings, improvements are now already in place, we have identified further opportunities to learn from this case:
- We will put in place additional checks where a customer contacts us repeatedly on the same issue, we are speaking with them directly to understand how to make things right.
- We are doing even more to respond to and support customers who are, or who may be, vulnerable and ensure we give them a timely and appropriate response.
- Changes have been made to improve our communication with customers at every stage of a complaint, so we can be sure we have addressed all of their concerns and can make fair and timely offers of compensation.
We welcome the opportunity to learn from the judgement in this case and have used it to continue to improve the service we give to our customers.