14 Feb 23

The Ombudsman made a severe maladministration finding for Birmingham City Council’s handling of a disrepair claim, with the council failing on multiple occasions to take action when prompted by the resident and the local MP.

We found severe maladministration for Birmingham City Council’s response to disrepair after it left works incomplete and failed to carry out further inspections when it promised to do so.

The finding comes as the Ombudsman is conducting a wider investigation into the landlord, due to be published early next year. The latest annual review into complaints also found a higher than average maladministration rate for Birmingham City Council at 54%.

Phil Turtle, compliance director with Landlord Licensing & Defence commented:

Yet again a council which would crucify a private landlord with fines in the multiple £10,000s if they left a property like this for a few weeks gets away with providing unfit accommodation for over three years and received only a £1,050 slap on the wrist. Completely unfelt on their £billions budgets.

“When will central government, and we as taxpayers, realise that these local authorities are not fit to operate accommodation and therefore not fit to police private landlords either their corrupt-like system where they get to make up the rules, issue eye-watering and disproportionate fines and keep the spoils of their corrupt and aggressive enforcement (revenue generation) schemes .”  

In this case, the resident issued a Section 82 notice (a notice made in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act 1990) after a period of inaction by the landlord on a variety of issues such as damp in multiple rooms and rotten floorboards.

A contractor then carried out an initial inspection, but it was noted that the resident refused the proposed works. Four months later, the resident stopped using legal representation and asked for the works to be carried out. A landlord contractor visited the property but the operatives were withdrawn due to the resident’s behaviour.

After contacting her MP later that year, the resident disputed the landlord’s claims about her behaviour, saying the contractors left after causing flooding and further damage to her home.

Three years later, after the resident said she had been affected by health issues, she again raised concerns about the condition of her home. A stage one response advised that all repairs had been completed to the resident’s satisfaction. Disputing this, the resident asked for the complaint to be escalated and the landlord said it would carry out a further inspection.

However, no inspection was undertaken and the landlord said no plan was in place to do so as there were no outstanding repairs on the system.

In our investigation, it was not evident that the landlord made a reasonable attempt to investigate or address the resident’s initial reports of repair issues and failed to provide any context of its initial actions  in its formal responses.

The landlord also failed to arrange a further inspection as promised in its communication to the resident’s MP, and in its stage two response.

Following the investigation, the landlord’s learning includes ongoing training for staff and managers using resident feedback to drive service improvements.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The number of failings in this case regarding poor communication, failing to provide services, and failing to follow up on promised actions would have caused significant distress for the resident.

“Every landlord has a duty to meet its repair obligations. Should it leave repairs incomplete, it should have a clear and robust policy in order to make structured and reasoned decisions not to carry out repairs.

“In this case, it is not evident that the landlord has any such policies, or that any risk assessment took place when it decided to withdraw its services and leave the works incomplete.

“This decision reflects a wider pattern of poor performance by the landlord. This includes a high level of failure when dealing with resident concerns and recent orders made by us to progress cases in line with our complaint standards.

“I will shortly publish the outcome of a wider investigation into the landlord following a review of several cases – action which was promoted by my serious concerns about the landlord’s approach to complaint handling and compensation.

“I welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning the case offers for their own services.”

We also found maladministration for the landlord’s poor record keeping which hampered its investigation and led to its erroneous findings that work had been satisfactorily completed.

We ordered the landlord to pay £1,050 in compensation and review current procedures for record keeping.

In cases of severe maladministration we invite the landlord to provide a short statement on the lessons learned following the decision.

Birmingham City Council learning statement

Birmingham City Council are extremely sorry for the difficulties the resident has experienced as a result of our response to reports of disrepair, and we apologise for the subsequent distress and inconvenience caused.

Several lessons have been learnt from this case and we are working in collaboration with our Repairs Contractors to develop process improvements which will mitigate against future service failure.

  • We are working closely with our internal service areas to review record keeping procedures and ensure that repairs records include detailed information in instances where repairs are suspended or withdrawn.
  • Current procedures have been reviewed for instances where contractors report that a resident’s behaviour has impacted the provision of any service.
  • Ongoing training is being provided to the Complaint Handler’s to ensure they carry out a thorough investigation at both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the complaints procedure, and to ensure that they provide an adequate explanation in relation to any service delays which may have occurred.
  • Complaints Manager’s regularly attend Service Delivery Meetings with Contractors to feedback on case studies which help to inform service delivery improvements. Furthermore, Contractor performance will continue to be managed through a robust KPI management system.

We value our relationship with the Housing Ombudsman Service and welcome the opportunity to learn from the concerns which have been highlighted in their consideration of this case. The lessons learnt are being used to develop process and service improvements which will benefit all Birmingham City Council tenants.

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