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Housing Ombudsman criticises council for 'severe maladministration’ in case where elderly resident left without heating or hot water for three years

An elderly resident lived in a property without heating or hot water for almost three years while Woking Borough Council failed to take appropriate action to resolve the situation, an investigation by the Housing Ombudsman has found.

The watchdog says it uncovered "severe maladministration" and ordered the landlord to pay the resident £6,000 compensation.

The resident, an 83-year-old woman, first reported that she did not have any heating or hot water in September 2017. An engineer visited but was unable to gain access, and six weeks later, the landlord capped the gas supply.

Following this, no further action to remedy the situation was found by the Ombudsman for a year until the annual gas service visit. However, during that visit, no attempt was made to investigate what repairs might be needed. The gas supply remained capped for the following two annual gas safety inspections as the resident refused access.

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During its investigation, the Ombudsman found several missed opportunities to resolve the matter and limited action to check the resident's welfare. The annual gas checks were in line with its obligations, but it was not appropriate to comply with these alone.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said while there were problems accessing the resident's property, the landlord's "lack of action was deeply concerning".

Mr Blakeway added: "It left an elderly, potentially vulnerable, resident in need of assistance. The landlord missed opportunities to put things right, only making contact when an annual gas inspection was due. These failings demonstrated a lack of regard to the landlord's obligations as well as a lack of concern for any health and safety risks.

"The lack of heating and hot water caused the resident severe distress and inconvenience. Her case reinforces our concerns about the significant impact of heating and hot water issues on residents.

"I welcome the landlord's prompt actions following our decision and it is now crucial for it to learn lessons arising from our investigation. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning this report offers for their own services."

As well as paying compensation, the Ombudsman ordered the landlord to offer the resident sufficient alternative heating to heat the property and provide a safe way for the resident to make herself hot food in the short term. It also recommended Woking demonstrate to the Ombudsman that it has a robust place to repair the boiler and reinstate gas at the property.

Louise Strongitharm, Woking Borough Council’s Director of Housing, said: “We are very sorry for any distress caused to the resident concerned. Whilst the access difficulties have been challenging for staff and contractors over an extended period, we should have acted more proactively in addressing the issues.

"Since receiving the Housing Ombudsman’s report, we have carried out all of the recommendations, including paying compensation, offering the resident alternative heating and cooking options, as well as providing a plan to repair the boiler and reinstate the gas supply to the property. We have also learnt from this case and made some immediate improvements, including reviewing and adapting our complaints procedure accordingly.

“We continue to work with and support the resident to find a permanent solution to their housing situation.”

Earlier this month, the Ombudsman released its findings from a special report on complaints about heating, hot water and energy in social housing. It found that in 211 complaints investigated between April 2019 and September 2020, 66% of them involved maladministration.

The Ombudsman made 158 orders to put something right and 130 recommendations as a result of the findings..

Adam Carey

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