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Ombudsman finds severe maladministration at city council over delayed repairs of extensive water leak

The Housing Ombudsman has found severe maladministration at Birmingham City Council over delays in repairing an extensive water leak that caused damage to a resident’s property.

The investigation also found maladministration for the landlord’s complaint handling, after the council failed to offer any compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused to the resident, in contravention of the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code.

The resident, a leaseholder, reported flooding outside her flat that was leaking at high volume. She also reported that the damp and mould from the leak was impacting her and her son’s health.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that five repair orders had been raised but the landlord failed to complete the repairs, which was a serious concern given the extent of the leak, how long it was ongoing and the internal damage caused to the resident’s property.

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The leak was repaired by the water supplier four months after it was first reported.

The landlord acknowledged its delays and apologised but failed to offer any compensation. They said the resident would have to claim for the internal damage to her property on her insurance.

The Complaint Handling Code requires landlords to consider the time and trouble a resident has been put to as well as any distress and inconvenience caused, when awarding compensation in response to a complaint.

The report notes that the landlord’s complaint response failed to assess in enough detail what had gone wrong and why.

The final response, sent after the leak was repaired, failed to identify that the leak had been repaired by the water supplier and not the landlord’s contractor, the Ombudsman said. The response also lacked proper consideration of the impact of the outstanding repair on the resident.

The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to apologise and pay the resident £800 compensation and deal with the damage to her property.

During the investigation the Ombudsman identified other cases with issues around the landlord’s complaint handling and compensation.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “This case raises serious concerns about the landlord’s complaint handling and compensation.

“Other cases with us concern similar issues and may indicate a repeated failing. That’s why we will be conducting a further investigation using our systemic powers under paragraph 50 of the Scheme to identify areas for the landlord to learn and improve.

“Landlords must ensure they are compliant with our Code, which aims to support a positive complaint handling culture and enable landlords to respond to complaints effectively and fairly. That simply did not happen in this case."

Blakeway added: “Following our decision, I welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. We also welcome their engagement with us on our wider investigation.”

Responding to the Ombudsman's report, the local authority said: “Birmingham City Council are extremely sorry for the difficulties the resident has experienced as a result of an underground water leak and apologise for the subsequent distress and inconvenience caused by the delay in establishing its source.

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

  • Where we receive information from our residents that conflicts with that provided by our repairs contractor; an early intervention approach has been introduced whereby a Birmingham City Council contract works officer will undertake a site visit and agree a plan of action with the contractor.
  • Work is underway to improve the quality and accuracy of the communication we receive from our contractors. This includes a clearly defined process which has been put in place to ensure that complaint handlers can escalate contractor performance issues to senior management.
  • Further training has been provided to the complaint handlers to ensure they adequately challenge the contractors to establish the root cause of a service failure.
  • Complaints managers will attend service delivery meetings with the contractors to feedback on case studies which will inform service delivery improvements. Furthermore, contractor performance will continue to be managed through a robust KPI management system.
  • The Compensation Policy has been reviewed and amended to ensure that it is compliant with the Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code. Changes have been made in relation to awarding compensation to residents for distress and inconvenience resulting from service failure.

"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 service improvements which will benefit all our residents."

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