Complaints to the Housing Ombudsman from leaseholders and shared owners
The Housing Ombudsman has published a report from their handling of almost 2,000 complaints from leaseholders and shared owners over the last two years.( www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/2020/09/07/new-report-focuses-on-leaseholders-and-shared-owners ) .This resulted in more than 800 formal investigations with redress required in just over half of the cases investigated. In over 72% of the complaints, maladministration was found in the way the complaint was dealt with. This was doubled the average rate for complaints that were upheld.
The most common areas of complaints were repairs, estate management and service charges. Stair-casing also featured. Several complaints have been upheld related to cladding and building safety. At a recent webinar organised by the Ombudsman, it was made clear that there was an expectation that fire risk assessment reports should be made available to leaseholders. www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/new-complaint-handling-code-presentation-slides.
The report identified 12 landlords with the highest number of maladministration findings.
The relevant housing associations are with their respective complaint upheld rates are:
Clarion Group (50%), A2 Dominion Group (72 %), Notting Hill Genesis Group (43%), Peabody Group (38%), London and Quadrant Group (26%), Orbit Group (44%)
The relevant local authorities are:
Southwark Council (39% upheld rate), Hammersmith and Fulham (75%), Lambeth Council (64%), Westminster Council (57%), Haringey (43%) and Camden Council (33%).
The Ombudsman does not look at the price that leaseholders pay for service charges. These are outside his jurisdiction and are referred to the first-tier property tribunal. His office may look at complaints that relate to the collection of rents or service charges (including failure to consult or inadequate consultation), their calculation or how this information was communicated. If the complaint as a whole relates to the reasonableness of the service charges, this would be a matter for the First Tier Property Tribunal.
Complaints about sales and stair-casing were dealt with by the Ombudsman. However, complaints about the right to buy where the landlord is a local council are dealt with by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. An assured tenant’s complaint was upheld where even though her tenancy agreement gave her the preserved right to buy, she had never in fact been entitled to it. The landlord awarded her £150 in compensation but refused to pay her legal fees. The Ombudsman increased the award by a further £200 though it is unclear whether this covered all her legal fees.
In another case the marketing material caused confusion over parking entitlement for a potential shared owner of a 125-year-old lease. The sales brochure referred to limited parking at additional cost. The offer letter made no reference to parking. Several months later the landlord responded that the parking would cost £15,000. The Ombudsman found discrepancies between the sales material, the offer letter, and the final clarification. Compensation was awarded of £75. This appears to be a low amount.
£4,500 was awarded to a shared owner who applied to staircase to 100% only to discover that neither party had a complete copy of the lease. Nor had a copy been registered with the land registry. It took two years of negotiation to resolve the matter.
Following the reports about building safety and cladding, the Ombudsman has received complaints about this issue. A special report will be issued on this area. Their recommendations are:
• Where a complaint concerns building safety requirements the landlord should give clear information regarding its plans for compliance with Government guidance in advice note 14 and consider the impact of these plans on its residents.
• Landlords should communicate with their shared owners and leaseholders ensuring accurate information is provided regarding the impact of the building safety guidance.
• When dealing with complaints from residents who are unable to sell or staircase due to the absence of a cladding assessment landlords should consider the individual circumstances of the resident in question, show empathy for residents trapped in these circumstances and to mitigate the impact where possible.
The Government is looking to strengthen the powers of the Housing Ombudsman as part of its response to the Grenfell fire tragedy. Residents in Grenfell Tower had warned their landlord that there were fire safety issues. Unfortunately, their views were ignored with dramatic consequences. The Government has drafted proposals in the Building Safety Bill ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-building-safety-bill that will require freeholders to take account of the views of residents on fire safety issues. There are also proposals in the Government’s white paper on social housing see (www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-charter-for-social-housing-residents-social-housing-white-paper )