Industry News

Surrey council left 83-year-old tenant without heating and hot water for almost three years

resident was left with no heating or hot water for nearly three years. In addition to the finding, the Ombudsman


ordered the council to pay its tenant compensation of £6,000, offer her alternative heating, provide her with a safe way to prepare hot food and demonstrate that it has a robust plan to repair the boiler and reinstate gas to the property. The problem began in September 2017 when the

tenant, a Ms J reported having no heating or hot water supply. An engineer called at the property but could not gain access and left a card. Six weeks later the landlord forced entry to the property and capped the gas supply to make it safe. There was no evidence of any further action by

the council until September 2018 when an engineer made an annual gas service visit and placed a ‘danger notice’ on the boiler. In advance of this appointment the landlord tried to contact Ms J by telephone but noted it did not hold a ‘phone number for her. The gas supply remained capped and there was no evidence of further action. Ms J refused access for gas safety inspections in

2019 and 2020 and so the gas supply remained capped. In June 2019 the landlord wrote to Ms J about the gas supply and boiler and said it wanted to help resolve the issues and carry out repairs so that she had suitable facilities in her home. In her complaint to the Ombudsman, Ms J said that her flat was very cold in the winter and she had

he Housing Ombudsman has found Woking Borough Council guilty of severe maladministration after an elderly female

In addition to the finding, the Ombudsman ordered the council to pay its tenant compensation of £6,000, offer her alternative heating, provide her with a safe way to prepare hot food and demonstrate that it has a robust plan to repair the boiler and reinstate gas to the property

to wash using a kettle for hot water. She said a relative sometimes paid for her to stay in hotels so that she could be warm. Ms J made a formal complaint to the council in

early 2018. In its stage one response, the council said it had been trying to access the property to carry out repairs to the heating system and, as a result of the difficulties it had making appointments and gaining access, it was necessary to stop the gas supply to the property. The council explained to Ms J that it was legally

obliged to ensure the property was gas safe and, as it had not been possible to arrange works, it had to take this step to ensure she was safe. The council said Ms J should have been provided with temporary heaters. After being contacted by Ms J in late 2018, the

Ombudsman made several attempts with the council to escalate her complaint through its processes. Other issues relating to damp and mould and anti-social behaviour pre-dated the gas being capped. The council noted that the property had been affected by a leak and it was undertaking

action to assist with the drying process and mould wash. The council’s repairs log did not give details of

this work being completed and there is no evidence of any later reports of damp or mould on the repairs log. The council closed the anti-social behaviour cases as there was insufficient evidence to keep them open. Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman,

said: “While the council may have found this case difficult due to problems accessing the resident’s property, its lack of action was deeply concerning. It left an elderly, potentially vulnerable, resident in need of assistance. The council 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.”

Benefits freeze will increase private tenants’ rent arrears

The Government’s decision to freeze local housing allowances in April will inevitably drive many thousands of low-income tenants deeper into debt, increasing levels of rent arrears to unprecedented levels. As many as half a million private sector tenants

are already estimated to be well behind with their rent payments and the freezing of LHA will make it harder for them to make ends meet, particularly where their rents have increased above last year’s. It is estimated by groups such as Citizens Advice

and Shelter that the LHA decision could see some tenants lose more than £1,000 a year as a result of rising rents and the benefit freeze. Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “Over half of private renting households on

Universal Credit don’t receive enough housing benefit to cover their rent and April’s freeze will only see this chasm grow. In some places, the shortfall is already more than £100 a month.” The affected tenants have limited options to

pursue – they either have to find extra money from somewhere, try to negotiate a lower rent, move to cheaper accommodation or face growing rent arrears. Due to the Covid pandemic’s impact on the economy their chances of getting higher paid work do not look good, so debt levels and rent arrears are expected to spiral. The bans on evictions (recently extended until

the end of May) except in exceptional circumstances, such as domestic violence, antisocial behaviour or fraud, is also making the situation a lot

16 | HMM April/May 2021 |

worse for private landlords who are seeing their incomes come under severe pressure. Calls for the Government to establish financial

support packages for tenants and landlords have so far been met by a stoney silence from the Treasury. This is despite emergency aid packages being available since last year in Scotland and Wales. LHA has been capped at the level of the lowest 30

per cent of private rents in a local area. Any tenant on benefits living in a property with a higher rent has to make up the shortfall. The Government says the LHA freeze will

protect payments to tenants in areas where rents are falling. But official data shows that, in the vast majority of areas, the 30th percentile of rents has actually risen.

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