National Ombudsmen
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Councils reminded of duties to investigate renters’ housing concerns

A recent Ombudsman investigation has highlighted local councils’ duties to investigate disrepair concerns in private rented accommodation.

A woman complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) about the way Worcester City Council handled a complaint about disrepair issues in her rented flat.

The council found both category 1 and 2 hazards when it investigated her concerns: its report found excessive damp and mould, and a heating system that was not controllable by the occupants. It also found issues with the electrical system, which was old and had also been affected by the damp.

The woman had to move out of the flat for seven months while remedial work took place. The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council did not take formal action against the woman’s landlord when it discovered the category 1 hazards, as required by law, and when it did contact the landlord, its email missed out vital information.

The ombudsman investigation also found the council failed to keep tabs on the ongoing work at the flat and also did not keep the woman updated on the situation.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“This case highlights that poor living conditions do not just affect people living in social housing, as we have seen recently in the news; it can impact many people living in the private rented sector too.

“The woman has told me it has been devastating living as she has: her physical and mental health have suffered and she has also suffered financial loss, not only because of damage to her belongings, but from malfunctioning energy pre-payment meters which she believes has been caused by the damp.

“For many people in rented accommodation, it’s often not a simple question of just moving to a better place – in many areas there is a lack of suitable, affordable alternatives. But equally people should not have to move out of their homes for prolonged periods to ensure that their homes meet the minimum standards of safety.

“I am pleased Worcester City Council has agreed to review its procedure to ensure it is now compliant with the law.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the woman and provide her with an update on its enforcement action. It will also pay the woman £500.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will amend its investigation procedure to ensure it takes formal enforcement action upon finding a category 1 hazard, in line with the law.

It will also train staff responsible for housing disrepair complaints in line with the new process.

While the Housing Ombudsman investigates complaints from council tenants about disrepair, the LGSCO can investigate complaints from private tenants where councils have not properly used their enforcement powers under Environmental Health and Safety legislation to compel a landlord to make the required improvements.

Related Content : Worcester City Council (22 002 724)

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