National Ombudsmen
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Ombudsman says York Council misled elderly woman over roof works

City of York Council’s provision of assistance on roofing works to a vulnerable elderly woman’s home was inadequate, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

In her report, issued today, she says the Council, and the Agency acting on its behalf, wrongly included solid insulation in the schedule when the loft was already insulated, misled her into believing this was a requirement of her home appreciation loan, and allowed the works to be signed off when the woman did not know what document she had signed. The Ombudsman concludes that this, and other failures, caused the woman “a significant degree of distress and anxiety”.

‘Mrs Hazel’ is over 60, has some learning difficulties and struggles to understand paperwork, so relies upon her sister-in-law to help her with forms or anything requiring a signature. She had previously received Council help to carry out grant-aided works in her home, most recently in replacing her kitchen. That work had not gone to plan and Mrs Hazel had pursued complaints about the contractors involved. It left her feeling very wary of using the Council’s services again.

Mrs Hazel had also insulated her loft a few years earlier. In 2009 she sought quotations for re roofing, and then asked the Council if any assistance was available. The Council said she may be eligible for a ‘home appreciation loan’ for roof works. The officers who handled the loan knew that Mrs Hazel needed help with paperwork and that she preferred her sister-in-law to be present at meetings.

After this, things went wrong. The Council and the Agency acting on its behalf:

  • included solid insulation in the schedule of work although Mrs Hazel’s loft was already adequately insulated
  • misled Mrs Hazel into believing the solid insulation was a requirement of the loan
  • changed the insulation material to traditional roll-type material without consulting Mrs Hazel and then did not fit the insulation material as it was not needed
  • failed to keep adequate records of the changes to the tiles, the cost of the new tiles and the exact cost reduction resulting from the change
  • failed to ensure the sign-off meeting was prearranged at a time convenient to Mrs Hazel and with her sister-in-law present (when Mrs Hazel signed off the work, she thought she was signing a questionnaire about the contractor’s conduct)
  • failed to ensure a thorough inspection of the work was carried out and a proper record of that inspection was kept, which should have highlighted the problems with the loft insulation, and
  • failed to deal with Mrs Hazel’s complaint in a timely manner and failed to seek information from the Agency officers at an earlier stage.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and the Council has agreed to her recommendations that it should pay Mrs Hazel £2,000 compensation for the cost of the insulation which was not installed, and for the distress, anxiety and time and trouble this has caused her.

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