Housing Ombudsman raises concern about heating and hot water complaints

Common failures by landlords include delays in resolving issues and "weak and long-term" contracts, the Ombudsman found.
A close-up of a radiator.
The Housing Ombudsman has explored 211 cases it received over 18 months relating to heating, hot water and energy. Credit: Pixabay

The Housing Ombudsman has raised concern about social landlords’ handling of complaints about heating and hot water, noting landlords’ repeated failure to get things “right first time”.

In the latest of its thematic ‘Spotlight’ reports, the housing complaints arbiter has explored 211 cases it received over 18 months from April 2019 and September 2020 relating to heating, hot water and energy.

Recurring issues identified by the Ombudsman include unnecessary delays in resolving issues and landlords’ poor management of contractors, including “weak and long-term” contractual arrangements.

The Ombudsman found maladministration by the landlord in 31% of cases. This increased to 38% for complaints about gas safety investigations and to 60% for complaints about heat networks or complaint handling.

Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, said: “A warm home and hot water are basic needs for any household and especially so during the colder winter months given the very serious risk to health and well-being.

“Our investigations repeatedly found a failure to put things ‘right first time’, which in some cases involved contractors working on behalf of the landlord.

“These failures are unacceptable. Where contractors are involved the responsibility and accountability rests with the landlord – it is their maladministration.”

The Ombudsman found that poor record-keeping exacerbated landlords’ failures to keep appointments and keep residents updated, while operatives often lacked the right tools, parts or skills to resolve issues first-time.

Landlords’ lack of promptness in responding to issues was particularly concerning “given the significant impact of the colder winter months – or the circumstances of the household such as their health, vulnerabilities or having young children”, the report said.

In one case, an 89 year old man had no heating and hot water for five weeks after his boiler broke down. A contractor failed to keep two appointments and was unable to repair the boiler on the third visit after ordering the wrong parts.

Another case involved a communal biomass boiler system in 39 flats housing elderly or disabled residents. Despite the boiler breaking down repeatedly, the Ombudsman found that the landlord’s contract with the system provider had no penalty clauses and did not involve monitoring the contractor’s performance.

The Ombudsman has made 40 recommendations of best practice to landlords, including that landlords “act promptly” to resolve issues and ensure that their record-keeping and contracts with providers or maintenance companies are “robust”.

Between April 2019 and September 2020, nine landlords had two or more findings of maladministration made against them for the issues covered in the report, accounting for 54% of the Ombudsman’s related maladministration findings.

These landlords, ranked from highest to lowest by the number of findings per 10,000 homes they manage, were Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Southern Housing, Orbit, Camden Council, Birmingham City Council, Southwark Council, Clarion Housing, Together Housing, and Notting Hill Genesis.

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