The initial complaint was made in respect of noise nuisance, but it was the handling of the complaint that the Ombudsman found issue with.
It’s stage one response was four and a half months after the initial complaint, well outside the landlord’s timescales and that of the Complaint Handling Code.
When the resident escalated her complaint to stage two, the landlord did not learn from its first response time and took five and a half months to respond to the escalation. That only occurred because the Ombudsman issued it with a Complaint Handling Failure Order.
Moreover, the landlord appeared to make its offer of compensation for delays conditional on the resident accepting that the complaint was resolved. This led it to presenting the resident with Acceptance Form it seemed like they were expected to sign and agree the complaint was closed.
The landlord’s compensation offer at stage one was £50. However, with the noise issues still ongoing and the compensation offer not even addressing that as part of its offer, this approach was unacceptable. This was increased to £150 at stage two.
The Ombudsman ordered the landlord to undertake a senior management review into its compensation policies and pay the resident £450 in compensation for the failings.
In its learning from the case, the landlord said it has improved its notification system for staff, is clearer with its compensation letters and systems and introduced a new Customer Relationship Management system.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “While the landlord’s handling of the noise nuisance itself was broadly reasonable, the landlord’s handling of the complaint responses was very poor.
“The use of a so-called Acceptance Form where the resident would be paid compensation in exchange for the complaint to be closed, when it was evident the redress was inadequate and the dispute unresolved, was concerning. The landlord failed to recognise this approach as unfair and contributed to the lengths the resident had to go to obtain a response.
“In addition, the landlord failed to learn from its errors in stage one which were repeated at stage two, causing additional inconvenience to the resident.
“Our Complaint Handling Code, which is due to become statutory under the Social Housing Regulation Bill, requires landlords to deliver fair, accessible and effective complaints procedures.
“We are now hosting monthly drop-in sessions on the Code and would encourage landlords to sign up to these to ask any questions or if they need guidance on compliance.”
The Ombudsman also found maladministration for how the landlord communicated with the resident throughout the case, with lengthy gaps where she had to chase for updates. In addition, there were several occasions where it failed to respond to questions and queries.
In all cases of severe maladministration, the Ombudsman invites the landlord to make a learning statement.
Hyde Housing learning statement
We’re sorry that our complaints handling process was not good enough in this case and for the impact this had on our customer. As part of our continuous improvement approach, in the three years since this case was raised, we’ve made changes to the way we manage complaints, to help us to be more consistent and transparent in our communications, and to avoid situations like this happening again.
The changes we’ve introduced include new processes to speed-up response times to customers. Colleagues now receive clear notifications when tasks are assigned to them, the actions they must take and when to update customers. Our compensation approach has also been overhauled, allowing us to pay customers faster. We’ve also changed the wording of our responses around compensation to avoid misinterpretation, something that was highlighted in this case. To be clear, it was never our policy that paying compensation was dependent on a customer agreeing a complaint was resolved.
It’s important that we act on customer feedback. We thank the Housing Ombudsman for the chance to explain how we’ve changed our approach since 2020. We continue to work hard to improve our services to better support, and work with, customers.
Summary of actions taken in response to learnings from this case:
We’ve introduced a new Customer Relationship Management system, enabling us to improve the whole complaints process, including speeding-up response times. Colleagues receive automatic reminders when tasks are assigned to them and customers can track the progress of their complaints online
We’ve shared the lessons learned with colleagues, showing them what ‘good looks like’ and highlighting how poor communications can quickly turn a simple query into a complaint
We’ve reviewed and updated the information on the complaints pages of our website. Our Complaints team has had more training to ensure communications are clear and honest; that we take responsibility and are accountable for our actions; and that we always put the customer first
We’re in the process of streamlining our compensation approach. Customers with online banking will soon be able to receive money within five working days, rather than having to fill out forms and wait for us to process payments manually.