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Housing Ombudsman spotlights complaints and learning on heating and hot water repairs 04/03/2021 Labelled as Scrutiny, Regulation, Tenants

In the third report in the Housing Ombudsman's new series of  "Spotlight" reports, the Housing Ombudsman shares the learning from complaints and provides best practice recommendations to help landlords improve their services and complaint handling.


The report, "Cold Comfort: Spotlight on complaints about heating, hot water and energy in social housing" is focused on complaints about heating and hot water, identifying unnecessary delays in resolving issues, together with landlords' management of contractors as particular issues of concern. The report highlights the serious impact these complaints can have on residents, especially when dealing with vulnerable households.


The report and findings are based on more than 200 cases investigated by the Housing Ombudsman over an 18-month period from April 2019. It includes complaints about heat networks, gas servicing and energy efficiency to support decarbonisation. The highest number of complaints investigated concerned general heating and hot water issues, but there was a disproportionately high number of maladministration findings in the cases which involved heat networks - or district heating - and complaint handling. The review shows:


  • Maladministration in 31 per cent of cases, increasing to 38 per cent for complaints about gas safety investigations, 60 per cent for complaints about heat networks and 60 per cent for those involving complaint handling.
  • 158 orders have been made to put things rights, including 108 orders to pay compensation totalling £58,486.


The report makes 40 recommendations to landlords to improve practice including:


  • Putting things 'right first time', particularly where contractors are involved through effective management of contracts.
  • Providing clear information for residents at the start of the tenancy or lease on properties with heat networks, and again if the arrangements change.
  • Planning gas safety inspections well ahead of the due date to allow for appointments to be made at a convenient time for residents and avoid missing renewal dates.


The real-life experiences of ten residents are featured. In one, an 89-year-old man was left without heating and hot water for five weeks when his boiler broke down. The landlord failed to acknowledge the extent of its failure in handling the repairs and offered compensation which was not proportionate to the resident's vulnerability and length of time he was left without hot water or adequate heating.


Another case involved a communal biomass boiler system in flats with many elderly or disabled residents. The boiler repeatedly broke down and the fuel supply ran out causing distress and discomfort to residents. The landlord had a long-term agreement with a contractor for the system, but it had no penalty clauses and there was no performance monitoring.


Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway highlighted the report in his presentation to the ARCH Tenant Group on 1 March 2021 saying that he hoped landlords will use this learning to improve their services and complaint handling.


Following on from the publication of this report, the Housing Ombudsman Service is hosting a series of webinars. These are interactive sessions to discuss key issues and ask questions on the findings of the report and provide an opportunity to gain better insight to help landlords make improvements to resolving heating and hot water issues.


The webinars will be held:


  • Tuesday 9 March 11am-12:30pm   
  • Wednesday 17 March 1am-12:30pm     
  • Thursday 29 April 2pm -3:30pm     
  • Tuesday 18 May 11am-12:30pm     
  • Wednesday 16 June 11am -12:30pm   


Details of how to register for these webinars can be found on the Housing Ombudsman's website.

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