The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found Labour-run Ealing Council failed to keep records and respond to a resident regarding a mice infestation in a private rented block of flats she was living in.
In her complaint to the Ombudsman, Ms X said Ealing Council did not respond to her concerns over mice in her block of flats which resulted in her living in a mice infested property and was put to inconvenience in having to chase the council to intervene with the landlord.
Following an investigation by the Ombudsman, it said: “We found the council failed to keep Ms X informed and failed to keep records of telephone conversations with the managing agents. It also delayed in responding to Ms X’s complaint.”
According to The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 a council can get involved in clearing and make safe an infestation if the owners has failed to do so and claim the costs back from the owner.
The Act states it is “a duty of every local authority to take necessary steps to secure, as far as possible, that their district is kept free from rats and mice and, in particular: carry out inspections where necessary; destroy rats and mice on its land and keep the land, as far as possible, free from rats and mice and enforce the duties of owners and occupiers of other land.”
In early 2022, Ms X raised her concerns to Ealing Council over the mice infestation. Over the year, she constantly chased up the council to get the issue resolved and also raised it with her local councillor and MP.
In its reporting, the Ombudsman said: “I find the council was at fault in failing to contact Ms X and keep her informed. She sent various emails requesting an update but did not receive a response. On 4 March 2022 the council told the councillor that an officer was liaising with Ms X and the managing agents and would be visiting the site. Despite this, the officer did not contact Ms X or visit the site until December 2022. This caused Ms X distress and uncertainty and put her to the inconvenience of chasing a response.”
It also added it was concerned over record keeping by Ealing Council and its failure to provide “evidence of calls”.
The Ombudsman said: “The council says there were “various telephone conversations between the case officer and the managing agents but the exact time and dates are unknown as they were not logged”. It says, “due to the numerous contacts made with various parties not all telephone calls are logged only substantive points are recorded”. However, I have seen no evidence of any telephone calls between the council and the managing agents. Failure to keep records of contact with the managing agents was fault and causes uncertainty about whether these conversations took place and, if they did, what was said.
The Ombudsman findings revealed a number of areas where the council failed the resident and said: “I find the council delayed in responding to Ms X’s complaint.”
It added: “The council’s complaints procedure states that it will respond at each stage within 20 working days. Ms X submitted a stage 1 response on 3 December 2022 but the council did not respond until 15 February 2023. This was well outside its published timescales. Ms X made a stage 2 complaint on 19 February 2023. The council responded on 28 April 2023 which, again, was well outside its published timescales. The delays in responding caused Ms X further frustration and uncertainty. ”
“In its stage 2 response, the Council referred Ms X to the Housing Ombudsman Service if she remained dissatisfied with its response. This was fault. The Council should have referred Ms X to us and not the Housing Ombudsman service. However, I do not consider this caused Ms X an injustice as she had already complained to us by this stage.”
In its conclusion, the Ombudsman told Ealing Council to apologise to Ms X and compensate her with £300 for the distress caused. The council will also “issue a reminder to relevant officers to keep appropriate records of telephone conversations; and issue a reminder to relevant officers about which cases should be referred to the Housing Ombudsman Service and which should be referred to us.”
Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm, Leader of the Opposition told EALING.NEWS: “Liberal Democrats say that Labour are treating so many tenants so badly. Another month, another ombudsman case has highlighted their failures. Liberal Democrats want to see a proper route and branch review of the housing section as Ealing appears to only make small changes when so many issues that have been highlighted means that a more detailed review is needed. If you have any concerns about housing issues residents can contact the Liberal Democrats to gain the help they need.”
Neil Reynolds, chair of Ealing Green Party also raised his concerns. He told EALING.NEWS: “Although the ombudsman is likely to hear the worst individual cases, there is a worrying pattern of maladministration in housing cases. A review of procedures and policies is required, to ensure that the council fulfils its duty of care to residents.”
Speaking to EALING.NEWS, a council spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing high-quality services to our residents and we do take complaints very seriously. However, we acknowledge that, in this case, unfortunately our procedures and communication failed to meet the expected standards and was not the level of service any resident should expect from us.”
They added: “As a result, the council took immediate action to overhaul our complaint-handling process to ensure we meet the standards our residents deserve. We have apologised to Ms X for the way her case was handled and paid £300 in recognition of the distress ccaused.”