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Family in temporary accommodation left without heating and hot water

PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 September 2020

Barking town hall. Picture: Luke Acton.

Barking town hall. Picture: Luke Acton.

Archant

A woman was forced to move her children out for more than a month after the family’s temporary accommodation was left without heating and hot water during the winter.

The woman, referred to only as Miss X, complained to the Local Government Ombudsman about Barking and Dagenham Council’s handling of the problem with her property.

The council agreed to send a written apology, as well as pay her £500 in recognition of the injustice caused by the fault.

The family – consisting of the woman and her four children –moved into the accommodation in January this year and that same month, reported the isssue to the property agent.

She claimed she had to send the children away to live with a relative because of the lack of heating and hot water.

Three days after reporting the issue, the woman complained to the council – which has a contract with the property agent – that nothing had been done.

However, the ombudsman did find that the landlord had attempted to get an engineer to visit on several occasions in those first three days but the woman was not at home.

That day, the council visited to carry out an inspection, using a spare key to gain access as, again, the woman was not at home.

A spokesperson said: “The council’s role in respect to managing repairs in a private property is to ensure the letting agent takes action in accordance with the timescales specified in the rental agreement in relation to repairs.

“The council expects the tenant to contact them if the agent fails to meet those timescales. But in this case it appears that problems getting hold of the tenant appear to have created further delays.”

According to the report, the council said there was a problem with the boiler, but records did not show what action would be taken.

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It added that the property agent tried to deliver temporary heaters but was unable to, and that there was no evidence further attempts were made.

These were eventually delivered at the start of February, two days after an engineer visited but was unable to repair the boiler.

Several attempts were made to resolve the problem, and the woman was eventually offered alternative accommodation at the start of March after the landlord said the boiler could not be repaired.

The ombudsman found that the council could have instructed the property agent to use the spare key to access Miss X’s home to make the repairs, adding: “The contract between the council and the property agent clearly sets out the maximum timescale for the total loss of heating and hot water is 24 hours.

“The contract also sets out that it is the responsibility of the property agent to complete repairs. Therefore, the council’s responsibility is one of ensuring the property agent is adhering to the terms of the contract.”

The spokesperson added: “The council accepted a housing duty which meant they were entitled to alternative emergency accommodation if repairs could not be carried out within a reasonable period of time.

“They were advised to contact the homeless team so hostel accommodation could be located, however, council officers were told the children were living with her mother while the case was under review.

“The failure to properly manage the repairs and ensure she was adequately housed did cause undue stress and distress.

“In recognition of the inconvenience experienced until temporary heating was delivered, and to address the delays the council offered compensation.”

The spokesperson said the reason access proved an issue may have been because “it appears the tenant was living away from the property”, adding: “[This] may have been due to their concerns with the size of the bedrooms and submitted a request for a review of the suitability of the accommodation.

“The appeals officer has recently upheld her appeal. Officers were asked to start looking for alternative suitable accommodation in which to discharge duty.

“A new property was identified that meets her needs and given until the end of the day to confirm if she wished to accept the accommodation.”


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