Ombudsman upholds Bognor Regis resident's complaints against Arun District Council

Its handling of repairs to a resident's house and his complaints has led to Arun District Council being ordered to pay £900.

Antony Whiffin needed repairs to his toilet at Laurel Grove, Bognor Regis, and went to the ombudsman over the way the council, his landlord, approached carrying them out during Covid-19, handling his complaint and a warning the council gave about him breaching its unreasonable behaviour policy.

The ombudsman ordered the council to pay Mr Whiffin £450 for the 'time and trouble, distress and frustration the failings' caused.

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It said Arun must pay £100 for its approach to the repairs, £50 for its complaint handling, £150 for warning Mr Whiffin about his unreasonable behaviour and a further £150 for its overall complaint handling.

Arun District Council must pay its tenant £900

The council was also told to provide a written apology to the resident for the unreasonable behaviour warning.

It was also told to review and revise its complaints policy in line with the ombudsman's.

Mr Whiffin reported to Arun on February 1, 2021, his toilet cistern was constantly running.

Due to the national Covid lockdown, the landlord had limited its repairs service to emergency or essential only on January 4.

Mr Whiffin contacted the council in March raising concerns nobody had attended despite a government document which said it should but was told repairs were limited to help minimise the spread of infection.

He made a formal complaint on March 15 that the landlord was giving out false information regarding Government guidelines, which he said clearly stated that repairs could go ahead during the current lockdown.

The ombudsman's ruling said the landlord’s policy was not in line with Government guidance at that time and it had not provided sufficient explanation for why it was unable to follow this guidance. "This was frustrating for the resident."

The landlord was without a full complaint policy for an extended period, the statement said.

"The landlord’s decision to warn the resident about ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is not supported by evidence that demonstrates that his behaviour was unreasonable. This has caused the resident distress and anxiety," it said.

"The basis for the warning appears to have been that the resident had made nine complaints in a 12-month period.

"This in itself is not necessarily indicative of unreasonable behaviour, and as can be seen from the outcome of this investigation, some complaints were warranted."

Arun was unable to provide the ombudsman with an 'explanation of the number of complaints Mr Whiffin had made, their nature and why it considered this to be unreasonable.

"Given that the landlord had indicated that it was the volume and nature of the complaints that led to a warning, it should be able to provide information to support its position," the statement said.

"The implication was that should the resident make further complaints, whether or not these were reasonable and warranted, the landlord may apply restrictions."

The report said: "While the order for compensation relates to this investigation only and not matters already compensated for in other cases, it does take into consideration the additional frustration caused to the resident in this complaint through repeated failures."

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council is studying the ombudsman’s report with a view to positively engaging with the recommendations.”

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