WAVERLEY Borough Council was fined nearly £13,000 after a series of delays meant a person with cerebral palsy had to wait 18 months for their home to be adapted.

In 2020, a father approached Waverley Borough Council seeking to have work carried out on their 1950s semi-detached home to make it comfortable for his son’s needs. 

The pandemic made the task difficult for the council but even after the world reopened, it still took the borough five months to confirm specialist contractors should be brought in –  and a further six months to get quotes.

Additional delays came when it was discovered the work would be over budget and therefore the council needed to assess alternative options. The situation was made worse as the council didn’t assess the house for two months – and then another two months lapsed to place an order for the adaptations.

The problems were then compounded because it took a further three months for the council to make a provisional booking to start the work.

The hold-up, now more than 18 months, resulted in the resident telling the council he would do the job himself.

The housing watchdog report said “the adaptations that are the subject of this dispute are important to the dignity and quality of life of the resident’s son and family” and that “as such, this matter has been a particular source of concern and importance for the resident”.

The report read: “There have been a number of failings by the landlord.

“These failings primarily fall into two categories – unreasonable delays in progressing the works and poor communication with the resident.”

It continued: “The ombudsman would expect the landlord’s processes to have resumed to a relatively normal level after the initial months of the pandemic and it is not clear why the landlord did not identify that specialist contractors were needed until September 2020.

“It then took until March 26, 2021 for quotes to be obtained.

“This was an unreasonable amount of time.”

The housing ombudsman  considers the time taken by the landlord to make the “provisional booking” was clearly unreasonable, even taking into account the impact of the pandemic, particularly given the importance of the work to the resident and his family’s quality of life.

“While not “urgent” works, clearly the works were very important and should not have been unreasonably delayed,” the report read.

The ombudsman also found “a number of instances of poor, or no, communication by the landlord”.

In coming to a decision, the ombudsman said the council should pay for the cost of the work carried out – £11,200 – and a further £1,500 for the distress and inconvenience caused.

Housing ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “While not technically classified as urgent works, clearly they were clearly immensely important to the family and should not have been unreasonably delayed to the extent that they were.

“These delays were compounded by the resident then sometimes being ignored. This was unacceptable during a period of time that the resident was trying to get vital adaptations for his son completed.

“I welcome the learning the landlord has taken from this case and urge other landlords to look at this case for lessons on how to deal with disability adaptations and the sensitivities in doing so.”

Following the result, Waverley Borough Council issued a ‘learning statement’.

It read: “We would like to offer our sincere apologies for the poor service received by our resident and his son.

“Waverley Borough Council accepts there were unreasonable delays in dealing with an application made by one of our residents for adaptations to meet the needs of his disabled son, and that our communication with our resident could have been improved.

“The council has learned valuable lessons from this case, and as requested by the ombudsman, we are in the process of carrying out a comprehensive review of our policies and procedures around processing requests from our residents for disabled aids and adaptations to establish why, on this occasion, we did not meet our usual standards and to identify and make improvements to prevent errors occurring in the future.

“As part of this review, we are conducting interviews with residents to gather feedback on our policy and we will be reporting our final recommendations to Waverley’s Landlord Services Board in September 2023.

“As a result of this review, we will be taking the following actions:

“We will be putting in place a clear and robust communications plan to ensure our tenants are kept regularly updated on the progress of their application for aids and adaptations.

“We will make sure all relevant staff have a thorough knowledge and understanding of our Aids and Adaptations policy and procedure.

“We will create a user-friendly tracker for monitoring live cases.

“We will keep our resource needs under continuous review so we can deliver a high standard of service.

“We firmly believe these actions will help to drive service improvements which will benefit our residents and we would like to thank the housing ombudsman for highlighting this matter to us.”

by Chris Caulfield, Local Democracy Reporter