Councillors and officers sitting around a table at the General Purposes Scrutiny Committee.
Westminster Council General Purposes Scrutiny committee. Councillors seated from the right: Aicha Less, David Boothroyd (chair), Ellie Ormsby, and Mark Shearer. Photo: Westminster Council webcast.

Westminster Council is to pay out over £12,500 in compensation to tenants after complaints about the standard of service were upheld by ombudsman investigations.

The General Purposes Committee heard reports about four tenants who had complained including a disabled woman who was left unable to wash her hands without help for 17 months.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said Westminster Council was “at fault” for long delays in assessing Miss X’s need for replacement taps and installing them ordered they apologise and pay out of £2,000.

A report released by the council showed Miss X lodged a complaint in September last year but was unhappy with the response which only consisted of an apology and escalated it to the Ombudsman. The council offered her £500 in February.

The report read: “A final decision was received on 26 June 2023 stating that the Council was at fault for long delays in assessing Miss X’s need for replacement taps and installing them.

“This meant Miss X was without appropriate taps for over a year and had considerable difficulty in washing her hands.”

The pay-out included £150 per month for eleven months, plus a further £150 for the uncertainty about whether the Council could have obtained the taps earlier if it had been more proactive in late 2022. She was also awarded £200 for the time and trouble it took pursuing the matter.

The council blamed the delays on a supply issue with their contractor Medequip and have since switched to a new contractor.

The council also denied delaying Miss X’s assessment but this was challenged and rejected by the Ombudsman.

Westminster is also being forced to pay a tenant £5,033 after failing to repair her mouldy flat.

The Housing Ombudsman said Westminster Council committed “severe maladministration” in dealing with the repairs and “maladministration” with her complaints about damp and mould issues.

The resident was moved into the property in June 2020 after leaving her previous flat due to a regeneration project. Over the next two years, the tenant complained about damp and mould in the property and told the Ombudsman that constant chasing up had taken a toll on her mental health.

The council admitted failing to acknowledge the woman’s vulnerabilities, despite the resident sharing information that she lived with a mental health condition, a council report revealed.

A second resident will get £2,100 after the council failed to repair damages to their property caused by contractors in a “reasonable” timeframe.

At the time, the tenant had been living in the flat for more than 18 years and was going through chemotherapy.

The council was also told to compensate the tenant for the time scaffolding was in place and problems they had with their TV aerial.

The report read: “There were unreasonable delays in carrying out repairs following the damage caused by contractors, and the resident was treated in an unfair and unsympathetic manner, without having any regard for her vulnerabilities in both the complaint handling and during the repairs process. Poor record keeping was also found to have impacted upon the Council’s ability to deal with the repairs effectively.”

The council said it has spoken with the contractor and is reviewing how it communicates with tenants.

Another tenant will receive £3,430 for the “unreasonable” time it took the council to fix a leak in her roof, nor check if the flat was suitable to live in before ending her temporary accommodation.

The tenant complained about a leak in the roof of her three-bedroom mid-terrace council flat in July and October 2021 where she lived with her two teen children, aged 17 and 21 at the time.

The Ombudsman said Westminster’s response had been “delayed” and “did not adequately address the concerns the resident had raised”.

In its 29 August decision, the Ombudsman found the council liable for “severe maladministration” over its handling of the repairs, her complaint, and rehousing the tenant. The council had previously awarded the tenant £30 for the time and trouble it took for the resident to complain.

The council has said it has carried out reviews since these cases concluded and implemented changes.

Under current rules, compensation in excess of £2,000 requires a report and must come to the General Purposes Committee.

Committee members Aicha Less, David Boothroyd (chair), Ellie Ormsby, and Mark Shearer approved the payments on Thursday 14 September.

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “We have apologised to our residents in all the investigations highlighted at the General Purposes Committee, approved compensation and accept that there are things that we could have done differently and often better.

“Where there have been findings of maladministration by the Housing Ombudsman, we fully accept the findings and the lessons we’ve learnt from these regrettable cases have directly informed service improvements.”

Westminster City Council, General Purposes – Thursday 14 September 2023.