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Local authority tenants: additional remedies

This content applies to England & Wales

Particular remedies for disrepair available to secure and introductory local authority tenants.

The right to repair scheme

Secure and introductory local authority tenants can use the 'right to repair' scheme.[1] The current scheme was introduced from 1 April 1994 and is designed to give compensation to tenants where certain 'qualifying' repairs are not done within a prescribed period. The previous scheme, which allowed tenants to carry out certain repairs themselves, has been abolished (although tenants still have the rights detailed on the pages on Withholding rent and Offsetting rent arrears to use rent to pay for repairs).

Qualifying repairs

The legislation details 20 repairs that qualify for the scheme. These include insecure doors, broken entryphone systems, some problems with water and electricity supplies, blocked sinks and leaking roofs. However, in certain circumstances, even where the repair is a qualifying repair, it will not be covered by the scheme. These are:

  • where the landlord has fewer than 100 properties
  • where the landlord is not legally responsible for the repair
  • where the landlord decides the repair would cost more than £250.

If, after inspection, the landlord decides that the repair is not a qualifying repair and notifies the tenant in writing, the scheme will not apply.

Procedure to apply under right to repair scheme

The procedure is as follows:

1) The tenant must apply to the local authority for the repair to be carried out. The regulations do not state that this has to be in writing, but it is good practice to write and keep a copy of the letter.

2) If the landlord decides that the repair qualifies for the scheme, it must issue a repair notice to a contractor to do the repair within a specified number of days and give a copy to the tenant. The number of days depends on the nature of the repair and is specified in the regulations.

3) If the contractor does not do the work within the specified period, the tenant must contact the local authority again. It is very important that the tenant does this as this triggers the next stage of the scheme.

4) The local authority must then issue a notice to another contractor, if this is practical, and set a fresh time limit as prescribed in the regulations.

5) If the repair is not carried out within the new time limit, the tenant will qualify for an amount of compensation depending on the number of days for which the repair remains outstanding. 

If the local authority fails to carry out a repair, or the repair is done poorly or there has been an unsatisfactory administrative procedure, then the tenant can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman (see the section on Local Government Ombudsman below).

Compensation for improvements

A secure local authority tenant may have the right to be compensated for improvements that s/he carries out to her/his property.[2] The compensation is only paid for certain types of improvement and can only be claimed at the end of the tenancy. 

Tenancy clauses

A secure local authority tenancy may have specific clauses for rent reductions if there is a failure in services to a property, eg if a lift or a heating system is in disrepair. If there is such a clause and the landlord fails to apply it, the tenant could take an action for damages for breach of contract.

Councillors and council appeals/complaints procedure

A local authority tenant could consider making a complaint to a local councillor. A councillor may be able to put pressure on the local authority to take action. Some local authorities have complaints and/or appeals procedures. These could be utilised as a way of compelling local authorities to meet their repairing obligations.

Ombudsman

If the failure by the local authority to carry out a repair is due to bad or poorly applied administrative procedures then the tenant could complain to the Housing Ombudsman Service. It should be noted that before 1 April 2013, these complaints were dealt by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman will only investigate complaints if no other legal remedy is available, but has discretion to do so in other exceptional circumstances.[3] The Ombudsman will investigate the complaint and, if s/he finds maladministration, the Ombudsman is likely to recommend that the authority pay compensation to the tenant. If the Ombudsman finds that the local authority's procedures for dealing with repairs are flawed then s/he may recommend that the local authority modifies them. See the page Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS) for more information.

Examples of complaints

In one case, the Ombudsman found that the authority had not investigated complaints about dampness properly, and had not taken appropriate action to carry out repairs. It had also failed to take into account all the relevant information provided when considering a transfer request on the grounds that conditions in the property were exacerbating health problems. The Ombudsman recommended that the authority pay £2,500 in compensation, as well as commissioning an independent survey, implementing a programme of works and reviewing its procedure for transfer requests.[4]

In another example, the local authority failed to respond appropriately to a tenant's complaints about a leaking roof. The damage remained unattended to for 19 months, causing the tenants considerable distress as one of them suffered arthritis that was made worse by damp and the cold. The Ombudsman found the local authority guilty of maladministration and recommended that the local authority should pay the tenant £1,000 in compensation and change their internal administrative procedures.[5]

Similarly, in another example, a council tenant was left without the use of a bedroom for over 18 months. The delay was in part due to a lack of proper procedures between the local authority and its contractors, and a failure to respond  the tenant's complaint. The Ombudsman recommended that the local authority should pay the tenant £4,500 in compensation and improve its internal procedures.[6]

Local Government Monitoring Officer

An under-used course of action is a complaint to the Local Government Monitoring Officer.[7] This officer, who is an officer of the local authority, must prepare a report to present to the council if s/he thinks it is likely that a council officer or committee is about to or has contravened the law or caused maladministration. The report must be considered within 21 days of it being sent. Although there is no obligation for the council or the committee to consider compensation and there is no right of appeal if the council takes no action as a result, this may be a further way of putting pressure on a local authority to meet its repairing obligations.

[1] s.96 Housing Act 1985, s.135 Housing Act 1996 and Secure Tenants of Local Housing Authorities (Right to Repair) Regulations SI 1994/133, as amended by Secure Tenants of Local Housing Authorities (Right to Repair) (Amendment) Regulations SI 1994/844 and Secure Tenants of Local Housing Authorities (Right to Repair) (Amendment) Regulations SI 1997/73.

[2] ss.99A and 99B Housing Act 1985 and Secure Tenants of Local Authorities (Compensation for Improvements) Regulations SI 1994/613.

[3] Local Government Ombudsman Complaint No. 00/C/14964 against Nottingham CC, and Local Government Ombudsman Complaint No. 01/B/15974 against Lambeth LB.

[4] Local Government Ombudsman Complaint No.03/B/03543 against Plymouth CC.

[5] Local Government Ombudsman Complaint No. 06/A/13667 against Basildon DC.

[6] Local Government Ombudsman Complaint No. 09/005/422 against Harlow DC.

[7] s.5 Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

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