By Jamie Waller, Local Democracy Reporter
A social housing resident was unable to read her electricity meter for months after Broxtowe Borough Council put it in a locked box.
The authority has been told to pay the woman compensation after she faced higher bills due to not being able to provide an accurate reading.
The council didn’t respond to the woman for five months despite her regularly contacting them.
A report on the incident by the independent Housing Ombudsman Service says the faulty meter cost her £33 per month between May 2021 and November 2022, with her unable to access it for several months.
The council had placed the box around the meter in the communal areas of the flats where she lived to prevent vandalism.
She was later told that the communal area key could open it, but the council hadn’t informed her of this.
The Ombudsman’s report will go before the council’s Governance, Audit and Standards Committee on Monday, November 27, after being published in September.
The tenant first complained in March 2022 when she discovered that she was paying too much due to a fault with the meter.
The council created a service request but didn’t take action, according to the Ombudsman’s report.
She complained again in August and September, and escalated it in November after the council failed to respond or acknowledge it.
The utility company had tried and failed to get access on three occasions.
In November, the council showed the tenant how to use the communal key to open the box, and apologised that this hadn’t been explained to her.
The Housing Ombudsman said the cost disputes were between the tenant and her supplier, but concluded there was “maladministration” in how the council didn’t respond to her for severable months.
“The landlord’s delays in responding to the resident’s concerns were unreasonable. These delays caused the resident to expend unnecessary time and trouble to access her meters,” the report says.
Broxtowe Borough Council has been told by the Ombudsman to pay the woman £250 for her time and trouble, and £100 for not handling her complaint properly.
A spokesperson for the council said: “Although the Housing Ombudsman has only recently concluded their investigation, this incident occurred in 2022. In the last year there have been some significant changes in the housing repairs team, which ensures that this issue would not happen again if the issue was reported today.
“There has been a restructure of the housing repairs team to support a more customer focused, effective process for the handling of repairs and communication with tenants. This has included recruitment of a new housing repairs and compliance manager, repairs customer services manager and creation of a new repairs contact centre which solely deals with receiving reports of repairs and booking works.
“The repairs customer services manager is now responsible for dealing with all complaints and ensuring a swift resolution is provided to issues such as this one.”