What we have investigated
This report is of our investigation into a number of complaints from a group of residents who were affected by the Government's plans for Phase One (London to the West Midlands) of the proposed high speed rail link HS2.
In our investigation we did not consider the decisions taken in relation to the route itself. That was not part of the complaint put to us. Our investigation focused on the way HS2 Ltd dealt with the residents.
The Residents were all affected by the proposed route that specifically impacted the hamlet they lived in. HS2 Ltd asked residents to engage with them and provide possible solutions to the impact of the route. The Residents proposed to HS2 Ltd that they be relocated as a group, so that they could stay together as a community. This was their preferred option rather than HS2 Ltd simply purchasing their properties and giving them compensation.
The Residents, represented by Mr D, told us that HS2 Ltd wasted their time (both business and personal) and exacerbated what was already a very stressful situation. The Residents said that this affected their health, employment, and family life. Finally they said that it led to most of them having to abandon their plans to relocate and instead settle for a different option. As a result of their interactions with HS2 Ltd, the Residents said that they have lost all trust in the organisation. Mr D also made a separate complaint to us about the way that HS2 Ltd handled his family's specific situation.
What we have found
Our investigation looked at HS2 Ltd's communication and engagement with the Residents, including the way in which HS2 Ltd handled the complaints put to them.
We found that overall HS2 Ltd's actions fell below the reasonable standards we would expect, so much so that they constituted maladministration.
While we recognise that the time period covered in our report was always going to be stressful, HS2 Ltd could, and should, have minimised the impact on the Residents by being open, accountable and customer focused. Instead HS2 Ltd's repeated delay in providing feedback to the Residents on their relocation proposal made a stressful situation worse and caused them inconvenience and frustration.
We have found that by failing to engage with the residents or their proposals reasonably, HS2 Ltd unnecessarily prolonged the uncertainty that the Residents were experiencing.
The residents were seeking that HS2 Ltd's failings be brought to the attention of the public and Parliament, and for improvements to be made so that similar failures could be avoided in future. They were also seeking financial redress to recognise the time they have spent dealing with HS2 Ltd and for the additional distress that HS2 Ltd's actions caused.
Recommendations for remedy
We have noted in this report that HS2 Ltd has made some improvements to its services already. We have made a number of recommendations that, as far as possible, put matters right for the residents and will help HS2 Ltd further improve its service.
We have recommended that within four weeks of publication of this report, HS2 Ltd provides appropriate apologies to the residents.
We have also recommended that within four weeks of publication of this report, HS2 Ltd make appropriate payments to the residents as a financial remedy for the failures identified in this report. Those payments vary depending on the situation of the families and range between £750 and £4,000.
Mr D has asked us to consider the cost of the time he spent during business hours dealing with HS2 Ltd. We have not considered these costs in this investigation as we understand they will be submitted to HS2 Ltd as part of his claim under the Compensation Code. We therefore recommend that HS2 Ltd take our findings, and that we have not considered this claim, into account as part of that consideration.
We have also recommended that within four weeks of publication of this report, HS2 Ltd appoint an independent person to review their current processes around engagement, communication and complaint handling. The review should take explicit account of the residents' experiences and of our findings of maladministration.
We have recommended that HS2 Ltd publish the outcome of that review within three months of the date of this report including its recommendations for action; and within six months of this report HS2 Ltd publish the outcome of the implementation of those recommendations.