HS2 Ltd failed to properly communicate and engage with family, says Ombudsman

HS2 Ltd (HS2) failed to properly engage and communicate with a member of the public over the sale of their family home to make way for the line and repeatedly mismanaged the case, according to a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report published today.

This follows a 2015 report by the Ombudsman that also found HS2 failed to engage appropriately with a community near Lichfield when consulting about the proposals for the route which now runs through their village.

The Ombudsman’s latest investigation found HS2 was dishonest, misleading and inconsistent, and the organisation failed to follow its own processes when negotiating compensation claims with the complainant for their family home. This meant there was a breakdown of trust and it undermined the complainant’s faith that they would be treated fairly.

The complainant had already suffered from HS2’s delays to their community’s response to the original HS2 public consultation. HS2 should have been repairing an already fractured relationship but when the complainant asked questions, HS2 failed to respond fully and promptly, sometimes giving false information. This exacerbated an already difficult situation and caused them and their family severe worry over a number of years.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said:

HS2’s repeated maladministration had a devastating impact on the complainant and their family.

‘It is unacceptable that communication problems remain at HS2 despite our 2015 report which highlighted their failings in engagement with a community on the HS2 route.

‘HS2 must properly engage with those affected by the new line, be open and transparent and follow the proper process to make sure this never happens again.’

The failings identified in this investigation had a significant impact on the complainant, and their health and family life suffered for four years as a result.

PHSO’s 2015 report recommended improvements to ensure HS2 would be customer focused, open and accountable when engaging with complaints from members of the public. The 2015 investigation found that continuous delays in engagement by HS2 led to the community feeling they had no option but to accept compensation for their homes and abandon any hope of staying together.

In the report published today, the Ombudsman also upheld one aspect of the complaint about the Independent Complaints Assessors (ICAs) as they had not directly addressed one of the key concerns about HS2’s complaint handling. 

While improvements were made following PHSO’s 2015 report, it has recommended that HS2 and the ICAs should formally apologise to the complainant, publish the learning from this case, and consider whether this learning has wider implications for improving its complaint handling approach. HS2 and ICA have accepted these recommendations.

PHSO has highlighted the case to Parliament so it can follow up with HS2 as part of its scrutiny work to review its progress.