Warm Front: how early engagement with the Ombudsman helps to resolve complaints

Complaints to the Ombudsman

In the first investigation, we found that Mr and Mrs B were left without adequate heating and hot water over two winters. This was the first complaint about the Warm Front scheme we had investigated for a number of years.

Unfortunately, neither the Department nor Carillion had been able to resolve the complaint before it came to us. That meant that when we received the complaint, Mr and Mrs B still did not have adequate heating or hot water and were facing another winter in that situation. Something had to be done for Mr and Mrs B.

When we told the Department and Carillion that we were investigating, we were also aware that things needed to be resolved quickly for Mr and Mrs B, regardless of how we completed our investigation. The Department and Carillion agreed with this and engaged positively with us from the start.

Early in the investigation, we met technical and complaint handling staff from the Department and Carillion. The Department and Carillion agreed to contact Mr and Mrs B straight away, and to work with them to find a solution to their problems. All this took place while we were conducting our investigation. Sadly, Mrs B became seriously ill and passed away while the Department and Carillion were trying to solve the heating problems.

The Department and Carillion fixed the heating problem before we finished our investigation. They also paid Mr B compensation, which they later increased as a result of our work.

This case shows that our involvement can act as a catalyst for the quick resolution of a complaint. Many organisations believe that once we are investigating a complaint, they are no longer responsible for resolving it. This is not true. Organisations should resolve complaints as soon as they can. The fact that we are investigating a complaint does not change that. Of course, in an ideal world, all complaints would be resolved before anyone felt the need to send them to us. But organisations should use our involvement as an opportunity to consider the complaint again. That is exactly what the Department and Carillion did in this case. They recognised that, regardless of our investigation, it was still their responsibility to resolve matters for Mr and Mrs B. They used our investigation as a prompt to take another look at the issues Mr and Mrs B had raised. They realised that it is never too late to resolve a complaint.

More complaints about the Warm Front scheme, and the Department and Carillion act quickly to resolve them

We received four more complaints about the Warm Front scheme. Again, these were generally complaints that boilers installed under the Warm Front scheme were not working properly and that the individuals concerned had been left without heating or hot water. In all these cases, the Department and Carillion engaged positively with us from the start in trying to understand the outstanding issues. In the first two cases, they sorted things out at the initial stage of our investigation.

We commissioned a report from a heating engineer early in our investigation of the first two cases. After the Department and Carillion saw this report, they accepted the failings identified, apologised, and reimbursed the cost of the new boilers that were needed. They also paid additional compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused. The Department then thought about the lessons they could learn from those two investigations, and how both they and Carillion could improve their complaint handling and get a quicker resolution for people who complain.

In the next two complaints we received about the Warm Front scheme, the Department and Carillion said they would look at the complaints again before we began our investigation, to see if they could resolve them themselves. They then looked at the complaints again, and quickly.

Carillion visited the complainants in order to fully understand the complaints and the resolution the individuals wanted. Carillion found that they had made mistakes in both cases. To put that right, they paid compensation for the unnecessary costs and for the distress and inconvenience caused as a result of their poor service. In both cases the individuals concerned were happy that the remedy and response resolved their complaints.

Because the Department and Carillion sorted these complaints out so quickly, there was no need for us to investigate them. Once again, our involvement in the cases prompted the Department and Carillion to take action. They knew it was not too late to resolve these complaints themselves and they did exactly that. They made time to talk to the complainants, to get their view of what had gone wrong, and to understand what would be an appropriate remedy to put things right.