Wandsworth Council Left Tenant with Bed Bugs for Six Months

Watchdog orders borough to refund woman's costs

Tenant was forced to pay private contractor to do work. Picture: Archers Pest Control

May 12, 2023

Wandsworth Council has been slammed for taking six months to offer a follow-up treatment for a bedbug infestation at a tenant’s home. The borough has also been ordered to refund the woman after wrongly telling her she would have to pay to sort it out herself.

The woman, named Ms B in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report, was moved into the temporary accommodation in November 2019. She claimed it was infested with bedbugs and that she had been bitten and her belongings had become infested.

In July 2020, Ms B asked the council’s contractor to treat the bedbug infestation in her room after finding out another tenant in her block was receiving treatment for bedbugs, which the contractor agreed to.

Ms B also complained to the council about the infestation on the same day. She claimed the council had previously agreed to treat the room in August 2018, before she became a tenant, but cancelled a week later after the bedsit was declared empty.

The council said a treatment was arranged for that month but it was not carried out as the tenant at the time died and it decided to address the infestation as part of the void works. But it did not provide evidence any treatment for bedbugs was completed as part of these works, according to the report.

Ms B complained to the council again in August 2020 as, she said, no follow-up treatment had been arranged.

The report said, “I find the council was at fault in failing to treat the bedbug infestation as part of the void works. However, I cannot conclude that the failure to do so resulted in the infestation Ms B reported in July 2020. The council has provided evidence that another tenant lived in the bedsit between November 2018 and October 2019 and did not report any problems. So, there are no grounds to criticise the council for placing Ms B in the bedsit in November 2019.

“I find that, although the council acted on Ms B’s request for a treatment in July 2020, this treatment was unlikely to be successful because Ms B had no opportunity to prepare the room before the treatment was carried out.

“Although the council was trying to be helpful in agreeing to Ms B’s request to treat the room, it should have scheduled a date for the treatment and explained to Ms B that she needed to prepare the room beforehand. In addition, the council should have offered a follow-up treatment shortly afterwards and not left this until February 2021, some six months later. This was fault.”

The council said Ms B cancelled the follow-up treatment scheduled for February 2021, which she denied. In February 2022, Ms B contacted the council’s pest control team about bedbug treatment. It told her this was a chargeable service, so she arranged her own contractor.

The report said, “As Ms B clearly explained that she was seeking treatment for a bedbug infestation in temporary accommodation, the council should have arranged free treatment.”

She complained to the council again in March 2022 saying it was aware the property had a bedbug infestation when she moved in.

The report added, “I am satisfied the council acted appropriately by trying to inspect the property and carry out treatments when Ms B complained in March 2022. It also offered to help her prepare the room. Ms B says there was no need for the council to complete an inspection as it was already aware of the bedbugs from the previous visit in 2020.

“But, given that a considerable amount of time had passed, the council was entitled to check whether the infestation was still an issue before completing a treatment. The evidence is that Ms B spoke to the contractors in April 2022 and declined treatment. She also declined treatment in May and June 2022 because she was not able to prepare the room. Ms B accepts this.”

The ombudsman found the council at fault for giving its contractors an incorrect phone number for Ms B, which “may have meant that Ms B missed important contact”. She said in an email, in May 2022, the council sometimes used the correct number.

The council agreed to apologise to Ms B, offer a further pest control treatment, refund the £216 she paid for her own contractor and remove the incorrect phone number from its records.

A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said, “The ombudsman’s report makes it clear that the council acted appropriately in trying to inspect the property and carry out treatments following complaints and that on occasions Ms B refused to allow the council’s pest control contractors into her property to carry out those treatments. However, we accept that there were some shortcomings in the way we handled this case and so have agreed to apologise to Ms B in writing and refund her the cost of the pest control treatments she paid for.”

Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter