Skip to main content
Posted On: 13-06-2023
Posted In: Housing

Mid Devon District Council is reminding residents about the pitfalls of so called “claim farmers” and solicitors working on a no win, no fee basis, following an unsuccessful legal battle bought by a local resident.

A tenant of Mid Devon Housing (MDH), which is an arm of the Council, has been left potentially out of pocket after a “no win, no fee” solicitor persuaded them to sue the Council’s housing service, alleging disrepair in the property, in a case which lasted for four years.

The matter was set down for a two-day trial at Plymouth County Court in May this year, but at the first day of the trial at the door of the court the tenant, who was represented by a Liverpool based legal firm, offered to settle and pay the Council money towards its costs in order to avoid a trial of the issues. The settlement agreed between parties was then put before the Judge, who made an order that the tenant was to pay a Mid Devon District Council a net amount of £9,750.

Simon Newcombe, Corporate Manager for Public Health, Housing and Regulation said:

“As a responsible social landlord, we always seek to work closely with our tenants to provide safe, sustainable homes. As a result we advise all tenants to discuss any concerns they have about their home with us before entering into an arrangement with another party which they may later regret. We’re increasingly becoming concerned about largely unregulated claims firms who aggressively target vulnerable residents. This is more than a local issue, tenants everywhere are being enticed by the promise of a “no win, no fee” outcomes, but sadly often it’s the claimant who loses out. We would urge our tenants to be cautious if they are approached by any of these firms making promises which are often too good to be true.”

Simon Newcombe, Corporate Manager for Public Health, Housing and Regulation also added:

“I’m extremely proud of our excellent in-house legal team and external experts who were able to gain this positive result, protecting valuable public money."

The claimant alleged the Council had failed to maintain their property, which had led to roof leaks, mould, defective windows and defective guttering over a prolonged period between 2012 and 2019. Despite these claims, the tenant had responded to numerous satisfaction surveys during the tenancy telling Mid Devon Housing that since 2014 they had been ‘very satisfied’ with the quality of repairs carried out and with the overall repairs service. Although the mould had not been reported directly to the housing service by the tenant, it was identified by a council officer during a routine inspection in 2019, but the tenant failed to respond to calls from the repairs team to resolve this, instead turning to the no win, no fee solicitor.

The Council understands that the tenant expressed a wish to withdraw the claim at an earlier stage but found that the small print of the claim involved a financial penalty for doing so, which they found to be unaffordable.

The tenant’s appointed expert surveyor initially felt that the cause of dampness related primarily to a roof leak, however, later stated that the cause was other defects, including defective cavity wall insulation which had led to ‘moisture transfer and cold bridging’, as well as dampness around a rear porch. The Council’s position, after taking expert opinion from Shaun Watts of Nova Surveyors and an experienced barrister was that there was no evidence of moisture transfer from outside of the building and that treating condensation related mould was not a landlord responsibility. The Council was also able to counter the claim that a rear porch was a cause of dampness, as there was no rear porch.

Rosie Wills, Technical Support & Repairs Manager for Mid Devon Housing, said:

“Condensation related mould can form in any home, even where there is no building defect, although it can of course be exacerbated by faults. Tenants and home owners should make use of existing ventilation in order to reduce condensation, where possible, but the Council, through Mid Devon Housing, also has a programme of ventilation improvements, thermal improvements, tailored advice and financial support, which has been a great benefit to our tenants who have worked together with us.”

Mid Devon District Council has clear and robust complaints and compensation policies, which can be found on our website. Where failures are found, the issues can be resolved and tenants often receive compensation as part of responses. Our tenants also receive a response to their complaint within 10 days, and have the option to escalate their complaint to the independent Housing Ombudsman Service.