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U-turn over 20 year wait for window cleaning at pensioner's flat

U-turn: The Guinness Partnership will now find a way to clean Mary Morrison's lounge window after telling her to wait 20 years.
U-turn: The Guinness Partnership will now find a way to clean Mary Morrison's lounge window after telling her to wait 20 years.
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A housing association which told a tenant she would have to wait 20 years to get her lounge window cleaned has done a u-turn ahead of a decision by the Housing Ombudsman.

The Guinness Partnership told window cleaners to stop washing Mary Morrison’s lounge window at the flats complex where she lives in Hoyland, Barnsley, because it was above a flat roof and that created health and safety problems.

When she complained she was told the only solution was to wait until the windows were due for replacement, when the flats in Fitzwilliam Close would be 30 years old – meaning a 20 year delay because the building was constructed only a decade ago.

Guinness told Mrs Morrison, aged 71, they had closed her complaint at that point and suggested she approach the Housing Ombudsman if she remained unhappy, which she did with assistance from Barnsley Councillor Tim Shepherd, who represents the area where she lives.

But Guinness have now backtracked on that decision and confirmed they are looking for a solution which could involve changing the windows – something Mrs Morrison had previously suggest and which had been dismissed by the organisation.

In the meantime, they will use a mechanical lift to reach the window, which is the only source of natural light to the whole living area of Mrs Morrison’s home, where she has lived for three years.

The saga began before Christmas when she realised the window was no longer being cleaned and it emerged staff had been doing it ‘unofficially’ by climbing onto the roof, a practice they were told to end because there are no safety barriers.

A Guinness surveyor suggested installing anchor points so the cleaners could clip themselves to the building, in the way climbers do with safety ropes, but Mrs Morrison was told in a letter customer liaison manager Catherine Thompson-Flint ruled that out, with the letter stating: “She said that all engineers we employ for window cleaning, must use the reach and pole system, so they cannot use ladders to get onto the roof.

“This means anchor points would be of no real effect.

“We can look at changing the windows when they are due to be replaced, although this won’t be until the scheme is 30 years old.”

The letter went on to say she had “exhausted our internal complaints process” and with the help of Coun Shepherd, she complained to the Ombudsman because she pays an annual service charge which includes the cost of window cleaning.

Now the partnership has reversed its decision and said in a statement: “We understand Mrs Morrison’s concerns about the cleaning of her windows and have been in regular contact with her.

“Our window cleaning contractor used to use ladders to clean her windows, but the health and safety legislation changed recently and this is no longer possible.

“We are looking at alternative solutions, including the possibility of changing her windows, and in the short term we are arranging for a mechanical lift to be used.”

Mrs Morrison said: “I asked if they could get safety equipment in so they could come and clean the window, but they just said ‘no’.

“We have asked them for tilt-and-turn windows, anything we could think of.

“When you are sat inside the flat you can see all the dirt on the outside. They have just started building houses alongside, so there is a lot of dust as well to make it worse.

“That window is the only source of external light, because I don’t have one in the kitchen,” she said.

“Coun Shepherd, who represents the Hoyland Milton ward on Barnsley Council, said the issue was not a local authority matter, but he was acting on Mrs Morrison’s behalf to contact the Ombudsman.

“The man at customer service was very sympathetic but said there was nothing they could do and the matter was closed,” he said.

Coun Shepherd said he was told window cleaning was not part of the service agreement, but after checking Mrs Morrison’s contract it was clear that it was included.