HS2 Ltd was 'dishonest, misleading and inconsistent' and failed to follow its own processes when negotiating compensation claims with a home owner, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has found.
This led to a breakdown of trust and undermined the homeowner’s faith that he would be treated fairly, the ombudsman said, adding that HS2 Ltd caused the complainant severe stress and worry over the sale of his family home, which affected their health and family life for years.
In the foreword to his report, Ombudsman Rob Behrens CBE wrote that ‘to add insult to injury’, the homeowner had already suffered from HS2 Ltd’s delays to his community’s response to the original HS2 public consultation.
He wrote: ‘HS2 continuously let this person and their family down by misleading them and not following the proper process. This caused them severe stress and worry which impacted on their health and family life for over four years.
‘We published a report in 2015 about this which found HS2 failed to appropriately engage with the same community near Lichfield when consulting about the proposals.
‘HS2 should have been repairing an already fractured relationship following our 2015 report. However when the complainant asked questions, HS2 failed to respond fully and promptly, sometimes giving incorrect information.
‘HS2’s delay in responding and engaging with the complainant left his family in limbo for years. This exacerbated the already stressful situation of having to sell their family home and led to a deterioration in the complainant’s health.’
Mr Behrens added: ‘Being open and transparent with the public is an essential component of good public service and administration.
‘It is vital that HS2 implements our recommendations and considers the learning from this case so that further improvements to how it engages with the public can be made.’
An HS2 spokesperson said: ‘We understand that residents did not choose to live along the line of route and that for many the process of having their homes acquired will be distressing. HS2 Ltd endeavour to treat every land and property case with respect and compassion, while also recognising our obligations to spend taxpayers’ money appropriately when agreeing compensation.
‘Whilst we accept the report recommendations, this report focuses on historic issues relating to an individual property case from 2017. In the four years since this review commenced there have been significant changes to HS2 Ltd, our responsiveness, and the complaints handling approach.
‘We continue to work tirelessly to ensure we uphold the highest possible standards.’