Department for Transport, High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd (P-001071)

  • 1.	Mr and Mrs P complained about the DfT, HS2 and the ICA’s communication and handling of their case between 2012 and 2017 in relation to the acquisition of their property.   
    
    2.	We have identified potential failings in the way HS2 handled Mr and Mrs P’s case. We have seen evidence:
    
    •	HS2 failed to communicate their approach to ATSC to Mr and Mrs P in 2014 and 2015
    •	HS2 failed to fulfil their promise of delivering a defined process and terms for the purchase of Mr and Mrs P’s property, which were outside HS2’s property acquisition schemes. In particular, HS2 failed to tell Mr and Mrs P about the six-month rent deduction
    •	HS2 failed to communicate effectively with Mr and Mrs P about the valuation of their property
    •	HS2 failed to meet agreed timescales for paying Mr and Mrs P’s compensation, or to provide Mr and Mrs P with reasonable updates.
    •	HS2 failed to provide a customer focused and genuine apology.
    •	HS2 did not appropriately communicate with Mr and Mrs P about payment of the ICA’s recommendation HS2 award a consolatory payment of £250.
    
    3.	We recognise selling their family home was deeply upsetting to Mr and Mrs P. It caused great upheaval in their lives and significantly affected their future plans.  While HS2’s handling of their case was not responsible for this, because an acquisition of Mr and Mrs P’s land would always need to take place, HS2’s actions on Mr and Mrs P’s case exacerbated Mr and Mrs P’s distress and upset. 
    
    4.	We have considered what would have happened if HS2 had acted appropriately. We do not consider events are likely to have unfolded in a different way if HS2 had acted appropriately. However, we consider Mr and Mrs P would have found the acquisition process a much less upsetting experience.  We consider the distress caused to them from having to leave their family home, and the inconvenience and upset caused during the acquisition process, would have been reduced.  On this basis, HS2 have agreed to:
    •	HS2 apologise to Mr and Mrs P for the injustice (distress and inconvenience) their actions caused 
    •	HS2 offer Mr and Mrs P £600 compensation for the impact their actions have had.
    •	We have made no wider recommendations because HS2 has already taken steps to improve their communication with residents through its Community Engagement Strategy issued in September 2017.
    
  • 5.	Mr and Mrs P complain about HS2 and Department for Transport’s (DfT) handling of their property purchase between 2014 and 2017.  In particular, Mr and Mrs P said;
    a)	DfT mismanaged their expectations about the approach to the acquisition of their property. The DfT and HS2’s letters in 2012 and 2013, as well as the government’s Compulsory Purchase system guidance led them to believe they could enter into negotiations for their property to be purchased early and they would be dealt with fairly and treated properly. 
    b)	HS2 and DfT gave them inconsistent and contradictory information about:
    •	their property acquisition ‘as if by CPO [Compulsory Purchase Order]’. 
    For example, HS2 and DfT’s position on whether their property was purchased on grounds of Atypical and Special Circumstances (ATSC) or as if by CPO was contradictory.  
    •	how the requirement of a six-month rent deduction from the value of their property fell within the property schemes. Mr and Mrs P said they were given contradictory information by DfT and HS2 about the six-month rental deduction.  Mr and Mrs P said also HS2 used an inaccurate figure for the six-month rental deduction which they were not told about at the time of their property acquisition.
    c)	HS2 and their agents wrongly led Mr and Mrs P to believe in January 2016 HS2’s valuation of their property would be broadly in line with their agent’s valuation. There turned out to be nearly a £900,000 difference.
    d)	DfT and HS2 told them and the Select Committee they were confident a binding agreement could be concluded within a ‘speedy timescale’. Mr and Mrs P took this to mean their property acquisition would progress at pace. However, three case officers at HS2 ‘disappeared’ from their case without explanation, update or handover.  Mr and Mrs P said this extended the purchase process.
    e)	HS2 allowed their own agents to mismanage the case.  In particular, when appointing their first agents in early 2016 and the second agents in August 2016, HS2 did not properly brief them about the agreements already in place. 
    f)	HS2 disputed some agents’ fees and the compensation claim for over a year.
    g)	HS2 failed to respond in a timely manner to an inappropriate email to Mrs P from one of their agents.  Despite apologising, HS2 later referenced the incident in a letter to the House of Lords in December 2016 as ‘careless’.  Mr and Mrs P found this offensive and rendered HS2’s apology meaningless. 
    h)	The ICA did not consider Mr and Mrs P’s evidence with equal weight to that of HS2 and failed to pick up inaccuracies in HS2’s evidence.  Mr and Mrs P considered the ICA should not have said HS2’s complaint handling was robust and good when HS2 had failed to answer their questions and missed procedural timescales for responding to complaints.
    i)	HS2 failed to pay the £250 recommended by the ICA.
    
    6.	Mr and Mrs P said the events had a profound impact on them and the handling of their case caused confusion and anxiety.  Mr and Mrs P said HS2 and DfT made things harder for them, rather than helping them to move on with their lives. Mr and Mrs P said the handling of their case was like a dripping tap, where some issues were significant and some small, but it completely eroded their confidence and trust over time. Mr and Mrs P said they felt powerless and paralysed.  The prolonged distress and anxiety affected their family life, well-being and ability to work. 
    
    7.	Mr and Mrs P said the purchase of their property took longer and they had suffered unnecessary distress and upset.  Mr and Mrs P said they felt bullied and lost faith in HS2/DfT’s ability to be honest with them about what was happening which affected their decision-making.  For example, they opted to rent-back their property from HS2 after the sale completed and did not consider HS2’s offer to delay the completion of their property transaction even though they had not managed to find a suitable new home. They also opted for a full and final settlement rather than leave their claim with HS2 open for the full six-year period.  Mr and Mrs P said they wanted to get HS2 out of their lives and completing the sale was critical to them regaining some control over their lives, and a full and final settlement of their expenses claim meant they would not have to deal with HS2 again.  Mr and Mrs P also say the £13,500 in rent HS2 withheld from the valuation equated to more than six months’ rent. 
    
    8.	Mr and Mrs P said they were seeking an explanation for the delays and contradictions around the purchase of their property on grounds of ATSC and CPO. They wanted compensation from DfT and HS2 for the significant emotional impact caused to them and to be reimbursed for the incorrect deduction of six months’ rental income.  Mr and Mrs P also wanted HS2 and DfT to be held to account for their actions and to improve the way they operate in future.
    
  • 9.	In 1998 Mr and Mrs P purchased their property. It consisted of 10 acres of land with two separate buildings. Mr and Mrs P lived in one building (their home) and rented out the other (the tenanted building). Road access to the tenanted building was dependent on their home and both buildings shared utility services.  Mr and Mrs P told us they invested their savings into their property instead of a pension and intended to let out the tenanted building for essential income.
    
    2010
    
    10.	In March 2010 the Government announced its intention to proceed with a high speed rail service linking London to the North.  
    
    2012
    
    11.	Following consultation, the Government announced the route in January 2012 – the proposed route ran from London to the West Midlands, and then branched off east to Leeds and west to Manchester.  
    
    2013
    
    12.	In July 2013 the Government issued Safeguarding Directions. This identified land required for the proposed railway.  It allowed property owners to serve a statutory blight notice to the Government to buy their property at its unblighted price (its market value as if there were not going to be a railway). 
    
    13.	On 9 July 2013 HS2 wrote to those the Safeguarding Directions affected.  HS2’s letter to Mr and Mrs P said:
    •	HS2 ‘may in future need to buy some or all of your property’ around mid-2015 onwards.  
    •	if homeowners wanted to sell their property earlier it ‘may now be possible’.  
    •	they had published guidance on statutory blight. 
    •	The letter was not a compulsory purchase order (requiring the homeowner to sell their land) and not confirmation HS2 would definitely buy property.
    
    2014
    
    14.	On 9 April 2014 HS2 introduced the Express Purchase Scheme.  This allowed owner occupiers (those who lived in their properties) to submit a blight notice to HS2 requesting purchase of their properties.
    
    15.	In May 2014 Mr and Mrs P submitted a petition to the Houses of Parliament Select Committee for HS2 matters.  Mr and Mrs P’s petition said:
    •	they were concerned their unusual property would not meet the criteria of the Express Purchase Scheme. 
    •	they did not occupy the tenanted building but wanted HS2 to acquire the entire property (home and tenanted building) in one transaction. They said if it was not possible they would financially suffer, because they derived an income from the tenanted building.
    •	Mr P was unable to work as a builder due to his back problems. 
    •	they both suffered from health issues and the proposed railway was causing them distress.
    
    16.	In September 2014, while waiting for the Select Committee to hear their petition, Mr and Mrs P and their agent began negotiating with HS2 about purchasing both buildings in one transaction.  Mr and Mrs P recalled speaking with HS2 about whether HS2 would purchase both buildings at the same time because they had ‘Atypical and Special Circumstances’ (ATSC).  
    
    2014/15
    
    17.	Between September 2014 and May 2015, HS2’s representative provided information to Mr and Mrs P’s agent about the Express Purchase Scheme. HS2 told Mr and Mrs P they would need to serve two separate blight notices.  Mr and Mrs P would be able to serve the first blight notice immediately, asking HS2 to purchase their occupied home. However, they would have to split the land registry title of their property into two and  move into their tenanted building for six months before submitting a second blight notice asking HS2 to purchase the tenanted property.  Mr and Mrs P did not want to do that because of the financial and emotional impact on them.
    
    18.	On 8 August 2015 Mrs P emailed HS2 recalling HS2 telling them in September 2014 it was for Mr and Mrs P’s agents to put forward a case for why ATSC was appropriate.  She said:
    ‘It is not a game, and HS2 has the upper hand here – how can any compensation scheme be fair if one side lacks knowledge of what the complex, confusing and often contradictory rules are?
    Section 9 [ATSC] simply reads like a general reassurance – a statement of intent.  Nowhere does it state that there is an actual procedure that can be followed to apply under this section.  …So how is one supposed to make an application?
    On the basis of your reaction, and that of [our agents] on 4th September 2014, we concluded that we had got it wrong and that we did not qualify to be considered as an under the [ATSC] clause’
    
    19.	On 10 August 2015 Mrs P recorded a telephone call with HS2. She asked whether ATSC would apply to them. Among other things, HS2 said there was nothing in their guidance which said Mr and Mrs P would not qualify under ATSC.  HS2 said ATSC had only been up and running for a year and only now did they have an understanding of how it worked.  HS2 told Mrs P it was not HS2’s scheme, it was the DfT’s.
    
    20.	In August 2015 Mr and Mrs P formally applied to HS2 to purchase their two properties at the same time under the criteria for ATSC. HS2 approved the application and escalated it to the DfT for approval.
    
    21.	In August 2015 Mr and Mrs P appointed a new agent.  They told their original agents HS2 had agreed their property had ATSC.  Mr and Mrs P’s original agents responded on 26 August 2015:
    ‘This is good news, however, I must question why [HS2] has now apparently accepted this, when on four occasions in the last two years [HS2] has steadfastly refused to accept that the property was atypical.  This question was specifically asked of [HS2] by me during our discussion and I was told categorically that they would not accept such a designation. …’
    
    22.	The DfT considered there was insufficient information to approve Mr and Mrs P’s application under ATSC in October 2015.  The DfT said there would be a saving to the taxpayer in purchasing Mr and Mrs P’s properties together. This was because it would mean paying one home loss payment to Mr and Mrs P, rather than two (for each property). However, the DfT was concerned Mr and Mrs P could be seen to receiving favourable treatment in comparison to other people applying to the Express Purchase Scheme (and would have to serve two separate blight notices). DfT wanted evidence around whether two blight notices could be submitted.
    
    23.	Following their petition in May 2014, Mr and Mrs P were due to appear before the House of Lords Select Committee on 2 November 2015. HS2 and DfT discussed matters internally and with DfT’s Barrister. They discussed that DfT and Mr and Mrs P could not agree on DfT’s request that six months’ rent be deducted from the value of their property, to reflect the six months they did not need to occupy the tenanted building (as per the Express Purchase Scheme). They considered the Select Committee would prefer they purchase both buildings simultaneously and the six-month rent issue should not create a barrier to that. To prevent Mr and Mrs P needing to appear before the Select Committee, on 30 October 2015 HS2 made a conditional offer to purchase both Mr and Mrs P’s buildings in one transaction.  Following negotiations on the day of Mr and Mrs P’s scheduled appearance, HS2 and Mr and Mrs P told the Select Committee HS2 would purchase their properties before 2 November 2018.  HS2 told the Select Committee they would purchase Mr and Mrs P’s property:
    ‘as if … by compulsory purchase … [HS2] are confident that a satisfactory binding agreement can be concluded in a speedy timescale but acknowledge that Mr and Mrs [P] may wish to come back to the Select Committee in the event that agreed terms [Heads of Terms] are not concluded by the Christmas recess.’ 
    
    24.	During the evening of 2 November 2015 Mr and Mrs P’s legal adviser received an email from HS2.  HS2 said one of the negotiated issues they had discussed earlier in the day (which the parties had different views on) had been omitted from their statement to the Select Committee. HS2 said six months’ rent would be deducted from Mr and Mrs P’s compensation package to account for the six months’ rent they would not forgo in having their properties purchased at the same time.
    
    25.	Internal correspondence at HS2 during November 2015 indicated HS2’s solicitors were waiting for HS2 to provide them with draft Heads of Terms. However, the person at HS2 who they thought was providing the Heads of Terms had left the organisation. No progress was made on the Heads of Terms for a number of weeks.
    
    26.	On 3 December 2015 HS2 appointed agent 1 to value Mr and Mrs P’s properties. Agent 1 arranged to visit on 14 January 2016 and said their valuation would be ready a week later.
    
    27.	HS2’s solicitors passed Mr and Mrs P’s solicitors draft Heads of Terms in mid December 2015.
    
    28.	On 17 December 2015 Mr and Mrs P’s agent valued their property at just under £3.9 million.
    
    2016
    
    29.	Internal correspondence between HS2 and agent 1 on 18 January 2016 showed agent 1 thought it was early to be agreeing Heads of Terms with Mr and Mrs P. This was because valuation figures and disturbance claims had not been pinned down. In addition, HS2’s agent emailed Mr and Mrs P’s agent on 7 January 2016 about timescales saying:
    ‘the timeframe likely to take the longest is the negotiation, essentially up to you. The instruction to solicitors, approval from the commercial panel of HS2 and DfT is relatively quick.’  
    
    30.	As the parties had not agreed Heads of Terms for the purchase by Christmas 2015, Mr and Mrs P reverted to the Select Committee on 20 January 2016.  The DfT told the committee HS2 had agreed to purchase Mr and Mrs P’s properties as one transaction under private treaty ‘as if by compulsory purchase’ (paragraph 23).  
    
    31.	During the hearing, the Select Committee asked Mr and Mrs P to agree the [Heads of] terms of the contract with the DfT and HS2. This included resolving Mr and Mrs P’s concern about HS2’s intention to apply a six-month rent deduction to the value of the properties. 
    
    32.	Mr and Mrs P told us immediately after the hearing they recalled:
    •	agent 1 telling them their agent’s valuation of £3.9 million (paragraph 28) was in the right region. Mr and Mrs P told us agent 1 said they could use this as an approximate budget to look for new properties.
    •	DfT’s Barrister assuring them there would not be punitive terms for their property acquisition and the six months’ rent deduction would not be applied.
    
    33.	On 1 February 2016 agent 1 shared their valuation of £3 million with Mr and Mrs P for their property.  This was almost £900,000 lower than Mr and Mrs P’s agent had valued their property. HS2 emailed agent 1 the same day. HS2’s second case manager (after the previous case manager left in November 2015) noted their valuation was much lower than Mr and Mrs P agents, and Mr and Mrs P were unhappy having recalled agent 1 telling them, outside Parliament on 20 January 2016, the valuations would not be far apart.
    
    34.	During Spring 2016 Mr and Mrs P and HS2 continued to negotiate the six-month rent deduction and the valuation for Mr and Mrs P’s property. Mr and Mrs P told HS2 they did not want six months’ rent deducted from the value of their property. They considered HS2 and DfT’s references to purchasing the property ‘as if by CPO’ meant they would receive the same compensation arrangements as for CPO and six months’ rent deduction was ‘punitive’. 
    
    35.	 On 23 February 2016 Mr and Mrs P had their offer for the purchase of a new property accepted, on the basis they could provide the vendor with proof of funding and a timetable for settlement. Mr and Mrs P asked HS2 to progress the acquisition using a 90% advance payment, and they sought clarification from HS2 on the timescale so this could be put in writing to the vendor’s agent.  However, the vendor rejected Mr and Mrs P’s offer when HS2 could not supply these assurances by 4 March 2016.  Mrs P complained to HS2 and agent 1.  Agent 1 emailed HS2, mistakenly copying Mrs P into their reply. Agent 1 said Mrs P was:
    ‘deviously attempting to play us off against each other.  The fact remains that we can’t proceed until they have agreed the [Heads of Terms] which she has failed to acknowledge.’
    
    36.	HS2, their solicitor and agent 1 exchanged emails on 24 February 2016.  They were uncertain whether Mr and Mrs P were seeking for their sale to go through in four weeks, which they thought was more akin to traditional CPO acquisitions following a notice to treat.
    
    37.	On 26 February 2016 HS2 responded to a complaint from Mr and Mrs P’s MP earlier in the month.  HS2 said:
    ‘In relation to the valuation of Mr and Mrs [P]’s property, this is being acquired on a discretionary basis as it has been established that the property is ‘atypical’ and that ‘special circumstances’ apply. It is intended that the compensation payable will mirror that which would apply if the property were being acquired under Statutory Blight. …’
    
    38.	On 3 March 2016 Mr and Mrs P asked HS2 to explain the process for acquiring their property ‘as if by compulsory purchase [CPO]’. Mrs P asked HS2 to provide a flow chart which would explain the process for obtaining a 90% advance, acquisition via Heads of Terms and the process of acquisition as if by CPO. Mrs P said:
    •	it would be useful to know what the process was and to understand what was going on. 
    •	keeping everyone in the loop was just good communication and helped foster positive relationships.  
    •	once she had a chance to look at the process she would want to talk it through with HS2 so she could fully understand what was happening to her and her family.
    
    39.	Following correspondence with Mr and Mrs P and their MP, HS2 and the DfT responded on 7 and 14 March 2016. They told Mr and Mrs P:
    •	Heads of Terms applied when acquisitions such as theirs did not fall within compensation schemes (such as Express Purchase). The DfT and HS2 said this was why ATSC applied to their case. 
    •	they were acquiring the property on a discretionary basis and they were trying to mirror the CPO process but there were bound to be slight deviations.  
    •	Heads of Terms would set out the terms on which the property would be purchased.
    
    40.	Mrs P emailed HS2 on 4 April 2016 expressing concern that no progress had been made on the Heads of Terms when they should have been agreed on 18 December 2015. Mrs P said since that time there had been ongoing delays and she wanted her ongoing concerns about the purchase resolved. HS2’s Head of Acquisitions responded to Mr and Mrs P’s further concerns on 6 April 2016 saying:
    •	Heads of Terms had taken longer than they would have liked but they were waiting for instruction on a couple of points
    •	They were hoping to have a clear stance from the DfT on the six-month rent issue but it was out of their hands
    •	they sincerely apologised for agent 1’s comments about Mrs P on 4 March which fell short of the standard they expected from their suppliers and they would do what they could to ensure this did not happen again.
    •	they tried to assist in reaching a negotiated settlement and offered to meet with Mrs P and her agent to agree common ground. They said they would take instruction from the DfT and see what areas of compromise might be
    •	they were (now increasing) their offer to £3.2 million for Mr and Mrs P’s property as a genuine attempt to settle the case.
    
    41.	HS2 emailed Mrs P on 6 April 2016 saying they took their email seriously and that the 4 March email fell below standards they expected.  HS2 said they had removed their representative from Mr and Mrs P’s case.
    
    42.	On 7 April 2016 Mrs P recorded her telephone call with HS2 about the six-month rent deduction HS2 wanted to apply to the valuation. During the call, HS2 suggested agreeing a valuation figure with Mr and Mrs P, but telling the DfT the valuation figure was higher (than agreed with Mr and Mrs P) and then applying the six month rent deduction. HS2 also added that the DfT Barrister considered it was inappropriate for them to comment on the six month rent deduction. This was in relation to Mr and Mrs P’s concern about what the DfT Barrister told them in January 2016 (paragraph 32).
    
    43.	However, following this telephone discussion with HS2, Mrs P repeatedly told HS2 she would not agree to a six-month rent deduction.  On 14 April 2016 Mrs P told HS2 independent adjudication may be the only way forward to resolve the issue.  She also said six months’ rent deduction could be calculated at £9,475.
    
    44.	Following further correspondence from Mr and Mrs P’s MP, the DfT wrote to Mr and Mrs P’s MP on 11 April 2016. The DfT said:
    •	Delay in Mr and Mrs P’s case was caused by difficulties in reaching agreement on the Heads of Terms and property price. 
    •	They would appoint someone to resolve the impasse if agents were unable to negotiate matters to a conclusion.  
    •	They apologised for the upset caused by agent 1’s email of 4 March 2016.
    
    45.	Following further negotiation, Mr and Mrs P agreed to an increased valuation of £3.25 million with HS2 on 29 April 2016.  The records show no mention about the six months’ rent deduction. Mr and Mrs P said they agreed to this valuation because they needed to proceed with the purchase of their new property.
    46.	An internal submission to HS2’s Commercial Panel on 10 May 2016 requested approval for the purchase of Mr and Mrs P’s property under ‘Special Circumstances’ for £3,263,500. The additional £13,500 included in HS2’s submission to the Commercial Panel, but not in the valuation negotiated with Mr and Mrs P, incorporated HS2’s six months’ rent deduction.  
    
    47.	In May 2016 HS2 told Mr and Mrs P they appointed agent 2 to take over handling Mr and Mrs P’s case from agent 1.  Around this time, a third HS2 staff member began assisting the Head of Acquisitions with over-seeing Mr and Mrs P’s case. Mr and Mrs P and HS2 also confirmed the details of the property acquisition contract in June 2016. With regard to compensation the contract said Mr and Mrs P could ask for an independent person to assess their compensation (payable by HS2) if they were unhappy with HS2’s actions. It also said HS2 would pay compensation within thirty days of the agents agreeing sums. 
    
    48.	Following a chasing email from Mrs P, on 11 August 2016 HS2 asked agent 2 to contact Mr and Mrs P. HS2 requested agent 2 begin progressing Mr and Mrs P’s compensation claim. 
    
    49.	On 17 August 2016 HS2 completed their acquisition of both Mr and Mrs P’s buildings.  Mr and Mrs P purchased their new property (the same property they had made an offer on in February 2016, which had come back onto the market) on 9 September 2016. 
    
    50.	On 4 September 2016 agent 2 told HS2 they had not seen Mr and Mrs P’s contract with HS2 and queried some of the compensation claims, such as stamp duty.
    
    51.	Mr and Mrs P exchanged many emails with HS2 over summer 2016 about their other compensation costs and fees.  Mr and Mrs P submitted a number of expenses relating to agents and solicitors’ fees. Mr and Mrs P’s agent submitted a large part of their compensation claim on 6 September 2016.  This included their legal fees, agent fees, tax advice and moving costs.
    
    52.	On 5 December 2016 HS2 wrote to the House of Lords.  They said agent 1’s email from 4 March 2016 was:
    ‘not libellous but careless.  At Mrs [P’s]’s request, [agent 1’s employee] was removed from the negotiations and it was further agreed with Mrs [P] that [agent 1] would be dis-instructed and a new practice [agent 2] appointed to deal with the disturbance claim once the property had been sold to the Secretary of State.’
    
    2017
    
    53.	On 27 January 2017 Mr and Mrs P’s agent emailed agent 2 with updated figures on Mr and Mrs P’s compensation claim. Mr and Mrs P’s agent said it would ease Mr and Mrs P’s financial burden if HS2 made payment for some elements of their compensation as soon as possible.  Mr and Mrs P’s agent said they had only received payment for their property, stamp duty and home loss payment so far.
    
    54.	In March 2017 HS2 approved an advance payment for Mr and Mrs P’s compensation claim. This was essentially a part-payment to be followed by a later payment when the compensation sums were finalised. However, Mr and Mrs P opted for a full and final settlement (one payment in full) once agents had agreed on sums.
    
    55.	Mr and Mrs P submitted their final costs to agent 2 in Spring/Summer 2017. Mr and Mrs P’s agent and agent 2 agreed the compensation sum on 26 May 2017. On 5 August 2017 HS2 made one payment for all (disturbance) compensation claims from Mr and Mrs P in relation to the acquisition of their property amounting to £122,439.08.
    
    Complaint handling
    
    56.	Mr and Mrs P complained in detail to both stages of HS2’s complaints process about many aspects of their case on 10 December 2016, 5 January 2017 and 19 January 2017. Among other things, they expressed concern about:
    •	HS2’s handling of their case in relation to ATSC since September 2014.
    •	HS2’s apology to Mrs P in relation to the email of 4 March 2016 in light of HS2’s further comments to the House of Lords in December 2016.
    •	The time taken for HS2 to produce Heads of Terms following their appearance before the Select Committee in November 2015.
    •	HS2’s handling of Mr and Mrs P’s request for proof of funding and indicative timescale to be passed their vendors in February 2016.
    •	The time taken by HS2 and agent 2 to finalise their compensation claim.
    
    57.	HS2 responded on 19 January and 13 March 2017, having undertaken an internal review in February 2017.  HS2 considered:
    •	They needed better guidance on ATSC from DfT.
    •	house sales and purchases could be protracted processes and even in standard cases could take time to conclude.  
    •	It would be helpful to have timelines which people could expect responses from them so they could manage expectations better
    •	They should ensure people have a single point of contact at all times and any changes in staff are communicated immediately.
    •	‘Staff changes, workload pressure and the unique nature of the case did not help our ability to demonstrate empathy to resolve the issues.’
    •	They did not propose to go through each point, but apologised for the delays and quality of communication Mr and Mrs P had received which had not been up to the required standard.  
    •	They apologised for the email of March 2016.  
    •	They noted Mr and Mrs P were ‘unwilling’ to send a full and final settlement request, but they thought the best way to resolve outstanding issues was for Mr and Mrs P to submit a list of outstanding claims.
    
    58.	Mr and Mrs P wrote a brief letter requesting their case be escalated to the ICA on 13 March 2017. Mr and Mrs P did not consider HS2 had answered their detailed questions. Mr and Mrs P said it was of ‘particular concern’ HS2 had not addressed their concern about the letter to House of Lords in December 2016 regarding agent 1’s email from March 2016, which they found ‘totally unacceptable’ and HS2 had ‘completely ignored’. Mr and Mrs P also complained they had to wait seven weeks for HS2’s response of 13 March 2017. HS2 sent a referral form to the ICA with Mr and Mrs P’s complaint, which did not confirm if they included Mr and Mrs P’s letter of 13 March 2017.
    59.	In June 2017 the ICA issued their report to Mr and Mrs P.  The ICA said they had considered Mr and Mrs P’s complaint about delays in HS2’s processes and failure to reply to correspondence in a speedy manner. They also looked at differences between the parties regarding compensation items. The ICA said:
    •	They accepted HS2’s timeline of events (from October 2015 onwards) and summarised HS2’s responses to Mr and Mrs P’s complaint.  
    •	Much of the timeline related to complex property transactions which an ICA could not sensibly comment on.
    •	HS2’s complaints process was both rigorous and robust. The ICA thought HS2’s stage two response must have taken many careful hours to complete.
    •	They concurred with HS2’s internal review and consideration of the complaint from February and March 2017.
    •	HS2 took too long to offer an apology (from both HS2 and agent 1) for agent 1’s email of March 2016. Agent 1 should have apologised earlier. However, HS2 immediately removed agent 1 from the case following the incident.
    •	It was only right HS2 would wish public money was used in strict accordance with the contract Mr and Mrs P signed and that they should be properly evidenced.
    •	HS2 had acknowledged their failings, including the stress and upset caused to Mr and Mrs P.  
    •	they recommended a consolatory payment of £250 to Mr and Mrs P.
    
    60.	During June and July 2017 Mr and Mrs P and their solicitors approached HS2’s solicitors for several updates about when monies for their final compensation payment would be received.  HS2’s solicitors said, respectively, they expected to receive the monies from HS2 following approval by 10 July and then on 18 July. However, on 18 July 2017 HS2’s solicitors told Mrs and Mrs P’s solicitor they had not received the monies from HS2. Mr and Mrs P received the final payment of £122,439 on 4 August 2017.
    
    Comments from HS2
    
    61.	HS2 told us:
    a)	It was not their role to advise homeowners on the appropriate scheme for the purchase of their property.  HS2 paid the fees for Mr and Mrs P’s agent to advise them.
    
    b)	in 2014 the DfT did not consider the circumstances of Mr and Mrs P’s case were atypical.  They considered Mr and Mrs P could ask HS2 to acquire their property by way of serving two blight notices.  HS2 said it was on this basis HS2 responded to Mr and Mrs P in 2014/2015. 
    
    c)	the instructions from the DfT in 2014/15 were not to treat cases as ATSC where an alternative route existed for claimants.  HS2’s Head of Acquisitions told us there was a high bar for ATSC which were for generally for circumstances that fell under the Equality Act 2010.
    
    d)	they and the DfT were unable to take any action to acquire Mr and Mrs P’s property until they made an application.  HS2 said they made recommendations but the DfT make the decision to accept or reject. HS2 said the best way to find out what the Department’s view was to make an application.
    
    e)	Mr and Mrs P did not submit an application until August 2015 and the DfT did not approve the claim in October 2015. HS2 said they worked with Mr and Mrs P and their agent to agree a way forward.  HS2 said this led to the statement given to the Select Committee on 2 November 2015.  HS2 said the timescale was 13 working days between Mr and Mrs P submitting their first request (14 October 2015) and receiving an assurance HS2 would acquire their property (2 November 2015).
    
    f)	the instructions from the DfT about purchasing Mr and Mrs P’s property changed when Mr and Mrs P were due to appear before the Select Committee on 2 November 2015. HS2 said this followed conversations with the DfT’s barrister and experience of the Select Committee’s comments on previous cases presented to them.
    
    g)	ATSC was not part of any scheme but a designation for properties that do not fall within statutory provisions. HS2 said the Department decided to acquire Mr and Mrs P’s property on a ‘discretionary’ basis because of Mr and Mrs P’s circumstances. As the Department agreed to the purchase, HS2 said they had to seek a way to acquire the property in line with the Compensation Code.
    
    h)	‘It matters not whether [the decision to purchase Mr and Mrs P’s property] was atypical, by agreement or in response to Mr and Mrs [P’s] petition.  Mr and Mrs [P] had received a decision from the Department for the properties to be acquired which is what they had campaigned for.
    
    This was a discretionary offer, but the Department wanted the offer to mirror the position in law (under statutory blight) as far as possible and is why they insisted on the 6 months’ deduction which Mrs [P] would have otherwise suffered had she made two applications under statutory blight.
    
    The benefit of the discretionary offer was that Mr and Mrs [P] would save time and inconvenience, because  they would not have to wait the six months whilst they resided in [the tenanted building] (to qualify for blight) and would also not have to move twice…
    
    Anchoring the agreement to acquire the property under the compensation code or ‘as if by CPO’ had benefits to both sides.  Mrs [P] had the comfort of knowing the basis on which she could claim and could secure a statutory loss payment, disturbance compensation, professional fees in addition to the market value of her properties.  The Department also had the benefit of bringing the acquisition into the environment that would have applied had the properties been acquired under statutory blight.’
    
    i)	HS2 said Mr and Mrs P’s case moved through the acquisition process considerably quicker than other blight cases.
    
    j)	In relation to Mr and Mrs P’s knowledge of the six-month rent deduction, HS2 said Mr and Mrs P were able to negotiate their purchase price.  HS2 said there were other avenues available to Mr and Mrs P (independent adjudication) if they could not agree values.
    
    k)	agent 1’s employee, who Mr and Mrs P said had told them their property would likely be valued at £3.9 million, was no longer employed by their agent.  HS2 said it was unable to contact them but they thought it likely the agent would have reported a figure closer to their agent’s subsequent valuation of £3 million.
    
    l)	they would ‘never be able’ to give the vendor of Mr and Mrs P’s new property the assurance they would acquire Mr and Mrs P’s property in February 2016 because Mr and Mrs P had not agreed terms of purchase.  HS2 said Mr and Mrs P could have expedited the acquisition through dispute resolution or by agreeing to HS2’s assessment of the value of the property (£3 million).
    
    m)	HS2 acknowledged the final disturbance claim did not meet the 30-day payment requirement set out in the contract. It took them 70 days from the point the agents reached agreement (26 May to 4 August 2017.
    
    n)	In relation to the payment recommended by the ICA, HS2 said Mrs P told the Complaints Manager the award was ‘derisory’ in June 2017. HS2 said they concluded Mr and Mrs P were rejecting the award. HS2 acknowledged they should have checked this in writing with Mr and Mrs P first. They said they did so in an email of 11 October 2017 where they explained why the payment had not been made. HS2 offered their apologies to Mr and Mrs P for their handling and reiterated its offer to make the payment. 
    
    o)	HS2 have no guidance on when disturbance claims should be made. Legislation allows claims to stay open for up to six years after HS2 acquired properties under the statute of limitations before a referral to tribunal must be made if unresolved. Generally, smaller and straight-forward acquisitions disturbance claims could be accurately estimated by the claimants, assessed and agreed.  HS2 said an average 3-bed property purchase would usually accurately estimate costs, then complete its disturbance claim on completion of the house purchase. However, larger, more complex properties, those involving ATSC were unlikely to finalise disturbance on completion.
    
    p)	HS2 queried the amount of time Mrs P was claiming as compensation for time spent on HS2 matters, rather than the rate applied to her time.
    
    q)	HS2 told us that they had checked their records from 2017 but were unable to determine what papers they referred to the ICA. 
    
    Comments from the DfT
    
    62.	The DfT told us:
    a)	Mr and Mrs P did not meet the requirements for their discretionary property schemes (such as Express Purchase) so agreed to purchase their property outside the schemes on grounds of ATSC.  The decisions for ATSC rested with the DfT and is not delegated to HS2.
    
    b)	There would be cases that did not fit naturally within the more focused property schemes and there could be deserving cases that required the DfT to step in and purchase the property or offer compensation. The DfT said it would consider ATSC under atypical arrangements but these were exceptional.
    
    c)	the general policy approach to ATSC ‘has not evolved since the arrangements were first outlined in consultation and public guidance’. HS2 deliberately sought not to define the terms in order to provide a broad basis for different circumstances to be considered.  The DfT said the governance for ATSC had, however, developed over time. The fact ATSC were considered by the joint HS2 and DfT group (since January 2015) ensured the financial, legal, property and policy considerations are taken into account during decision making. 
    
    d)	the compensation laws around ‘equivalence’ meant Mr and Mrs P should neither gain nor lose out from the acquisition.  Mr and Mrs P had the opportunity to dispute their settlement if they did not agree.  The DfT said this meant a deduction of six months’ rent from the proceeds Mr and Mrs P would otherwise have foregone if they met statutory blight (i.e. if they had submitted two consecutive blight notices instead of one transaction).  
    
    e)	a binding agreement is the exchange of contracts. Contracts detail the terms and include the Heads of Terms which had been agreed. In Mr and Mrs P’s case not all the Heads of Terms were agreed at the time the property was acquired. The DfT said this was not unusual in the case of property acquisitions and the law recognises negotiations can continue even after the land has been acquired.
    
    ‘[Mr and Mrs P’s] was an atypical case (albeit on blight terms) so by its very nature was unique. As the [Mr and Mrs P’s] case was managed as if it was a Compulsory Purchase case, we consider that it is most appropriate to compare its timeline to Compulsory Purchase/Statutory Blight cases’.
    
    f)	letters sent to homeowners in 2012 and 2013 were not compulsory purchase notices and made clear Mr and Mrs P would need to apply to have their property purchased.  The DfT said their guidance made clear there was no guarantee HS2 would compulsorily purchase their property and professional advice should be sought.
    
    g)	Mr and Mrs P were supported by agents throughout. DfT considered it was clear to Mr and Mrs P from their appearance before the Select Committee in January 2016 that CPO did not apply.
    
    Comments from the ICA
    
    63.	The ICA told us they thought the matter was straight forward and HS2’s response to Mr and Mrs P had covered everything in relation to HS2’s timeliness and customer service provision.  The ICA also said the complaint made to them was not the same as the complaint we have investigated. In particular, the ICA said they had not been provided with information about events prior to 2015 and the original complaint had not included agent 1’s ‘offensive’ email from March 2016.  The ICA told us their Terms of Reference (paragraph 67) gave them discretion to identify the main points which their reviews would address and this is what they did in this case. The ICA no longer held records about Mr and Mrs P’s case. However, they told us HS2 had not passed them Mrs P’s letter of 13 March 2017 (paragraph 58) – where Mrs P said she was particularly concerned about HS2’s letter to the House of Lord’s referring to their agent’s email as ‘careless’ (paragraph 52). The ICA said their review was based on what Mr and Mrs P said to HS2 in correspondence and HS2’s responses to them at stage 1 and stage 2 of the complaints process.
    
    Comments from Mr and Mrs P
    
    64.	Mr and Mrs P said:
    a)	HS2 told them their property did not meet ATSC and the DfT’s barrister told them their property was being purchased as if by CPO.  Mr and Mrs P said when they appeared before the Select Committee there was no reference to their property acquisition being a discretionary purchase or ATSC.  Mr and Mrs P said the paperwork sent to them, such as Heads of Terms, said the acquisition was as if by compulsory purchase with no mention of ATSC or that it was discretionary.
    
    b)	DfT failed to work within the spirit of the guidance for ATSC (paragraph 67) and the Compensation Code, and their actions had caused, delay, confusion and unfair treatment.
    
    c)	HS2’s Barrister had spoken to them directly on 20 January 2016 and said no punitive terms would be applied – no deduction of six months’ rent – and they should revert to the Barrister if there were any more problems. Mr and Mrs P considered the DfT Barrister’s failure to respond to their query about what had been said (paragraph 32) demonstrated on the balance of probability that their version of events was more accurate than the DfT Barrister’s (paragraph 65).
    
    d)	they did not know if HS2 included a six-month rent deduction in the valuation. Mr and Mrs P said they were not surprised to see it in the Commercial Panel minutes when they received the documents under Freedom of Information in 2017. However, they were surprised to see HS2 valued the property at £3.263,500 when HS2 told them they could not offer more than £3.25 million.  Mr and Mrs P said HS2’s calculation of 6 months’ rental income was also too high, £13,500 rather than £9,475 (paragraph 43).  Mr and Mrs P said they would not have asked for Alternative Dispute Resolution or appealed HS2’s decision because they needed to proceed with the purchase of their new house at pace. However, if HS2 and the Department had not misled them about the six month rent deduction, they consider it would not have taken up so much time to deal with or caused so much stress and anxiety.  
    
    e)	if agent 1 had not misled them about the valuation in January 2016, the final valuation would have been agreed much earlier.  
    
    f)	they thought they would be treated fairly and properly. However:
    
    ‘our expectations were crushed and their whole approach was to completely mismanage the situation with contradictory and confusing communication – general and specific. We came up against a brick wall where clarity, common sense and being treated fairly (in comparison to other locally affected properties) all took a back seat.’
    
    g)	the Select Committee set a six and half week deadline for Heads of Terms but they were not resolved until May 2016, seven months later. Exchange of contracts took nine months and completion was ten and half months. From the point Mr and Mrs P approached HS2 for early negotiations, in September 2014, it was 23 months. Mr and Mrs P said they wanted an explanation for the delays and confusion they endured. Mr and Mrs P noted agent 1’s email of 7 January 2016 (paragraph 29) and said:
    
    ‘whether HS2 intended it or not, it does come across as aggressive/threatening and arrogant.  In the end we did give in (like many others), on 29th April 2016 - faced with the stark choice of continuing to fight or surrendering just to be able to secure a new home.’
    
    h)	HS2 did not complete payment of their compensation until August 2017 and they paid their solicitor, agent and other fees out of their savings. They said while they were not prevented from progressing their renovation works, HS2’s delay ate into their reserves and that money could have been earning interest.
    
    i)	all their dealings with HS2 were frustrating. Mr and Mrs P said they both felt distrust and upset as result of HS2’s actions about their property acquisition and compensation claim which caused them sleepless nights.  Mr and Mrs P said the distrust had arisen from the outset and had never gone away. Mrs P said they felt like they were being bullied and lied to. She said she did not believe what HS2 were telling her which is why she recorded telephone calls with them – to check afterwards what HS2 had agreed to.  Mr and Mrs P said HS2’s handling of their case caused them great upset. Mrs P said her dealings with HS2 made her feel depressed and she obtained a prescription for medication from her GP around 2015.  Mr and Mrs P said they opted for full and final settlement in March 2017 because HS2’s offer of an advance payment was only 50% of their own figures. Therefore, they decided to continue to negotiate and opt for full and final settlement once the agents agreed on sums.  Mr and Mrs P said their attempts to prompt action from HS2 through the complaints process did not seem to be working and they were tired of dealing with HS2. They said they did not accept the option of completing the acquisition later and chose to rent back their property (at cost to themselves) from HS2 even though, at that time, they had not secured a replacement home (paragraph 49). Mr and Mrs P said they chose this option because they did not trust HS2. Mrs P told us she continued to feel emotional when talking about matters with HS2 even to present day.
    
    j)	they did not recall ever speaking to HS2 following the ICA’s report in June 2017.  In particular, they did not recall telling HS2 the ICA’s recommendation of £250 was derisory or that they did not want it.  Mrs P said her first recollection of speaking to HS2 specifically about the £250 was in October 2017 when HS2 rang following her complaint about the payment not being made.
    
    k)	the ICA failed to address their concerns about:
    
    •	the time taken for HS2 to complete payment of agent and professional fees
    •	HS2’s letter to the House of Lords which undermined their previous apology about agent 1’s email of 4 March 2016. Mr and Mrs P said they had asked HS2 for guidance about how to escalate their concerns to the ICA which informed their letter of 13 March 2017.  They said if the ICA had not seen their letter of 13 March 2017, asking the ICA to specifically look at this issue, the ICA should have asked HS2 for access to it.
    •	Mr and Mrs P said the ICA also wrongly said agent 1 was immediately replaced following the email in March 2016. Mr and Mrs P said another member of staff for agent 1 completed work on the valuation of their property and agent 2 was appointed in May 2016.
    •	events prior to October 2015. In particular, HS2’s handling of their case from September 2014 onwards. Mr and Mrs P said the ICA did not confer with them about this.
    •	HS2 failing to meet their complaint deadline by three days in January 2017.
    
    Comments from the DfT’s Barrister
    
    65.	The DfT’s Barrister said
    •	they had no recollection of telling Mr and Mrs P DfT would not apply the six-month rent deduction.  
    •	the Select Committee minutes showed the Committee told Mr and Mrs P to negotiate with HS2 about the matter.  
    •	it was ‘inconceivable’ they would have given Mr and Mrs P such an undertaking unless they had been instructed to do so by HS2/the Department and they would have remembered if that had happened.  
    
  • 66.	We have obtained evidence about the events from Mr and Mrs P, the Department, HS2 and the ICA.  We have considered correspondence, documents, decisions and submissions from all parties, and have spoken with all parties. 
    
    67.	We use related or relevant law, policy, guidance and standards to inform our thinking.  This allows us to consider what should have happened.  In this case we have referred to the following standards:
    •	The Compensation Code – a collective term for principles relating to compensation for compulsory acquisition of land and property. They are derived from Acts of Parliament and case law spanning hundreds of years
    •	The Government’s ‘Compulsory Purchase and Compensation – Compensation to Residential Owners and Occupiers’ – 2010 
    
    •	The Department's Property Compensation Decision from April 2014
    ‘We intend to avoid unfairly disadvantaging certain individuals and to ensure that all those who take advantage of discretionary measures for HS2 are given the assistance or support they need.
    HS2 Ltd will therefore work directly with property owners of atypical properties or those who are experiencing special circumstances in order to consider how their needs can best be met while protecting the interests of the taxpayer.
    Though it has been suggested that this approach may not offer sufficient flexibility, we would like to reassure individuals facing such circumstances that we are committed to providing fair and appropriate access to compensation and all necessary support to those directly affected by HS2.  Our approach to atypical properties and special circumstances fully reflects that commitment.’
    
    •	HS2 Phase One: Statutory Blight and Express Purchase 2014 
    HS2 said that if someone’s property was within the safeguarded area but they did not qualify for the Blight Notice procedure and they wished to enter negotiations for a sale and compensation package, then they should contact HS2 who would consider each case on its merits.
    
    •	The Ombudsman’s Principles of Good Administration
    
    •	HS2's Complaints Procedure (2017) 
    
    •	ICAs Terms of Reference 
    
  • Complaints a and b: DfT mismanaged Mr and Mrs P’s expectations about the approach to the acquisition of their property. HS2 and DfT gave them inconsistent and contradictory information about ATSC, the purchase of their property ‘as if by CPO’. Mr and Mrs P said HS2 gave inconsistent information about the application of a six-month rent deduction to the price of their property.	
    
    68.	Mr and Mrs P considered as their property fell into the safeguarded area of the high speed railway the DfT and HS2’s letters in 2012 and 2013 had committed to negotiating with them about the purchase of their property. Mr and Mrs P considered HS2 and DfT mismanaged their expectations from 2014 onwards because HS2 and DfT failed to negotiate, did not provide clear and timely information about policies, processes and decisions which applied to their case.  We would expect the DfT and HS2:
    •	to follow the commitments in the DfT’s decision document from April 2014 (paragraph 67) – to support property owners affected by the proposed railway and work with them regarding the acquisition process.  
    •	To follow the commitment in HS2’s Express Purchase process from 2014 which said HS2 would consider cases on their merits, when they did not fall within the statutory scheme (Express Purchase).
    •	to take account of the Ombudsman’s Principles (paragraph 67) – to be customer focused and open and accountable. We expect public bodies to deal with people helpfully, promptly and sensitively, bearing in mind their individual circumstances.  We also consider public bodies should be clear about policies and procedures so that information, and any advice provided is clear accurate and complete. It is not unreasonable in itself for public bodies to act outside of usual processes if they have reasons for doing so. However, we would expect public bodies to be open and accountable in establishing and communicating a clear process for service users.
    
    Mismanagement of expectations
    
    69.	Following DfT and HS2’s letters in 2012 and 2013, Mr and Mrs P were clearly under the impression HS2 and the DfT would negotiate and work with them directly towards acquisition of their property. HS2 did provide Mr and Mrs P with support following Mr and Mrs P’s petition in May 2014. From September 2014, HS2 engaged with Mr and Mrs P about the purchase of their property (paragraph 17). HS2 told Mr and Mrs P they would need to submit a blight notice for HS2 to acquire their home, then live in their tenanted property for six months before submitting a further blight notice for HS2 to acquire it. HS2 also paid for Mr and Mrs P to be represented by agents. This engagement is in keeping with the DfT’s commitments and our Principles in relation to timely engagement.  
    
    Consistency of information provided to Mr and Mrs P about ATSC and ‘as if by CPO’ prior to November 2015
    
    70.	While timely and generally supportive, the nature of HS2’s engagement with Mr and Mrs P prior to HS2 agreeing to purchase their property was not consistent or helpful. This reflected the DfT and HS2’s lack of clarity about their evolving policy approach to properties which met requirements for ATSC in 2014 and 2015.  The DfT and HS2’s initial uncertainty about the criteria for ATSC is not unreasonable. They were embarking on a brand new area of policy. Their approach to ATSC would inevitably evolve over time as they considered more applications (paragraph 62c).
    
    71.	However, HS2 were not open with Mr and Mrs P about this lack of certainty.  Specifically, in 2014 HS2 should have told Mr and Mrs P decisions on ATSC rested with DfT and the only way to get a definitive decision on whether ATSC was the appropriate route for them was to make an application and test it. Instead, HS2 repeatedly told Mr and Mrs P they should submit two separate blight notices and they did not qualify for ATSC (paragraphs 17, 21, 61b and 61c).  HS2 were not open and accountable, and this was maladministration.
    
    Consistency of information provided to Mr and Mrs P about ATSC and ‘as if by CPO’ after November 2015
    
    72.	We have also considered the consistency of HS2’s engagement with Mr and Mrs P after they agreed to purchase Mr and Mrs P’s property. In spring 2016, Mrs P told HS2 she was confused (paragraph 38) and wanted clarity about how their acquisition would proceed. This was because during their exchanges with Mr and Mrs P, DfT and HS2 referred to ATSC and ‘as if by compulsory purchase [CPO]’ interchangeably (paragraphs 23, 30 and 39). It was reasonable for Mr and Mrs P to seek clarity and prepare themselves for what to expect. 
    
    73.	DfT and HS2's initial responses were reasonable. The DfT and HS2 both told Mr and Mrs P ATSC and CPO were relevant considerations. They said they would purchase their property on a discretionary basis and on negotiated terms (paragraphs 39, 61h, 61i and 61k). HS2 also told Mr and Mrs P the Heads of Terms would clarify the process and terms (paragraph 39). These responses were clear and consistent in setting out how DfT and HS2 intended to resolve Mr and Mrs P’s lack of understanding about ATSC and ‘as if by CPO’. Rather than categorising Mr and Mrs P’s acquisition into a particular box of ATSC or ‘as if by CPO’, HS2 were going to negotiate and set out unique terms going forward which took account of elements of both ATSC and CPO. We consider HS2’s plan to progress the case on this basis was reasonable. 
    
    Consistency of DfT and HS2’s communication of six months’ rent deduction
    
    74.	Mr and Mrs P told us they received inconsistent information about the six months’ rent deduction (paragraph 64c). By this they meant:
    a.	they considered DfT’s Barrister told them the six months’ rent deduction would not apply, but HS2 insisted it was included in the terms of their acquisition.
    b.	When they discovered HS2 applied the six months’ rent deduction, Mr and Mrs P thought HS2’s calculation of rent was too high. They said HS2 did not tell them about it at the time of their property purchase.
    
    75.	 We will consider each of the above points in turn. First, Mr and Mrs P said the DfT’s Barrister told them the deduction would not be applied in January 2016 (paragraph 32), while HS2 continued to negotiate with them about applying the six-months rent deduction to the terms of the purchase. In other words, Mr and Mrs P considered HS2 were not following through with the DfT Barrister’s assurance that no rent deduction would be applied.
    
    76.	The anomaly here is the Barrister saying HS2 would not apply the rent deduction. Otherwise, HS2 consistently told Mr and Mrs P they would apply the rent deduction. We will consider whether the Barrister did say anything different. Mrs P made clear and repeated recollections of their encounter with the DfT Barrister to HS2 in Spring 2016, so we do not doubt this is what they understood from the exchange. Mr and Mrs P also consider the DfT’s Barrister’s failure to comment on what was said in April 2016 (paragraph 32) means their version of events is more likely than the DfT Barrister’s (paragraph 65). From the internal correspondence in October 2015 (paragraph 23), the Barrister was seemingly sympathetic to Mr and Mrs P’s position. However, the Barrister was also clear in telling us they did not think they would have told Mr and Mrs P DfT would not apply the deduction in January 2016. They said this was because the Select Committee told Mr and Mrs P to liaise with HS2. The Barrister said in the absence of a clear instruction from the Department they would not have given Mr and Mrs P an undertaking not to apply the deduction (paragraph 65). We find both parties’ recollections and reasons persuasive.  In particular, we do not consider the DfT Barrister’s failure to comment in April 2016 means their account should be discounted. The DfT Barrister has never indicated Mr and Mrs P’s version is correct and has said the six month rent deduction was for Mr and Mrs P to negotiate with HS2. In light of the passage of time and in the absence of independent evidence we cannot say, on the balance of probability, which party’s account is more accurate. We are, therefore, unable to say HS2 were inconsistent in this respect.
    
    77.	Mr and Mrs P’s’ second concern was HS2 did not tell them HS2 had used what Mr and Mrs P believed to be an inaccurate figure for the six months’ rent deduction (paragraph 64d). Mr and Mrs P said it had not been agreed at the time of their property purchase. In particular, Mr and Mrs P were unsure if HS2 had applied the six months’ rent deduction and what that calculation would look like. We would expect HS2 to adhere to their promises to Mr and Mrs P. HS2 repeatedly told Mr and Mrs P they would provide them with clarity about the terms of their property acquisition. On three occasions HS2 said the terms of Mr and Mrs P’s unique acquisition would be negotiated and set out in the agreed Heads of Terms (paragraphs 39 and 40). 
    
    78.	Mr and Mrs P are correct in saying they did not know the six months’ rent deduction HS2 applied to their property price or the terms of it because HS2 did not tell them.  In early 2016 HS2 and Mr and Mrs P negotiated about the six months’ rent deduction but it was clearly a sticking point.  HS2 suggested a solution they thought might satisfy both Mr and Mrs P and DfT (paragraph 42), but Mr and Mrs P refused their offer. Mr and Mrs P told HS2 they did not want them to apply the deduction at all (paragraph 43). Mr and Mrs P’s only reference to the rent deduction was to suggest it should be a much lower figure than the one HS2 ultimately used (also paragraph 43). Either way, HS2 proceeded to submit a proposal which was different to anything agreed with Mr and Mrs P and was outside the process they set out for reaching agreement.
    
    79.	HS2 should have provided Mr and Mrs P with clarity about the terms of the purchase, as per their previous assurances. Either HS2 should have continued negotiating the six months’ rent deduction through agreed Heads of Terms or informed Mr and Mrs P they proposed a different process for reaching agreement to the deduction outside the Heads of Terms. 
    
    80.	Instead, HS2 proceeded separately to any agreement with Mr and Mrs P.  They agreed the six months’ rent deduction via the Commercial Panel (paragraph 46). Mr and Mrs P did not know HS2 had applied the six-month rent deduction until they received the Commercial Panel document via a freedom on Information request in 2017. By failing to tell Mr and Mrs P, about applying the six-month rent deduction, HS2 were not customer focused or open and accountable. It was maladministration.
    
    Complaint c: HS2’s agent led Mr and Mrs P to believe their valuation would be £900,000 higher.
    
    81.	We would expect HS2 and their agents to be customer focused and open and accountable (paragraph 67) when communicating with applicants regarding the value of their property.  We would expect HS2 and their agents to tell customers what they can expect, and ensure advice is clear, accurate and complete.
    
    82.	We have incomplete information about what might have been said and exchanged. Mr and Mrs P recall agent 1 telling them, on 20 January 2016, the valuation would be close to the £3.9 million recommended by their own agent and they could start searching for replacement properties with this budget in mind.  It would have been helpful if HS2 had responded to Mrs P’s concern about this when she raised it with them.  In addition, to have agent 1’s employee’s recollections to help establish matters, but HS2 could not obtain it (paragraph 61l). We accept with the passage of time and as the employee no longer works with agent 1 it is not proportionate to take further steps on this.  
    
    83.	That said, Mrs P was clear in a contemporaneous email of January 2016 to HS2 about her unhappiness with the disparity, as were her later accounts of what happened. We have no reason to question her version of events here. In the absence of contrary evidence, we are inclined to accept Mr and Mrs P’s account of what happened. On a matter sensitive to Mr and Mrs P, we consider HS2’s communication was not as careful as it should have been.  HS2 failed to consider how their comments could be interpreted. We consider HS2’s actions were not open and accountable, which is maladministration.
    
    Complaints d and e: The Department and HS2 led Mr and Mrs P to believe their property acquisition would be agreed in a speedy timescale. Mr and Mrs P consider HS2 and their agents did not efficiently progress their case. They said three HS2 case officers disappeared without explanation and HS2’s agents were not properly briefed about their case.
    
    84.	HS2 do not have service standards for property acquisitions as each property involves unique negotiations and circumstances.  However, we would expect HS2 to take account of our Principles (paragraph 67) to ensure they are customer focused, they should tell customers what they can expect and they deal with customers promptly and sensitively. We will consider if HS2 communicated with Mr and Mrs P about changes to staff members handling their case and if agents were appropriately informed about Mr and Mrs P case. If there were failures with HS2’s handling of these aspects, we will consider if it affected the timescale for Mr and Mrs P’s property acquisition. We will then consider how HS2 managed the speed of progress of Mr and Mrs P’s acquisition more generally.
    
    85.	Prior to April 2016 we have seen no evidence HS2 told Mr and Mrs P about changes to members of staff handling their case. For example, in December 2015 HS2’s property manager was supposed to be drafting Heads of Terms. They did not do so because they had left the organisation (paragraph 25), which led them to delegate the Heads of Terms to their legal team. We cannot see HS2 made it clear who was managing their case in early 2016. However, HS2 tried to give Mr and Mrs P confidence about the handling of their case by having it overseen by the Head of Acquisitions from April 2016 – they were a point of contact for Mr and Mrs P from that point onwards.
    
    86.	In addition, we have seen HS2 did not brief agent 2 about Mr and Mrs P’s case. HS2 appointed agent 2 in May 2016. However, by September 2016 agent 2 acknowledged they did not know the terms of Mr and Mrs P’s contract (paragraph 50). We would have expected HS2 to have taken steps to pass over the key details of Mr and Mrs P’s case to agent 2, including the terms of their contract, when agent 2 was appointed. 
    
    87.	 We have considered the time taken by HS2 to progress Mr and Mrs P’s case, including whether failings in communicating staff changes and briefing agents created delays. We recognise HS2 told the Select Committee a ‘binding agreement can be concluded in a speedy timescale’ (paragraph 24). Further, that changes in HS2 staff (paragraph 77) meant HS2 did not agree Heads of Terms before Christmas 2015 despite committing to do so. Instead, HS2’s solicitors shared the first draft in mid-December. We also note agent 2 did not begin working Mr and Mrs P’s compensation claim until September 2016 after being appointed three months earlier.
    
    88.	However, we do not consider HS2’s actions here had a significant impact on the time it took Mr and Mrs P’s property acquisition to progress.  This is because the two main issues which prolonged Mr and Mrs P’s property acquisition were the negotiations over valuation and the six months’ rent deduction. Differences of opinion on these between the parties took a number of months to resolve. For example, HS2 and Mr and Mrs P did not agree a valuation until 29 April 2016. In addition, Mr and Mrs P opted for a full and final payment of compensation, which could not be progressed until Mr and Mrs P had submitted all their items (Spring/Summer 2017). For these reasons, we do not consider HS2’s failings created a delay.
    
    89.	Turning to Mr and Mrs P’s general concern that it took HS2 a long time to progress the acquisition of their property, we can see they repeatedly raised this with HS2 during 2015 and 2016. HS2 told us Mr and Mrs P’s case was one of their quicker transactions (paragraphs 61j and 61m). We have no reason to question that. However, we consider HS2 could have prevented Mr and Mrs P’s concern about delay arising. 
    
    90.	Having made assurances to Mr and Mrs P about a speedy timescale before the Select Committee, HS2’s management of Mr and Mrs P’s expectations once the process had begun was reasonable.  Agent 1 communicated with Mr and Mrs P’s agent about the timescales in January 2016 (paragraph 29) explaining the negotiations would determine the timeframe for completion of the acquisition. It was reasonable for HS2 to expect Mr and Mrs P’s agent to pass on this information about factors influencing timescales to Mr and Mrs P. HS2’s process (paragraph 67) said the terms for property acquisitions should be conducted through agent to agent negotiations. When Mr and Mrs P raised concerns about the process which would be followed following the incident with agent 1’s email in March 2016, HS2 provided clarity about that. They set out what the process was.  In particular, they explained agreeing Heads of Terms would dictate the terms of the acquisition.  In March and April 2016 (paragraphs 39 and 40) HS2 said Mr and Mrs P’s property was being purchased on a discretionary basis, and the process would be set out in the Heads of Terms.  We have found previously (paragraph 73) that HS2’s explanation of the process was reasonable. We also note HS2 told Mr and Mrs P in April 2016 that there was difficulty agreeing Heads of Terms (paragraph 44). 
    
    91.	It would have been better if HS2 had reiterated that the negotiations were a significant factor in progressing the acquisition or if they had directed Mr and Mrs P to their own agent for further explanation as per the process of agent to agent negotiation (paragraph 66). Equally, we can see HS2 thought that was evident from their explanation of the process. It might have been helpful if HS2 had spelled out the significance of the negotiations on the timeframe, but we appreciate this may have been viewed as coercive behaviour (paragraph 64g).  HS2 also reasonably point out that they were paying for Mr and Mrs P’s agent fees, and the agent could have been expected to explain the impact of the negotiations to Mr and Mrs P in light of their agent’s email of 7 January 2016 and HS2’s explanation of the process being followed from March and April 2016.  On this basis, we consider HS2’s actions in communicating with Mr and Mrs P about the timeframe were reasonable. 
    
    Complaint f: Time HS2 took to finalise Mr and Mrs P’s compensation claims
    
    92.	Mr and Mrs P considered HS2 took too long to complete payment of their compensation claim. HS2 say their contract with Mr and Mrs P gave them 30 days to make payment (paragraph 62n) from the point parties agreed on the negotiated figure (26 May 2017).  HS2 acknowledged they had in fact taken 70 days to complete payment to Mr and Mrs P (4 August 2017).
    
    93.	We recognise each property acquisition is unique and requires compensation to be negotiated between agents. However, we would expect HS2 take account of our Principles (paragraph 67). Public bodies should be customer focused. They should do what they say they are going to do, deal with people promptly and within reasonable timescales. They should tell people when they will take longer than stated. We also expect public bodies to respond sensitively to individual circumstances.
    
    94.	There are no set rules and service standards as to whether HS2 should have paid Mr and Mrs P’s costs as they arose (advance payments) or in one payment at the end (full and final settlement). We accept:
    •	HS2 wanted to consider Mr and Mrs P’s compensation as part of one transaction (full and final settlement). It was a more efficient way of working for them.
    •	Mr and Mrs P’s contract with HS2 did not include a requirement for full and final settlement. It was possible for Mr and Mrs P to ask HS2 for an advance payment. 
    •	both parties could expect some negotiation on costs between agents. HS2 and their agents were required to consider whether costs had been reasonably incurred. 
    •	It could take HS2 and agent 2 some time to consider the claims as Mr and Mrs P’s acquisition was complex, having been made on a discretionary basis outside the usual statutory scheme. 
    •	the claims arose piecemeal over time because they included a number of elements relating to Mr and Mrs P’s new property purchases: Mrs P’s business; new rental properties, agent fees, solicitors fees, Mrs P’s time spent on HS2 matters, removal fees etc.
    
    95.	We have seen evidence agent 2 and Mr and Mrs P’s agent were negotiating costs up to Spring/Summer 2017. We also note Mr and Mrs P had the option to ask for independent adjudication (at HS2’s expense) of their compensation if they did not agree with HS2’s view on costs. They could also appeal HS2’s consideration of costs via Lands Chamber Tribunal. It was appropriate for Mr and Mrs P to follow these routes to challenge any concerns about compensation amounts.
    
    96.	As for the timescale for HS2 to make payment of compensation, HS2 considered Mr and Mrs P’s agent’s request for an advance payment of compensation on 27 January 2017, which Mr and Mrs P’s agent said would ease their financial burden. HS2 took steps to make an advance payment to Mr and Mrs P in March 2017 (paragraph 61s). However, Mr and Mrs P acknowledge that they chose a full and final settlement option for payment of compensation (paragraphs 7 and 64i). 
    
    97.	In light of the above, we consider the time HS2 took to negotiate payment of Mr and Mrs P’s compensation was reasonable. Further, we consider HS2 acted reasonably in acceding to Mr and Mrs P’s wish for a full and final settlement. In our view, this complaint likely arose as a result of the distrust Mr and Mrs P had of HS2 because of HS2’s failure to communicate aspects of the process and timescale Mr and Mrs P could have expected for their acquisition (paragraph 92). 
    
    98.	However, we note HS2 acknowledge their payment of agreed compensation to Mr and Mrs P was made 40 days late (4 August 2017 instead of 25 June 2017). Further, HS2 failed to provide prompt and accurate updates about when payment would be made (paragraph 60). HS2 did not do as they said they would do. They were not customer focused and we find maladministration to this extent.
    
    Complaint g: Timeliness and sincerity of HS2’s response to Mr and Mrs P’s complaint about agent 1’s ‘inappropriate’ email
    
    99.	Mr and Mrs P’s complained about agent 1’s email of 4 March 2016, which was inadvertently copied to Mrs P.  HS2 and agent 1 apologised, but Mr and Mrs P considered HS2’s submission to the Select Committee in December 2016, referring to agent 1’s email as ‘careless’ showed their apology was meaningless and insincere.
    
    100.	We would expect HS2 to take account of our Principles (paragraph 67) when providing Mr and Mrs P with a remedy to the email from agent 1. In particular, they should ‘put things right’ by providing an appropriate remedy. 
    
    101.	We recognise HS2, the Department and their agents either acknowledged or apologised immediately and directly for agent 1’s email to Mr and Mrs P (paragraphs 40, 41 and 43).  This is in keeping with our Principles. Therefore, we consider HS2’s initial response was timely.
    
    102.	However, Mr and Mrs P believed HS2’s comments to Parliament (paragraph 52) inferred the problem with agent 1’s email was not its content, but that agent 1 was caught by Mrs P having made the comments. However, we accept HS2’s comments to Parliament justified agent 1’s personal remarks about Mrs P by not accepting the content of the original email was wrong.  Therefore, we consider HS2 undermined the sincerity of their previous apologies and attempts to put things right. HS2 did not put things right. It was maladministration. 
    
    Complaint h: ICA’s weighting of the evidence from HS2. 
    
    103.	Mr and Mrs P complained the ICA placed more weight on HS2’s evidence than their own and failed to identify HS2 had not answered questions and missed deadlines to respond to Mr and Mrs P’s complaints.
    
    104.	We would expect the ICA to take account of their Terms of Reference, HS2’s complaints procedure (paragraph 67) and to take account of our Principles (paragraph 89). In particular, we expect public bodies to get it right – to take account of all relevant consideration, ignore irrelevant ones and balance the evidence appropriately.
    
    105.	The Terms of Reference (paragraph 67) show ICA review complaints, rather than investigate them, consider papers passed to them by HS2 and will decide the extent to which any part of the complaint should be reviewed, keeping in mind the public interest.  The Terms of Reference also say they will provide complainants with a contact telephone number. 
    
    106.	The ICA addressed the broad issues Mr and Mrs P raised, which was in accordance with their scope (paragraph 59). The ICA’s Terms of Reference give them discretion to do that (paragraph 67). In relation to Mr and Mrs P’s concerns about the ICA:
    •	While the ICA did not acknowledge Mr and Mrs P’s references to events in 2014, they considered and accepted HS2’s acknowledgment of a failing - that they needed to work with DfT on ATSC matters. 
    •	The ICA considered Mr and Mrs P’s compensation claim was complex and it was not proportionate to comment on it. The ICA also noted HS2’s request to Mr and Mrs P for an outstanding list of compensation items to consider. 
    •	While the ICA did not explicitly consider Mr and Mrs P’s comments about waiting for seven weeks for HS2’s second response, the ICA noted it would have taken a long time to complete. The ICA added they considered HS2’s complaint process was robust because of its candour and rigour.
    
    107.	In short, we find the ICA acted reasonably on these matters because their review was in accordance with their Terms of Reference. The ICA was not investigating Mr and Mrs P’s complaint – they were reviewing the main issues. In addressing the broad issues Mr and Mrs P raised, the ICA pointed to evidence in HS2’s responses to Mr and Mrs P’s complaint, considered HS2’s acknowledgement of mistakes and HS2’s proposal to resolve compensation matters. 
    
    108.	Mr and Mrs P also complained the ICA did not address their concern about HS2’s letter to the House of Lords in December 2016 (paragraph 52). We do not consider the ICA acted unreasonably because:
    •	We cannot determine if the ICA received Mr and Mrs P’s letter of 13 March 2017, identifying HS2’s letter to the House of Lords as a particular concern.  This is because the ICA’s Terms of Reference say they will consider papers passed to them by HS2, HS2’s referral did not refer to it (paragraph 58), HS2 do not have a record of what papers they sent the ICA (paragraph 61q), the ICA has no records of what they were sent by HS2 but did not recall receiving it (paragraph 63). As the ICA did not recall seeing Mr and Mrs P’s letter of 13 March 2017 and did not address the issue of HS2’s letter to the House of Lords specifically in their report, we accept on the balance of probability that it is likely the ICA did not have access to that letter.  
    •	Mr and Mrs P’s complaint letters to HS2 were not explicit that this was a point of particular concern. We recognise Mr and Mrs P’s letters referred to HS2’s letter to the House of Lords. However, Mr and Mrs P’s letter set out a chronology of issues over a long timescale in their letter.  They raised a number of serious issues over 12 pages of their letter to HS2 and this issue was not identified as a main issue in Mr and Mrs P’s sub-headings. The ICA’s report did address a number of Mr and Mrs P’s concerns, including HS2’s handling of the underlying issue – agent 1’s ‘inappropriate’ email to Mrs P which gave rise to HS2’s letter to the House of Lords.  In light of this, we do not consider the ICA could reasonably be expected to realise HS2’s letter to the House of Lords was a point of particular concern to Mr and Mrs P. 
    •	The ICA’s Terms of reference (paragraph 67) do not require them to contact complainants to discuss the complaint. They also give the ICA discretion to identify the main points for the review. 
    
    109.	Mr and Mrs P consider the ICA should have noticed if their letter requesting escalation to the ICA was not included in the bundle of papers from HS2 (paragraph 64). However, the ICA considered they had seen Mr and Mrs P’s letter of complaints to HS2 at stage 1 and stage 2 of the complaints process (paragraph 63).  The ICA’s Terms of reference (paragraph 67) do not require them to contact complainants to scope the complaint. They also give the ICA discretion to identify the main points for the review. For these reasons, we do not consider the ICA acted unreasonably.
    
    Complaint i: HS2 failed to pay Mr and Mrs P the £250 recommended by the ICA
    
    110.	Mr and Mrs P considered it was unfair of HS2 to suggest they had rejected the ICA’s recommendation of £250 consolatory payment.  Mrs P was unhappy with HS2’s inference that it was her fault they had not paid it.
    
    111.	We would expect HS2 to take account of our Principles. We would expect them to put things right by providing an appropriate remedy and to be open and accountable about how they decide on remedies. 
    
    112.	In this instance we have competing recollections of what happened and why. HS2 said they recalled speaking with Mrs P in June 2017 where she referred to the recommendation as ‘derisory’. They say they thought Mrs P was refusing the payment. However, we have seen no evidence they made a record of this conversation with Mr and Mrs P or sought definitive clarification Mr and Mrs P did not want the payment. Mrs P said she did not recall speaking to HS2 about the consolatory payment during June 2017. In the absence of a record or recollection of what occurred, we cannot establish what occurred.
    
    113.	Even if Mrs P had referred to the ICA’s recommendation of a consolatory payment as ‘derisory’, it is not the same as non-acceptance of the award. Regardless of which version of events is correct, we do not consider it was reasonable for HS2 to assume Mrs P was rejecting the payment and take no prompt action. Having received Mrs P’s comments in June 2017, they did not clarify the issue of payment until October 2017 (paragraph 61n and 64j). HS2 did not communicate openly with Mr and Mrs P. Whether offering the payment or explaining why they were not making the payment, HS2 should have, for example, confirmed this in writing in June 2017 to provide transparency. They have acknowledged this (paragraph 61n). By failing to take this step HS2 were not open and accountable. They acted maladministratively.
    
    Summary of maladministration
    
    114.	We found the following instances of maladministration:
    •	HS2 failed to communicate their approach to ATSC to Mr and Mrs P in 2014 and 2015
    •	HS2 failed to tell Mr and Mrs P about or agree with Mr and Mrs P the six month rent deduction
    •	HS2 failed to communicate effectively with Mr and Mrs P about the valuation of their property
    •	HS2 failed to communicate clearly with Mr and Mrs P about some changes to staff working on their case and did not fully brief agent 2 at the outset
    •	HS2 failed to meet agreed timescales for paying Mr and Mrs P’s compensation or provide appropriate updates when they could not.
    •	HS2 failed to provide a customer focused and genuine apology.
    •	HS2 did not appropriately communicate with Mr and Mrs P about payment of the ICA’s recommendation HS2 award a consolatory payment of £250.
    
    Injustice
    
    115.	We have considered what would have been different for Mr and Mrs P but for maladministration. How would events have played out if HS2 had acted as they should?
    
    116.	Mr and Mrs P were open from the outset that they found the compulsory purchase system distressing. Their petition to the Select Committee in May 2014 said so.  We recognise Mr and Mrs P were having to uproot from their family home through no choice of their own, rather than as per usual property transactions, choosing to move home. It was already a stressful and emotional situation. HS2 were not responsible for that, but we can consider whether HS2’s actions mitigated or exacerbated the distress Mr and Mrs P experienced.
    
    117.	We consider the events may well have played out the same if HS2 had acted appropriately throughout.  However, the acquisition process would likely have felt very different for Mr and Mrs P if they had received effective communication.  Mr and Mrs P would have had more trust in DfT and HS2 and the acquisition process would have been significantly less stressful.  In the absence of maladministration:
    •	Mr and Mrs P would likely have applied to HS2 to purchase their property on grounds of ATSC in Autumn 2014. We believe this was likely to have happened because Mr and Mrs P told HS2 in 2014 ATSC might be an appropriate way forward. However, we do not consider DfT would necessarily have approved such an application.  DfT initially declined Mr and Mrs P’s application in October 2015. HS2 were also clear there was a high bar for ATSC and their instructions on Mr and Mrs P’s property only changed when Mr and Mrs P were due to appear before the Select Committee in November 2015. On the balance of probability, we consider DfT was likely to have refused to acquire both Mr and Mrs P’s buildings in one transaction until November 2015. We also consider this would have still created a frustrating situation for Mr and Mrs P. They were likely to have continued exploring ways for HS2 to acquire both their buildings in one transaction. Therefore, while the situation may have been slightly less confusing, Mr and Mrs P’s anxiety and uncertainty about whether HS2 would acquire their property was likely to have continued to a large extent until November 2015.
    •	Mr and Mrs P would have known about the six months’ rent deduction in April 2016 rather than August 2017. However, we do not consider Mr and Mrs P were likely to have challenged HS2’s decision in 2016. This is because Mr and Mrs P told us they would not have appealed HS2’s decision as they wanted to proceed quickly with the purchase of their new property.
    •	HS2 would have provided Mr and Mrs P with a clearer, more accurate steer in January 2016 about what their property valuation was likely to be. Mr and Mrs P would not have been under the misapprehension, for 11 days (20 January to 1 February 2016), that HS2 accepted their agent’s higher valuation.HS2 would have provided Mr and Mrs P with updates about when their final compensation payment would be made.  We do not consider it is likely HS2 would have met the thirty-day timeframe for payment, as the papers show they were waiting for approval from the DfT to make the payment. In the absence of approval from the DfT, we do not consider HS2 could have met the 30-day payment deadline. However, updates from HS2 could have helped Mr and Mrs P plan and would have maintained their confidence in HS2.
    •	HS2 would have provided Mr and Mrs P with appropriate updates about staff working on their case and the final payment date during June and July 2017.
    •	HS2 would have accepted full responsibility for agent 1’s email in their letter to the House of Lords in December 2016, rather than minimising the impact of the error. 
    •	HS2 would have taken steps to clarify whether Mr and Mrs P sought payment of the £250 consolatory payment awarded by the ICA.
    
    118.	Finalising compensation for Mr and Mrs P’s acquisition was invariably going to be complex and take time (paragraph 94). In addition, Mr and Mrs P said they did not incur financial penalties as a result of the time it took to finalise their claim. However, we accept HS2’s actions had an emotional impact on Mr and Mrs P.  We can see the above issues arose sporadically over a long time period - between September 2014 and August 2017.  The key issue which set the tone of Mr and Mrs P’s perception of HS2 was HS2’s failure to communicate with them about DfT’s approach to ATSC between September 2014 and November 2015. We recognise that while this had little impact on the timeframe for Mr and Mrs P’s acquisition, it made Mr and Mrs P feel distrustful towards HS2.
    
    119.	When further instances of maladministration arose during 2016 and 2017 – bullet points two to six above – HS2 perpetuated Mr and Mrs P’s distrust and gave rise to Mr and Mrs P’s feelings of anxiety and frustration with HS2.  Mr and Mrs P told us they did all they could to get HS2 out of their lives and to ensure they could meet the quick timeframe sought by the vendors of their new property. An already stressful situation, where Mr and Mrs P were having to contend with moving from their long-term family home and reworking their future financial plans, became more stressful for them.  Mr and Mrs P told us they had sleepless nights because of HS2’s actions and it caused them a great deal of upset.  Mrs P told us she felt depressed and was prescribed medication at the time of the events.
    
    120.	We accept at the time the incidents of maladministration were happening, Mr and Mrs P would likely have felt distressed and anxious.  Mr and Mrs P told us they felt they could not trust HS2 after their initial difficulties around applying for ATSC in 2014 and 2015.  We recognise, of course, HS2’s maladministrative actions would have caused residual feelings of distrust for Mr and Mrs P even when HS2 acted reasonably.  While we understand Mr and Mrs P felt distrustful, we cannot hold HS2 responsible for Mr and Mrs P’s feelings when we have found, also, that a number of their actions were reasonable.  There were significant gaps between the incidents of maladministration we found. For example, after Mr and Mrs P’s difficulties in obtaining HS2’s position on ATSC (up to November 2015) we cannot point to HS2’s actions affecting Mr and Mrs P between 1 February 2016 and December 2016 (when HS2 provided their initial valuation figure and when HS2 wrote their letter to the House of Lords). This is because the issue of the six months’ rent deduction did not come to Mr and Mrs P’s attention until August 2017 (even though HS2’s maladministration happened in April and May 2016). There was then another six-month break between December 2016 (HS2’s letter to the House of Lords) and HS2 failing to update Mr and Mrs P about compensation payments in June 2017.  Three months later, Mr and Mrs P realised there was a further issue with HS2 paying the consolatory payment, which would have added to their frustration. 
    
    121.	We recognise the difficulty of separating out, also, the impact of HS2’s maladministration for which HS2 are accountable against the distress caused by having your property acquired, which HS2 were not responsible for, as part of a compulsory infrastructure program.  In the particular circumstances of this case, we consider the impact of HS2’s maladministration was likely to have caused Mr and Mrs P distress, frustration and anxiety intermittently over a three-year period, but was unlikely to be continuous. For example, HS2’s handling of Mr and Mrs P’s expectations on the likely valuation of their property lasted 11 days. That said, we recognise repeated problems with HS2 would have had a cumulative impact on Mr and Mrs P. There would have been residual distrust and upset caused by previous maladministration. HS2 did not win back Mr and Mrs P’s trust after 2014-15 after the problems with ATSC occurred.  We recognise these issues likely affected Mr and Mrs P’s view of the entire moving process. These are injustices to them.
    
    122.	   Mr and Mrs P told us HS2’s maladministration and the distrust this generated meant they decided not to accept HS2’s offer to delay completion of their property acquisition. Even though that meant they had to pay HS2 rent because they had not secured their replacement property (paragraphs 7 and 64i). While we recognise Mr and Mrs P will consider the culmination of maladministration led them to make this decision, we have not seen a direct link between the maladministration and injustice claimed. Mr and Mrs P accept HS2 offered to delay completion and we are mindful HS2 were paying Mr and Mrs P’s professional agent fees to ensure they received professional advice. We do not consider there is evidence Mr and Mrs P were forced by coercion or circumstance by HS2 to have an earlier completion date. Mr and Mrs P were professionally represented and could take steps to protect their interests.  For these reasons, we do not consider there is sufficient evidence to show HS2’s actions resulted in the injustice claimed on this aspect of the complaint.  
    
  • 123.	In considering our recommendations, we have referred to our Principles for Remedy. These state that where poor service or maladministration has led to injustice or hardship, the organisation responsible should take steps to put things right. 
    
    124.	Our principles state that public organisations should ‘put things right’ and, if possible, return the person affected to the position they would have been in if the poor service had not occurred. If that is not possible, they should compensate them appropriately. In accordance with our Guidance on Financial Remedy, we consider the injustice suffered by Mr and Mrs P meets the middle of category three. The failings we identified had an intense impact on Mr and Mrs P’s life for around nine months and included two more isolated instances over the following 12 months. We consider these caused Mr and Mrs P distress and inconvenience.
    
    125.	We have agreed with HS2 that within six weeks:
    a)	HS2 will apologise to Mr and Mrs P for the injustice (distress and inconvenience) their actions caused Mr and Mrs P and
    b)	HS2 will offer Mr and Mrs P £600 compensation for the impact their actions have caused Mr and Mrs P.
    
    126.	We have made no further recommendations because HS2 have taken steps to improve their communication with residents through their Community Engagement Strategy issued in September 2017.