Changes to the social housing complaints process are coming into effect, and the profile of The Housing Ombudsman is growing with increased coordination with The Regulator of Social Housing.
We invited Richard Blakeway, The Housing Ombudsman to address your concerns and respond to your questions about new requirements under the Social Housing White Paper. He joined us for an exclusive webinar presentation and Q&A about issues that matter most to you. We had a large volume of questions, and Richard kindly provided his responses to questions we couldn’t get to in the time allotted.
A complaint is a complaint
Q. I have worked in organisations in the past where the complaints department is called anything rather than Complaints, for example, “Feedback department”. Can you insist that every landlord calls it what it is?
Landlords do need to make it clear to residents who is responsible and the point of contact for complaint-handling. Landlords also need to have a clear point of contact and arrangements for liaising with The Ombudsman.
Q. We have a lot of non-housing services, and our annual report covers all of these as well. We also produce an Annual Report to Residents, which gives people the results of our annual satisfaction survey and highlights any changes we have made. Is it acceptable to publish the learning from complaints in the Annual Report to Residents, not the wider organisational one?
The Code requires a landlord to share its learning with residents, including a specific requirement to include any organisational learning in its Annual Report.
Involvement from tenants and residents
Q. I’ve presented changes to The Housing Ombudsman to our Resident Scrutiny Panel. How might a tenant try and get involved with The Ombudsman’s Tenant Panel that you are creating?
Details on joining The Housing Ombudsman residents’ panel can be found here.
Q. When we tell tenants that soon The Housing Ombudsman will be allowed to get involved with a complaint from day one, what could they expect The Housing Ombudsman to do when involved early?
Whilst a complaint is in the landlord’s complaints procedure, our role is to support effective landlord-tenant dispute resolution. This may involve informing landlords that a complaint has been made, clarifying the areas of complaint and the outcomes sought with both parties, managing expectations in relation to outcomes and timings, along with assisting progression through the complaint’s procedure.
Informal and withdrawn complaints
Q. When talking about reporting on numbers of complaints, can you provide clarity on whether you are seeking us to report on issues formally reviewed and handled at latter stages e.g., our stages 1 and 2 where longer investigation periods apply and written acknowledgement, update and closure communications are mandatory? Or whether we should continue to include all complaints, inc. those informally resolved (Stage 0)?
Q. When we report closed complaints closed within target – should we include complaints that have been rejected/withdrawn?
The Ombudsman encourages landlords to use complaints as a source of intelligence to identify issues and introduce positive changes in service delivery. This approach has been actively promoted by the service for many years and is strongly reinforced by the Code. Learning from complaints should include complaints that landlords try and resolve informally as well as those that are dealt with through the formal complaint procedure. It is for each individual landlord to find a system of learning from complaints which suits them best.
The democratic filter / designated person
Q. In the green paper, proposals call for changes “to speed up access to The Housing Ombudsman by removing the designated person”. Does this apply to all complaints?
The Housing Ombudsman has advocated for the removal of the democratic filter (Designated Person) as a mandatory part of the dispute resolution process. Its removal was proposed in the draft building safety bill. This can be found on our website.
As is stands, the democratic filter remains a requirement under the Localism Act (2011) and landlords are expected to continue to provide the correct advice and guidance to residents about how to navigate that part of the process, which should include the necessity to wait 8 weeks before contacting The Housing Ombudsman on completion of the internal complaints procedure. It should therefore be included in a landlord’s policy, provided that it should be removed as and when (and if) the democratic filter is ended.
Local Authorities and ALMOs
Q. The new code allows local authorities to retain existing timescales for responding to complaints if they are operating a single corporate policy. Would that also extend to ALMOs?
Landlords are expected to align their response times with the Code or explain why they do not align. The Ombudsman accepts that there may be circumstances which make adopting the time frames challenging for some landlords.
Q. Do you have any guidance you can provide in dealing with vexatious complainants?
We have published guidance and videos on managing unacceptable users. details can be found on our website:
Managing unacceptable behaviour policy
Videos on managing unacceptable behaviour
Q. Should an increase in complaints with landlords be seen as positive?
We recognise that an increase in complaints shows that there is a higher awareness and accessibility of a landlord’s complaints process. However, it can highlight issues that should be investigated and explored further by the landlord.
Need further guidance?
Our Definitive Guide to The Social Housing White Paper provides a summary of each white paper section, and the critical assessment questions you need to be asking now, to prepare for the future. Click to read the guide and for links to further white paper resources.