3 May

Call to replace confusing housing complaints system

There’s a need for change in the way housing complaints are dealt with as homeowners, tenants and landlords reveal their confusion over who deals with what when something goes wrong.

New research from the Ombudsman shows that more than half (55 percent) of those who took part in a response exercise said they had no idea where to go to complain about an issue with housing or property.

Ombudsman Services talked to more than 400 people who are homeowners, tenants, renters, landlords and those who work in the housing sector to deliver its report entitled Building Balance, Restoring Power.

Seven in 10 respondents (69 percent) said they found the housing sector complaints system confusing. Newbuild properties were the biggest issue with 56 percent of respondents unhappy with an issue and unsure how to resolve it. One case study focused on the issue of a leaseholding homeowner who spent more than two years fighting with the freeholder to fix a leaking roof.

Another case highlighted neighbours who face a bill of £500,000 each to make their newbuild homes safe.

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Strengthening consumer redress

The Ombudsman report is being submitted as part of a White Paper in response to the Government consultation on strengthen consumer redress in housing.

Its recommendations include:

  • Introducing a simple complaints regime, stronger regulation and easier access to help and advice for consumers
  • Creating a single ombudsman for housing
  • Introducing more consistent complaint-handling standards for companies working in the housing sector

The OS had withdrawn from dealing with housing complaints in August 2017, saying at the time that it “would no longer offer a broken solution to a broken market”. Its recent consultation that forms the majority of the Building Balance report was supported by charities, consumer groups and property professionals.

Putting householders first

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “Our Building Balance dialogue has given us a clear remit to call for change. The current system for redress in housing is ineffective, confusing and complicated, and clearly doesn’t provide the service that consumers need.

“The recommendations put forward in our report are underpinned by real insights, as well as the experience we have gathered during our 10 years of helping consumers with complaints in the housing sector.

“For example, the dialogue showed overwhelming support for the creation of a single ombudsman. 

“We know this model can work well – the scheme we operate in energy handles around 40,000 complaints every year, and with oversight of the whole sector, we’re able to identify issues and help companies improve their processes to reduce consumer detriment.

“Now it’s up to the Government to take our recommendations forward and put into place a new system; one that is fair, balanced and has the legal powers to put things right.”