The long awaited social housing white paper—The Charter for Social Housing Residents—(“the Charter”) was published yesterday (17 November 2020). This white paper sets out reforms under seven key chapters which all aim to improve services to tenants and give them a stronger voice. We summarise the third chapter, and what this means for landlords below.

Chapter 3: To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly

  •  Supporting improved complaint handling by landlords and hold them to account through stronger action by the Housing Ombudsman.
  • Keeping the Housing Ombudsman’s powers, and compliance with them, under review and consider ways to strengthen them, including the option of legislation to put the Complaint Handling Code on a statutory footing.
  • Running an awareness campaign so social housing residents know their rights, are confident in navigating their routes to complain, and are aware of how to escalate to get redress where needed.
  • Ensuring lessons are learned and maintain residents’ confidence in the Housing Ombudsman Service through the appointment by the Ombudsman of an independent reviewer by March 2021 to examine any complaints made about the service that the Housing Ombudsman provides.
  • Formalising and strengthening the relationship between the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman by introducing a statutory requirement for both bodies to co-operate with each other in undertaking their responsibilities in holding landlords to account.
  • Making the Housing Ombudsman a statutory consultee for any proposal concerning changes to the Regulator of Social Housing’s economic and consumer standards.
  • Making the Regulator of Social Housing a statutory consultee for any changes to the Housing Ombudsman Scheme.

It is clear from these measures that a greater collaboration between the RSH and the Housing Ombudsman will be formed, with the introduction of statutory requirements and legislation. These measures also highlight a more ‘proactive’ approach in informing tenants how to complain.

Many landlords have robust and transparent complaint handling processes in place already, and these have often been devised with tenant representatives and/or tenant panels. These landlords may not see much change as a result of the new introductions.

However, to ensure that complaints handling is taken as seriously as it should be, the Housing Ombudsman has published a new Complaint Handling Code. This promotes consistency across landlords’ complaints procedures and learning from complaints to drive service improvements.

The new Code sets out what residents can expect from their landlord when they complain, how to make a complaint and how to progress it through the landlord’s complaints procedure. The Code emphasises the importance of resident involvement in complaint handling through the formation of resident panels. Landlords have been asked to self-assess against the Code by 31 December 2020 and publish the results.

Non-compliance with the Code could result in the Housing Ombudsman issuing complaint handling failure orders which will outline the details of any failure, be notified to the landlord’s governance body, the responsible person or the Regulator of Social Housing and be published on the Ombudsman’s website. The Housing Ombudsman has published guidance on these new orders that will be implemented from 1 January 2021.

There is clearly a role for the designated ‘responsible person’ to ensure that the landlord’s complaints process is efficient and swift at dealing with complaints. New powers will enable the Housing Ombudsmen to investigate possible systemic failures, report these issues to the landlord’s board and the regulator. This could lead to possible breaches of the consumer standards.

Other highlights from the white paper

We’ve taken a look at the various proposals under the seven chapters, and have highlighted some particular areas of interest for landlords, which are available below:

Register for our upcoming webinar

We wait with interest for the new consumer standards, but in the meantime we will be holding a webinar to discuss the white paper and what it means for registered providers on 1 December 2020Learn more and register here.