Ask the Expert – Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman

For the Housing Ombudsman’s podcast, Victoria Smith recently interviewed the Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, where they discussed the Housing Ombudsman’s latest Spotlight report into noise complaints. Following on from the podcast, Richard Blakeway responds to some questions on the report, and gives an insight into other key areas currently being examined.

Q. In October 2022, you published your most recent spotlight report on Noise Complaints, Time to be Heard. Can you tell us why you decided to write the report?

A. We decided to run the report after reflecting on the volume of cases coming through to us regarding the issue. In 2021/22, we had 181 noise cases with a maladministration rate of 43%. That rose to a maladministration rate of 62% on non-statutory noise complaints. From those cases we could see there was a problem for the sector here, and that the issues we saw were coming up time and time again.

Q. There are some practical and cost effective recommendations set out within the report. Can you give an overview of some of these recommendations and explain why you feel they are important?

A. We issued 32 recommendations as part of our report, ranging from handling a noise complaint to multi-agency working. One of the key recommendations is for landlords to have a proactive good neighbourhood management policy, distinct to the ASB policy, with a clear suite of options for maintaining good neighbourhood relationships. This ensures low level issues of neighbour friction are dealt with at the appropriate levels and not inappropriately handled as potential ASB.

Another key recommendation was for landlords to update their void standard. We found various issues in this area, including not removing carpets unless they are in a poor state of repair and fitting anti-vibration mats into the washing machine space as standard. These are all critical issues that we heard from residents in our call for evidence and were ‘quick wins’ for landlords who were experiencing these issues.

Q. The Decent Home Standard is mentioned within the report. Can you explain what issues you have found with the Standard and why you consider it should be reviewed to reflect modern living?

A. We believe the Decent Homes Standard should be revised to fully reflect the causes that can result in residents experiencing noise nuisance. Currently, the Standard only looks at external noise.

By focusing exclusively on external noise, and primarily noise from vehicles or factories, it does not reflect modern living for most residents. The noise standards have been updated as time has gone on and this internal noise amendment should be a natural progression for the Standard.

Q. Record keeping is addressed within the report. It is also the subject of your next spotlight report. Can you give some detail on trends you have found in relation to recording keeping and explain why good record keeping is so important?

A. Knowledge and Information Management is a trend we’re seeing across our entire casework and more often than not, it is causing significant frustration and distress for residents. Delays and repeated visits due to poor information is something that residents quite rightly find difficult to accept. In our noise report, we found that information sharing was poor, that databases were not being shared across different departments and that evidence was not accurate or robust enough to be helpful in the complaints process.

On top of this, previous noise reports were usually aligned to the person being reported, and not the property it concerned. We regularly saw noise nuisance being caused by the set of up that home rather than because of any unreasonable behaviour on the part of the neighbour, so we consider that noise reports ought to be aligned to both the person being reported and the address being reported.

Q. Finally, aside from noise complaints and recording keeping, what other key areas are you looking at for the year ahead?

A. Damp and mould will remain firmly on our agenda, especially after the huge increase in complaints we had around it following the inquest into Awaab Ishak’s death. We’re also focusing on attitudes and behaviours towards residents. We’ve grown increasingly concerned that landlords are not taking into account vulnerabilities of their residents (whether that be physical disability, learning difficulties, mental health) and in other cases are not treating residents with respect and listening to their individual concerns. An alarming number of our severe maladministration findings recently and upcoming concern one or more of these issues.

You can find the Housing Ombudsman’s podcast with Victoria Smith here. For more information, please contact Victoria Smith.

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