Changes to the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code

It’s been a busy few months for the Housing Ombudsman, with several new publications and reports following on from the introduction of the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code (the Code) in July 2020.

Following a review one year after its introduction, provisions of the Code have been updated and strengthened – these changes came into force from 1 April 2022.

The Housing Ombudsman has provided an easy reference guide to show the changes that affect the core requirements of the Code with the main changes being:

  • Clarifying that where the Code refers to something landlords “must” do, this is a requirement as opposed to something that landlords “should” do, where discretion can be used.
  • Failure to self-assess against the Code annually could result in the Ombudsman issuing a Complaint Handling Failure Order (CHFO). The guidance on CHFOs has also been updated as of March 2022.
  • Use of the Ombudsman’s definition of a complaint is now mandatory.
  • There is clarity about the channels by which residents are able to submit a complaint and confirmation that landlords must provide more than one route to access the complaints system.
  • Provision of contact information for the Ombudsman and early advice about residents’ rights to access the Housing Ombudsman Service to residents is now mandatory.
  • There is increased clarity about the handling of a complaint once recorded, with landlords having five working days to acknowledge and log a complaint from the date of receipt.
  • A landlord must now give reasons for refusing to escalate a complaint.
  • Where the problem is a recurring issue, the landlord should consider any older reports as part of the background to the complaint if this will help to resolve the issue for the resident.
  • Complaint responses must be sent to the resident when the answer to the complaint is known and should not be delayed until outstanding actions are completed.
  • Landlords must justify their decisions to have a stage 3 in the complaints process within the self-assessment. More than three stages is unacceptable.

Landlords will have until 1 October 2022 to be compliant with the revised Code.

The Housing Ombudsman also published its first annual review of complaints on 9 March 2022 (the Review) in addition to its latest spotlight report on 22 March 2022 which examines landlords’ engagement with private freeholders and managing agents (click here for a quick summary of the findings). The Review draws insights from the annual landlord performance reports, CHFOs and annual surveys of resident panels and landlords. The Review identified the following strategic and operational issues:

  • Cultural challenges remain around resolving complaints, with some landlords refusing to accept the role of complaints as a learning tool.
  • A low level of trust that complaining would make a difference to the service provided with more needing to be done to raise awareness of complaints’ procedures.
  • The underpinning procedural aspects of service provision need to be kept under constant review to ensure that they remain fit for purpose (with uphold rates being particularly high for complaint handling and repairs). Responsive repairs is the highest category of complaint with data indicating that repairs services didn’t get things right in the first instance in over 66% of cases.
  • Inadequate record keeping is a common finding which impacts a landlord’s ability to deal with individual issues effectively and efficiently and can mean organisational oversight of complaint themes and trends will be limited and unreliable.
  • Missed or unproductive appointments to deal with reported issues.
  • Poor communication and lack of follow up leading to a failure to manage resident expectations.

In the year 2020/21, the Ombudsman investigated 2,185 complaints and made 3,872 findings and found full or partial maladministration in 49% of cases. Analysis of the results show that complaints handling and service delivery need to be improved. The Ombudsman issued 10 CHFOs in the final quarter of 2020-21 and they all related to failures to progress complaints through a landlord’s process.

In addition to its recent reports and updated policy documents, the Ombudsman has also published nearly 1,800 individual investigation reports to its online casebook with the ability to search cases and decisions by reference to landlord type, complaint category, outcome, tenure and order. It is intended to act as a valuable resource dedicated to promoting learning in the sector, increasing transparency and showing the range of issues that the Ombudsman can consider in dealing with complaints.

For more information, please contact Ellen Damlica.

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