How the Housing Ombudsman scheme is changing

Richard Blakeway
Richard Blakeway

Richard Blakeway, 01 September 2020

Every day, the Housing Ombudsman makes around ten orders or recommendations to improve services or put something right for a resident so we have a wealth of knowledge and data to be shared more widely with the sector. Our latest Insight report shares knowledge and learning from a selection of cases we have determined.

There’s the example of a case we ruled as outside our jurisdiction because the resident used repeated racist and homophobic language, and a case we mediated where a landlord wrongly capped a vulnerable resident’s gas supply. These case studies, and many more, illustrate some of the challenges complaint handling can present as well as the power of approaches such as mediation.

We want to establish a positive complaint handling culture and capture learning to improve the experience of all residents. 

The revised Housing Ombudsman Scheme is effective from today, 1 September. It puts in place new powers enabling us to investigate further into issues, and help to raise awareness and improve accessibility to our service, speed up the resolution of complaints and support our plans to investigate systemic issues and share best practice.

We have new tools to achieve this, including a step-change in transparency with the publication of all our decisions from early next year and reports on complaint volumes and outcomes for every member landlord. The publication of individual cases and naming the landlord will help build greater transparency and encourage good practice, and is an important milestone. 

These revised powers are also changing our relationship with the Regulator of Social Housing, broadening the basis on which we can refer cases to them.

Another new power is our Complaint Handling Code for landlords. Published in July, it seeks to address the concerns raised by residents about their experience of the process together with the ambition expressed by many landlords to achieve excellence in complaint handling. The Code seeks to set common expectations across the sector, with the universal definition of a complaint, maximum complaint handling timescales, positive promotion of resident review, and encouraging boards to demonstrate learning through their Annual Report. 

From 1 January, following the landlord self-assessment against the Code, we will start issuing complaint handling failure orders. These orders are another key new power. We will be proportionate in the use of them and give landlords the opportunity to put things right. They will also give landlords themselves insight into where their policies or procedures are failing, and how often.

This brings me to the final new provision in the revised Scheme – our ability to conduct systemic investigations. Before the end of the year we will publish a framework for these investigations where we are seeing trends either within a landlord or across the sector from our unique perspective as an Ombudsman. 

The last few months have profoundly affected our lives and work. They have underscored the importance of the social housing sector. Under our revised Scheme, the Ombudsman will not only have stronger powers to provide redress for individual residents but also to promote learning and best practice across the sector.