In this article, we’ll be looking at recent moves to improve the complaints process for social housing tenants. We heard from Dr Yoric Irving-Clarke, Policy and Practice Officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing to get a better understanding.

The Legislation Driving Change

There has been a shakeup of the complaints process after the Grenfell Tower fire and subsequent inquiry.

It was revealed that tenants had made complaints about the very issues that would later go on to cause the tragic loss of life, things such as faulty fire doors and inaccessible fire exits.

The Hackitt Review has contributed plenty to the Social Housing Green Paper, which is attempting to improve the processes in place to deal with wider problems when it comes to complaints. These include:

  • Removal of the democratic filter (the system that requires tenants to go through a third party, such as an MP, local councilor, or tenant panel)
  • Procedures focused on outcomes rather than processes
  • Increased focus on meeting consumer standards
  • The Housing Ombudsman Service to enact on learnings from the review with a dedication to fairness, learning, openness, and excellence

Formulating the green paper highlighted several key issues in the complaints process.

Access

Many residents in social housing did not know where to lodge a complaint, or how to go about doing so.

There was also a lot of confusion surrounding how to access the ombudsman.

Process

A general lack of information and difficulty navigating the three-stage complaints process before being put in front of the ombudsman.

Consistency

Different landlords were handling complaints in different ways, creating further confusion.

Where some were outright rejecting complaints on seemingly arbitrary grounds, others were handing out compensation without due diligence.

Time

The duration of the complaints process was too long, leaving many tenants frustrated with their issues being dragged out over a number of months.

Accountability

Holding landlords to account was proving difficult. Many tenants found it difficult to see their complaints processes through to fruition.

The Housing Ombudsman Service’s Experience of Complaints

The Housing Ombudsman Service also experienced huge delays in landlords engaging with tenants and the process not working in a timely manner.

There was a recurring issue of landlords simply not accepting complaints made. If they were accepted, there were many cases where they were not being escalated appropriately.

If complaints were escalated, the ombudsman claimed that there would be long waits for evidence to be provided by landlords, or that the evidence wouldn’t be properly presented inhibiting the ombudsman from making a proper decision.

In response to this, the ombudsman produced the Complaint Handling Code, which all those involved with the complaints process must have a formulated action plan in place to deal with.

They have also launched large consultations with the sector, including residents, landlords, and many key organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Housing, Tpas, TAROE Trust, and others.

The Charter for Social Housing Residents

The recent government white paper; the Charter for Social Housing Residents [2], is focusing on giving tenants a voice and ensuring complaints are acted upon. Its key aims are:

  • Speeding up access through the removal of the democratic filter
  • The Housing Ombudsman Service has been redesigned and given expanded powers
  • Residents are to have consistency across landlords
  • Tenants are to be informed on how to raise a complaint
  • The Housing Ombudsman Service, the Building Safety Regulator and the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) are to cooperate (enforced by legislation)
  • Increasing accountability by publishing determined cases online

There is a large emphasis on raising awareness and increasing the amount of available information to tenants. Based on the recommendations of the white paper, the government are also going to carry out the following:

  • Launching an ‘Access to Information’ scheme that landlords must show tenants
  • Generally raising awareness of the ombudsman and the processes through online events
  • Better information for residents facing anti-social behaviour
  • Housing Ombudsman Service to produce thematic reports and address systemic issues pervasive in social housing

All of the proposed measures aim to improve the resident’s experience when raising complaints and ensure those complaints are dealt with in a timely manner.

The white paper also tackles more reflective measures such as:

  • Introducing tenant satisfaction surveys and measures
  • RSH strengthening consumer standards
  • RSH checking compliance through annual reviews and inspections
  • Risk-based inspections to be carried out by RSH
  • Inspecting larger landlords to carried out every 4 years
  • Reviewing the Decent Homes Standard

Some of the tenant satisfaction measures being brought in include:

  • Assessing the number of complaints relative to the size of the landlord
  • Analysing the percentage of complaints resolved within the agreed timescale
  • Surveying regularly to gauge tenant satisfaction with the landlord’s handling of the complaint handling

There is an emphasis on the respectful and helpful engagement of the landlord, with the surveys taking into account the number of complaints relating to fairness, the active listening of the landlord, and the general feeling about their engagement with tenants.

Changing the Culture of Complaints

The CIH wants to change the mindset surrounding complaints. Rather than being seen as negative, they want to encourage complaints to be viewed as an opportunity to build trust with tenants.

By responding to complaints professionally, fairly, and resolving them in a timely manner, relationships can be built between tenants and those involved in the process.

Becoming a trusted hub of information is the goal for the CIH. They’re investing in soft skill training and coaching for staff in order better equip their people to deal with people.

Post-Covid-19 there will be a need for social housing to keep up with the rapidly growing development and planning sectors which are booming in the private sphere.

By improving the complaints processes and ensuring fairness throughout the system, the livelihood of social housing tenants, and those dealing with the complaints, will be improved.


[1] Irving-Clarke, Dr Yoric. Policy and Practice Officer, Chartered Institute of Housing. Handling Complaints Promptly and Fairly in Social Housing.

[2]gov.uk. 2021. The charter for social housing

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There has been a shakeup of the complaints process after the Grenfell Tower fire. In this article we’ll be looking at recent moves to improve the complaints process for social housing tenants.

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