The role of a designated person
If a designated person considers that a complaint is justified, does the provider have to complete the actions that they suggest? Can a designated person ‘over rule’ the organisation’s policies and procedures?
What is the process for a designated person to escalate a complaint to the Ombudsman? How will the Ombudsman know whether they are OK to proceed?
Can complainants go to a designated person at any stage or do they have to exhaust the landlord’s complaints procedure first?
Do providers need to write the designated person into their complaints procedure? Or does it sit outside of their existing processes?
Can customers take their complaint to different designated people one after the other? Is there anything landlords can do to control this? How can landlords ensure that different designated people operate consistently? And that the same designated person operates consistently when dealing with different cases?
Will leaseholders, shared home owners and others be able to approach designated persons in the same way as tenants?
Q. What is the role/remit of the designated person? Is it to act as an advocate for complainants, to review and resolve individual complaints or to rubber stamp requests to go to the Ombudsman?
A. The general role of the designated person is to assist in resolving tenant complaints and issues locally. In doing so, they may also participate with the landlord in using the learning gathered from complaints to help improve services.
There could be a number of ways that they could carry out this role and it is probable that different approaches will suit different local circumstances. Their role is to provide fresh and independent insight on complaints, from a tenant, councillor or MP perspective – playing a critical friend role suggesting views and approaches that may not have been considered by landlord staff and others in handling the complaint. Where a designated person considers that they are unable to resolve a complaint locally and if a complainant wishes and authorises them to do so, they have the option to refer a complaint to the Ombudsman once the landlord complaints process has been exhausted.
Ensuring that designated persons produce beneficial outcomes for tenants requires a culture where landlords, tenants, councillors and MPs encourage and nurture independent views and constructive challenge and value these as an integral part of the landlord business.
Q. What are the actual powers that a designated person has?
A. Designated persons have the power of persuasion, negotiation and conciliation. They do not have formal “powers” other than the right to refer complaints to the Ombudsman once the landlord’s complaints procedure has been exhausted. Their role is to assist in resolving complaints locally, and they will need to use appropriate diplomatic and conciliatory methods to do this, seeking to achieve consensus between tenants and landlord.
Q. If a designated person considers that a complaint is justified, does the provider have to complete the actions that they suggest? Can a designated person ‘over rule’ the organisation’s policies and procedures?
A. A designated person does not have power over an organisation’s policies and procedures, although they may suggest ways they could be improved. A designated person would not be expected to make a formal judgement about the merits of a complaint, but if they do, their judgement would not be binding. They are not a tribunal, they don’t carry out the role of the Ombudsman and they are not an additional bureaucratic stage in a complaints procedure.
Their role is to facilitate resolution of tenant complaints, which may involve them providing advice to tenants; advocating on their behalf; discussing matters with the landlord; engaging with other designated persons; or carrying out other actions. It is envisaged that the role of the designated person will be bespoke and designed to achieve consensus between tenants and landlord.
Once a complaint has been referred to the Ombudsman by a designated person, they will handle it in the way they normally do – for example, they will check that it falls within their jurisdiction; that it has been authorised by the complainant and that the landlord’s complaints procedure has been exhausted.
A. As is the case now, complainants can approach MPs and councillors whenever they wish to, and tenants will be able to approach tenant panels in accordance with whatever arrangements tenants have agreed for their tenant panels. Tenant panels and councillors may already play a part in the landlord’s complaints procedures. Ways that tenant panels could choose to assist complainants are set out in Tenant panels: Options for accountability.
Designated persons only take up their formal role once the landlord’s complaints procedures have been exhausted although they may be the same people involved at an earlier stage.
A. Landlords should provide information to tenants on the role of the designated person and appropriate contact details should be provided. This information should also be included in complaints procedures. However, it is not anticipated that the designated person is an additional stage in a landlord complaints procedure as the role is intended to ensure that more complaints are resolved at the local level.
Q. Can customers take their complaint to different designated people one after the other? Is there anything landlords can do to control this? How can landlords ensure that different designated people operate consistently? And that the same designated person operates consistently when dealing with different cases?
A. As is the case now, tenants may take complaints to councillors, MPs and tenant panels as they see fit, and the same applies in their role as designated persons. It would be inappropriate for landlords to “control” who a complainant should approach.
However, in order for landlords to best respond to the same complaint being raised by multiple designated persons, they need to achieve consensus, particularly with their tenants, about designated persons, tenant panels and complaints handling. Where consensus has been achieved, it should mean that landlords can respond with minimum additional work to complaints referred by multiple designated persons (i.e. by referring to responses already given to other designated persons).
It is the designated person’s responsibility to ensure their effectiveness and consistency. The landlord can play a facilitatory role in helping tenant panels to achieve beneficial outcomes for tenants by ensuring they receive good quality training and support and through establishing a strong partnership relationship with them.
The establishment of designated persons is a new approach designed to help resolve problems locally. Developing successful and useful designated persons will require local imagination and vigour to come up with ways to make them effective. Advice is being prepared by the National Tenant Organisations to help designated persons work together effectively.
A. The general policy intention is that the people who are able to make complaints to the Ombudsman should be in a position to approach designated persons. Under the 1996 Housing Act, all housing activities of Ombudsman member landlords are included in their jurisdiction; anybody who receives a housing service can complain to the Ombudsman against the provider. This means that all forms of tenure are within the Ombudsman’s remit.
However, the Localism Act referred to designated persons only responding to tenants in social housing, which excludes leaseholders and market rented tenancies (but not shared home owners). This therefore means that leaseholders and market renting tenants are able to approach the Ombudsman directly regarding complaints when they have exhausted the landlord’s complaints procedure.
Notwithstanding this, designated persons are likely to choose to receive complaints from people in all tenures and in practice, it is probable that all complaints will be treated in the same way.