22 Nov 2022

Improving residents’ lives and landlords’ service through housing complaints

You may not know, but the Housing Ombudsman Service has actually got three key functions.

Yes, we independently assess individual disputes once a landlord’s complaint process has been exhausted – issuing recommendations and orders to rectify the situation as we deem appropriate. But we also provide independent support and guidance to both residents and landlords while a complaint is still being handled by the landlord (this includes issuing complaint handling failure orders if we feel that the landlord is not progressing a complaint appropriately). And, we also ensure that the sector as a whole learns from those individual complaints. That is where the work of my function, Insight and Development, happens. We take the huge body of complaints that we either provide guidance on, or make decisions on, and we analyse the data to explore themes and trends that apply to all of the sector. We also identify individual landlords that we have concerns about so that we can work with them to improve, both in service provision, but also in complaints handling.

One of our key products to achieve this are the Ombudsman’s Spotlight reports, which cover broad thematic themes in service provision that affect landlords across the sector. Hopefully, you’ll have read our recent one published in October 2022 covering noise nuisance and sadly, I suspect you are all now aware, if you weren’t before, of our damp and mould Spotlight report. Originally published in October 2021, the Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, spoke to this report at the inquest of Awaab Ishak, the little boy who tragically died because of prolonged exposure to mould in his home.

Sharing learning to improve standards

The primary purpose of our Spotlight reports is to share exactly what causes residents to complain and what can be done to ensure service provision meets the quality standard it should. To ensure our recommendations are effective as possible, we always consult with landlords and residents, but also with experts in the fields that we are exploring.

We also make wider recommendations where it is clear that the underpinning issues are not necessarily within an individual landlord’s gift to address. For example, both the noise and the damp and mould reports make recommendations for changes to the Decent Homes Standard, and we have been vocal that damp and mould needs to be put on the same legislative footing as gas safety and Legionella.

We also place a lot of importance on the involvement of governance in driving change in service provision. We do not place time limits on implementing our recommendations, as we recognise that it is more important that the right action is taken to address the issues which may take time. However, we do actively monitor how recommendations are being implemented, by which landlords and in which context, and we conduct follow-up work to measure impact. For damp and mould particularly, we are about to re-publish the report with further content about what landlords have done in response, but also what has not been acted upon and what more must be done.

Continuing to push for positive change

We are not complacent about pushing the learning from complaints. All of our Spotlight reports are supported by podcasts and a suite of webinars, either hosted directly by the Ombudsman (we gave a webinar to over 380 people on the noise report in November), or with partner organisations and representative bodies, like the Chartered Institute of Housing.

As well as sessions on the topics covered in our Spotlight reports, we also provide inputs on good complaints handling practices, our Complaint Handling Code, and how to embed a positive complaints culture. If you would like to attend a webinar on a particular topic, but do not see it advertised on our website, please drop us a line and we’ll add you to the waiting list. I look forward to speaking to you soon.

Useful tools – Housing Ombudsman

For CIH members, the Housing Ombudsman will be involved in the Tackling Damp and Mould session coming up on 13 December 2022, exploring the findings from their investigations and the recommendations they have for landlords. During the event, you’ll also get the opportunity to discover how technology can be harnessed by social landlords to help identify risk, and respond appropriately.

If you’re not a CIH member and would like to find out how to access this event, head to our membership pages to find out more.

Written by Rebecca Reed

Rebecca Reed is the head of insight and development at the Housing Ombudsman.