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Complaints about repairs still biggest category of complaint as Housing Ombudsman publishes insight report on data

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The Housing Ombudsman has published the first in a new series of reports aimed at providing insight into its complaints data and individual complaints.

The first issue of the Insight report showed that in the first six months of 2019-20 complaints about repairs continued to be the biggest category of complaint, accounting for 29% of the 4,724 complaints received.

The next two largest categories were tenants’ behaviour (14%) and complaint handling (14%).

The outcomes of the Ombudsman's determinations from April to September 2019 were:

  • Maladministration: 28%
  • Partial maladministration: 10%
  • Early resolution: 1%
  • No maladministration: 33%
  • Reasonable redress: 16%
  • Withdrawn: 1%
  • Outside jurisdiction: 11%

The Insight report provides case studies of the real-life experiences of five residents. They ranged from one where the Ombudsman found no fault in the way a landlord responded to a complaint about damp and mould in a resident’s home to a group complaint from 29 residents in supported accommodation for the elderly with a finding of severe maladministration.

In the latter case, the Housing Ombudsman found that the landlord had removed a contractual service from a certain category of the residents without following an appropriate legal process. Daily support visits had been replaced by weekly visits, which in turn were withdrawn leaving residents with an alarm service.

It made a further finding of maladministration for all residents in the case as the landlord had failed to appropriately consult residents about changes to the service until 16 months after the change was implemented.

The report goes on to set out the key learning points from these cases, to support landlords with their complaint handling. These are:

  • Taking responsibility and keeping residents informed: “In a positive complaint handling culture we would expect the landlord to take responsibility for the complaint and for resolving the issue, ensuring clear communication with the resident during the process. In several of the case studies, residents have been unhappy about the level of communication and having to pursue their complaint. Residents want to know that their complaint is being taken seriously and this will help to stop unnecessary escalation of the complaint”
  • Understanding the legal relationship: “Landlords need to understand their legal relationship with the resident as illustrated in the group complaint from residents in supported accommodation….. The landlord had a contractual obligation through the tenancy agreements about specific levels of service. It failed to consult the residents about the change as it was obliged to do.”
  • Putting things right: “We know that sometimes things do go wrong. It is important to identify what went wrong and to take any action necessary to put it right. In some instances, this will involve financial compensation or a formal apology as shown in a some of the case studies.” The Ombudsman has published guidance for landlords on compensation policies as well as sharing its own internal policy and guidance on remedies.
  • Fulfilling policy commitments: “Landlords should ensure that staff are fully aware of relevant policies, how to apply them and when to use discretion.” In an anti-social behaviour case highlighted in the report the landlord failed to meet any of its policy commitments when responding to the resident and the information it provided on what constituted anti-social behaviour differed from its policy definition. No explanation was provided for this divergence from policy, the Ombudsman said. Guidance for landlords on what the Ombudsman would expect to see in an anti-social behaviour policy is available on its website.
  • Taking timely action: “Issues with delay in carrying out actions agreed with the resident feature in a number of the case studies. Ensuring that the actions are taken to resolve the dispute is a step to improving, repairing or rebuilding the landlord and resident relationship.”

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “We are committed to increasing our transparency and sharing more learning from the complaints we consider.

“This report is the start in providing more frequent data on our complaints as well as drawing on a selection of case studies that illustrate the range of our work and to share knowledge and insight that we believe will help landlords improve their complaint handling and housing services.

“It highlights good practice alongside identifying where things have gone wrong and our intervention to put things right. A good procedure and well-trained staff will achieve results, but for maximum impact a positive complaints culture is essential.”

Blakeway said the Ombudsman intends to produce the reports on a quarterly basis.

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