The Housing Ombudsman has launched a new project aimed at improving the accessibility of the complaints system, particularly for hard to reach groups.
The service is now open for applications for members of an expert group to provide specialist insight and expertise. The role is unpaid and appointments will be for one year. The group will meet four times during the year.
The Ombudsman said it was looking for volunteers to join the group who have knowledge and experience of accessibility and inclusion issues. “This includes experience of working with those who face barriers accessing services relevant to complaints and in improving accessibility to complaints services in social housing or other sectors. It will be a small group of around six members.”
The project will explore accessibility among potentially hard to reach groups, “for instance residents without internet access, low literacy or where English may not be their first language”, and help build awareness and confidence in the complaints process at all stages.
Continuation of this project will also be proposed as part of a major awareness raising programme in the Ombudsman’s next three-year corporate plan.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Although the overall volume of complaints is increasing, there is still a real risk that some residents, and potentially more vulnerable ones, continue to find the process inaccessible. The absence of complaints to a landlord or amongst a particular group may signal access issues, particularly where other indicators suggest there would be complaints.
“We also see cases where residents have used the courts or the media when they have an unresolved issue with their landlord rather than the complaint process, and cases failing to reach us where we could potentially do something to genuinely assist the resident with their situation. Raising awareness and widening access to the complaints process is therefore essential.
“I would encourage people, either within or outside the sector, with experience of working with groups who may struggle to access key services to apply to join our new expert group. It will help to identify good practice that we can share more widely.”
In addition, the Ombudsman will be reviewing its own complaints data to identify any groups who are underrepresented and will explore with the group how its Complaint Handling Code can be strengthened to improve accessibility to harder to reach residents.
The service said it would also undertake specific outreach activity around the country to improve awareness and access to the complaints process and its service.