Changes to the Housing Ombudsman Scheme came into effect this month, making it “easier for residents to access its service if they remain unhappy with their landlord’s final response on their complaint”.
The revised Scheme removes the ‘democratic filter’ following a change in the law. It means residents no longer have to contact a designated person or wait eight weeks before referring their complaint to the Ombudsman if they remain dissatisfied at the end of their landlord’s complaint process. Complaints within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction will go direct into its formal process for assessment.
Residents can still contact their MP, local councillor or tenant panel about a complaint, but the designated person role will not be part of its formal process.
Removing this barrier will “ensure that social housing residents are not disadvantaged and have direct access to an Ombudsman, as well as helping to speed up the overall complaints process”, the Ombudsman says.
The Scheme has been published to reflect the removal of the democratic filter as well as some updates based on the requirements set out in the Complaint Handling Code. These include ensuring that complaints procedures are in line with the Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code to improve access and awareness of procedures.
Other guidance from the Ombudsman has also been updated including on remedies with a new level of redress for severe maladministration and awards of compensation in the context of rents.
While some landlords offset any payment of compensation against a resident’s rent or service charge arrears, it is the Ombudsman’s position that compensation awarded by the service should be treated separately rather than offset against arrears.
The guidance also strengthens consideration of financial compensation relative to the amount of rent paid by the resident over the period covered by the complaint.
Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, said: “The removal of the democratic filter marks an important step in improving accessibility to our service for all social housing residents. It promotes a speedy route to redress and direct access to our service.
“In response to these changes we have also strengthened the scope of our remedies guidance to ensure landlords ‘put things right’ for their residents. This includes a new level of redress for severe maladministration findings and that we will consider compensation in relation to the amount of rent paid by the resident over the period covered by the complaint depending on the level of service failure.
“We have also added that compensation awards should be paid directly to the resident for the detriment caused and not towards any rent or service charge arrears. The compensation we award should be treated separately from any existing financial arrangements between the landlord and resident and should not be offset against arrears. This applies regardless of whether the landlord’s compensation policy allows it to do this.”
The following guidance documents have been updated:
- Guidance on jurisdiction – this includes the treatment of complaints where the pre-action protocol on housing conditions has commenced
- Guidance on investigations
- Guidance on outcomes
- Guidance on remedies– this includes a new level of redress for severe maladministration and compensation in the context of rents including awards by the Ombudsman where there may be arrears.