An update on the Housing Ombudsman
By Siobhan McCoy, Senior Consultant
It’s been a busy news month for the Housing Ombudsman, as they have published their new Systemic Framework setting out how they will identify key disputes that impact on residents, and then immediately started to use their new powers by launching their first thematic investigation. They have also recruited 600 individuals to serve on their new resident panel, following significant interest, mirroring the move by regulators and others to put residents at the heart of how they do things.
The Ombudsman’s new approach on systemic issues will aim to identify:
- Failures in complaint handling, where further work could support earlier resolution of disputes.
- Service failures, where further investigation into underpinning policies, procedures or approach could prevent service failure reoccurrence.
- Reoccurring issues across several landlords where further investigation could promote greater understanding and sharing of best practice.
Where a possible systemic issue is identified, it may lead to further investigation and could result in a range of outcomes from recommendations for an individual landlord to publishing a thematic report on the learning identified that could be applied across the sector. The provision to conduct a systemic investigation beyond an individual complaint or landlord is part of their increased powers agreed in 2020 through the revised Housing Ombudsman Scheme. Other areas include the Complaint Handling Code and the ability to issue Complaint Handling Failure Orders where landlords do not comply with membership obligations, for example progressing complaints.
Their recently published business plan for 2021-22 sets out the next steps to grow and improve their service, building on changes introduced over the last year and set within the context of the Social Housing White Paper and their ongoing transformation programme.
The first thematic investigation is to be on damp and mould, a subject that will be all too familiar to most landlords as they will no doubt recognise it as a key cause of complaints from residents and also as a factor in many disrepair claims. We are rolling out our training on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, and details of upcoming courses can be found here, to give property inspectors and surveyors the skills and knowledge to be able to identify hazards such as damp and mould in properties and to understand the steps needed to address them. The training also includes information on the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act, as well as disrepair and other ways in which landlords may find themselves the subject of action in respect of property condition. We also provide a range of other services to assist landlords to look in detail at this area and to strengthen their approach to dealing with and defending disrepair claims.
The government has commenced their review of the Decent Homes Standard, and wish to gather views on this. They have published papers on criterion (a) and criterion (b) of the Standard, and are seeking views before the end of April. Further information can be found on our LinkedIn Social Housing Property Network page by clicking here.
The reform agenda continues to move forward and many landlords are now developing their thinking about how they will respond, and are working on practical implementation steps. A key recent publication has been the final report of the Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group (The Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group: Final Report – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)) which sets out recommendations about good practice when engaging with residents on fire and building safety issues.
We are working with a number of our clients to carry out gap analysis to help them understand what areas they need to focus on over the next 12-18 months in order to prepare for the introduction of the Building Safety Bill and changes to fire safety legislation.
During March the government published their response to the fire safety consultation that they launched in July 2020. In general, respondents were supportive of the need to strengthen the Fire Safety Order (FSO) and improve compliance, but there were mixed views on the maintenance of buildings under the FSO, the role of residents and in relation to charging for enforcement. Respondents were also supportive of many of the proposals to implement Grenfell Tower Phase 1 recommendations. However, a key area of debate continues to be around personal emergency evacuation plans, which has also been the cause for the BSIs withdrawal of PAS 79-2.
The debate on the Fire Safety Bill currently making its way through parliament continues, with the House of Commons voting down the recommendations that the House of Lords sent back which aimed to prevent building owners passing on the costs of remedying defects (especially cladding costs). The Bill will now return to the House of Lords unamended.
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Having worked within property services for over 20 years, delivering projects to property providers and landlords nationally, we have significant consulting experience. For more information on how we can help your organisation, or to have a chat about the new Housing Ombudsman updates, get in touch with our Head of Consultancy, Sarah Davies, by clicking here.