Our meeting with the Housing Ombudsman

A few weeks ago we met with Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, to discuss the recommendations in our ‘Dereliction of Duty’ report. The Ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints about housing associations (HAs) and other registered social landlords, and can make recommendations, but unfortunately he does not have the power to enforce these recommendations.

If the Ombudsman finds maladministration, he will award ‘remedies’ rather than ‘penalties’. On cladding cases, remedies fall far short of the experiences of residents. We explained that this dissuades residents from raising issues with the Ombudsman, in addition to the fact that they can see that orders are not being upheld by their HA.

We said that leaseholders need better protection from the Ombudsman. There are a number of barriers to accessing the Ombudsman scheme, not least because many HAs fail to process complaints about cladding, preventing leaseholders from lodging a complaint with the Ombudsman. In addition, those who do manage to make a complaint find that is a very slow and time-consuming process.

  • The Ombudsman told us he is currently recruiting more adjudicators to speed up the complaints process.

HAs are supposed to manage complaints in accordance with the Complaint Handling Code. This sets deadlines that HAs must adhere to.

Overall, the Ombudsman says he is now seeing fewer complaints relating to cladding. We explained that this may not be a true reflection of the scale of the problem as, unfortunately, HAs don’t close cladding-related complaints, so leaseholders cannot complain to the Ombudsman.

Where complaint deadlines are not being met by HAs, the Ombudsman encourages leaseholders to contact him as he can contact the HA to remind them of their obligations, and if there is no response, can also deem this as having exhausted the complaints process.

The Ombudsman set remedies which aren’t solely based on money; for example, he suggested that landlords should consider subletting/use of discretion, and so on. In 2021 the Ombudsman published a ‘Spotlight’ report on Dealing with cladding complaints: three key lessons for social landlords and is keen to do a follow-up, though this will partly depend on new casework. The Ombudsman told us he carried out engagement sessions with a number of HAs to discuss the report’s recommendations and findings.

We told the Ombudsman that access to information remains a very significant issue for all leaseholders, including shared owners, and in particular where the HA is not the freeholder. The Ombudsman recently published another ‘Spotlight’ report on Landlords’ engagement with private freeholders and managing agents, where many of these issues are documented.

The Ombudsman may do another ‘Spotlight’ report on service charges, which will be of interest to many. He also told us that everyone who applied to his resident panel was appointed for three years and confirmed that there are disabled residents on the panel.

We discussed the recommendations in our ‘Dereliction of Duty’ report, including what should be done to address poor communication, poor customer service and failure to share fire safety information – including HAs using excuses such as ‘legal privilege’ to refuse communication of EWS1s or fire risk assessments (FRA).

A representative from The Shift attended the meeting and explained how leaseholders’ human rights were being breached with the building safety crisis. The ‘right to adequate housing’ is the right to have housing that’s affordable, safe and habitable; it encompasses other human rights, such as the right to choose one’s residence or the right to family life. There has been deep concern for a long period of time about how HAs are treating their leaseholders and shared owners. The Ombudsman heard that many elements of the right to housing are not being met by HAs.

It is vital for people who have been affected by the building safety crisis, whose HAs are clearly letting them down and breaching their human rights, to be able to claim those rights. Other ombudspersons around the world have found ways to incorporate human rights thinking into their processes despite jurisdictional constraints. We hope the Ombudsman will do the same in the UK.

Take action:

  • Complain to the Ombudsman if your HA has not dealt with your complaint in a satisfactory manner. If your HA has failed to process your complaint, ask the Ombudsman to intervene.
  • Send a link to this blogpost to your MP and local councillors. Tell them that you want the Ombudsman scheme to provide better protection for HA leaseholders, including shared owners. Use this online tool to write to them.  
  • Write to us about your experience with the Ombudsman’s scheme.

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