Four questions for the new Housing Ombudsman
Published by Phil Morgan on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 at 16:15 pm
The Housing Ombudsman is currently consulting on the new arrangements to be in place for April 2013 and the introduction of the Designated Person process.
Let me say that I don’t agree with this process. I do support local resolution of complaints, as far as possible, and this could have been well handled through robust regulation and good relationships between Ombudsman and Regulator. It is perverse that social housing tenants are the only group of people unable to access an Ombudsman directly and in the longer term this will prove hard to sustain. Rant over.
The consultation proposes informing involved Designated Persons of the outcome of their referral and Regulator or Boards or Scrutiny Panels where landlords refuse to comply with the Ombudsman’s findings.
This is way too gentle – surely Regulator, Boards and Scrutiny Panels should be informed of all outcomes. It for them to consider what action is appropriate but they can do so from a position of knowledge not ignorance.
The consultation also rightly raises the issue of time limits for handling of complaints but is unspecific about what these might be. If for some reason the new Ombudsman is shy about setting some time limits then are there any industry standards which landlords could refer to in resetting their complaints policies to comply with the Localism Act?
The proposals include only hearing cases where there is “significant adverse effects” on tenants. What about plain ordinary ‘adverse effects’? Or “slightly worse than plain ordinary but not quite significant adverse effects”? Will the effect be to reduce the number of referrals to a handful of really bad cases leaving the rest in fester in some Designated Person limbo?
Finally many landlords are wrapping their heads round the best way to handle the requirements of the Localism Act. Should they stay with three or reduce to two stages? What is the role of Tenant Panel – could this be the Scrutiny Panel? Should there be a preferred route? It is reassuring that the Ombudsman won’t arbitrate in the process but instead offer feedback. However some consideration with landlords and tenants by the Ombudsman before 1st April 2013 might avoid the need for such feedback in the future.
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