HCA Outlines Approach in Dealing with Consumer Complaints

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The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the social housing regulator has published its Consumer Regulation Review 2014/15, through which it outlines its experience of consumer regulation and its approach going forward in dealing with consumer complaints.

HCA’s Role

Registered providers have the principal role of dealing with complaints from tenants. If the matter remains unresolved, a tenant can contact a Designated Person as established under the Localism Act 2011. This can be their a MP, a local housing authority councillor or a designated tenants’ panel. A subsequent avenue for a tenant is also the Housing Ombudsman.

As the social housing regulator, the HCA’s role is to investigate cases only where it has reasonable grounds to suspect that there may be actual or potential serious detriment to tenants as a result of failure to meet one or more of the consumer standards. In line with the co-regulatory approach, the HCA is required to exercise its functions in a way that minimises interference and is proportionate.

Consumer Standards

The consumer standards are set out in the regulatory framework and focus on:

  • Tenant involvement and empowerment;
  • Home;
  • Tenancy; and
  • Neighbourhood and community.

Key Findings

During the reporting period of 2014/15, the HCA received a total of 589 consumer referrals and of these 238 were judged to have sufficient potential for a finding of breach/serious detriment, which the Consumer Rights Panel considered. There was an increase of 16% in referrals relating to consumer standards during the reporting period.

In recent years, the majority of complaints that the HCA dealt with related to a failure to meet statutory obligations with regard to gas servicing.

During the reporting period of 2014/15 the HCA published 6 findings of serious detriment and in each case the registered provider had breached the home standard. In addition there were also cases relating to a failure to meet statutory obligations with regard to gas servicing, as well as serious detriment as a result of a structural failure of a building and a widespread persistent failure of an emergency repairs service.

HCA’s Approach

The HCA has emphasised that it exercises its duty in accordance with the legislation and the co-regulatory approach.

Complaints dealt by the HCA go through a three part process of:

  • Initial review to determine if complaint falls within the remit of the HCA;
  • Detailed consideration by the Consumer Regulation Panel to determine if there is a serious breach which has caused or could cause harm; and
  • A detailed investigation.

According to the HCA, failure to meet a consumer standard may arise from an individual event but it is a judgement of failure at corporate level. The social regulator also says that it can use its powers where it judges that a standard has been breached and there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the failure has resulted in serious detriment to a registered provider’s tenants.

Serious detriment means when there is risk of, or actual, serious harm to tenants as set out in the regulatory framework. There is no threshold set when determining serious detriment, as a number of factors are considered. Some of the factors include; the number of tenants affected, the duration of the harm or risk and the seriousness or potential seriousness of it.

Whilst the HCA deals with compliance with the consumer standards reactively, it emphasises that this does not lessen the obligation. Boards of registered providers are responsible for ensuring compliance with all of the regulatory framework including economic and consumer standards. The HCA advises that registered providers should have systems in place to ensure that they are complying with these standards. In cases where a registered provider is found to have not complied with the consumer standard, the HCA will consider the implications this failure has on the governance of the organisation.

Impact

The findings of this report indicate that there is an increase in engaging with the HCA in relation to its role of dealing with consumer complaints. The type of issues that have been dealt with are broad, which shows that registered providers of social housing need to consider the consumer standards carefully and the processes that they have in place in respect of each standard. Some of the issues considered includes health and safety, gas safety and asbestos.

It is evident that as with other regulatory standards, the Board of a registered provider has key responsibilities to ensure that it is complying with the consumer standards and having the correct processes in place would assist in demonstrating this to the social housing regulator. It is also important to bear in mind that failing to comply with the consumer standard can have an impact on a registered provider’s compliance with the governance and financial viability standard.

Forbes Solicitors assist registered providers of social housing with a range of regulatory matters including complying with the regulatory framework. If you would like advice on any regulatory matter, please contact Daniel Milnes.

This blog also appears on Local Government Lawyer.

Nat Avdiu

About Nat Avdiu

Nat Avdiu is a Paralegal in the Contracts and Projects team at Forbes Solicitors. Nat provides updates for clients on a range of issues including: governance, data protection and freedom of information, procurement and charity law.
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