10 November, 2020
Forbes Solicitors is urging registered providers of housing to look beyond lockdown and remember to complete a new self-assessment for the Housing Ombudsman's Complaint Handling Code.
Introduced in July this year, the Code requires landlords to self-assess by 31st December 2020 in a move to promote the effective and fair handling of tenant complaints.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, explains: "The Code responds to resident concerns about the consistency and accessibility of complaint procedures. An effective complaints process will help to create a positive complaint handling culture, benefitting both landlord staff and residents. Complaints should have an important strategic role within landlord organisations, providing vital intelligence on their health, performance and reputation. On that basis, we hope the Code is welcomed by the sector as a tool for supporting excellence."
The Code is part of the Ombudsman's new powers in the revised Housing Ombudsman Scheme, with key areas including the need to provide tenants with easy access to a complaints procedure, ensuring they are aware of how to complain and what their rights are in terms of accessing the Housing Ombudsman Service.
Good practice outlined within the Code also specifies that landlords should create a positive complaint handling culture within their organisations through continuous learning and development. There are also requirements for landlords to ensure they take the right actions to handle complaints in a resident-focused process and demonstrate learning in annual reports.
Darren Burton, Head of Housing Consultancy Services at Forbes Solicitors, said: "Registered providers of housing have had a lot to contend with during recent months with coronavirus restrictions and this doesn't get any easier with the second lockdown. However, there's no sign that there will be an extension to the self-assessment deadline for the new Code and non-compliance could see landlord organisations issued with complaint handling failures.
"We're created a new support package to help landlords through this process and to ensure they are fully prepared for when the new powers come into effect at the start of January 2021. This is all about achieving clarity for both customers and front-line staff when dealing with complaints and is designed to ensure that policies go hand-in-hand with effective service delivery. This will help enhance positive customer experience and avoid the need for escalation of issues."
Daniel Milnes, Partner in Governance, Procurement and Information at Forbes Solicitors, added: "Many registered providers of housing already have effective, well-run complaints policies and procedures in place. However, no matter how successful these are, they need to be assessed against good practice outlined in the Code, with strong emphasis placed on ensuring the whole complaints process is resident-focused.
"We realise this can be a challenging process that requires careful due diligence and that many landlords will be at different stages of self-assessment. We've created bespoke services with this in mind, which will promote governance and innovation in service levels."
Forbes' Self-Assessment Support Package includes options such as a full audit of self-assessment responses, review of complaints procedures and policies, risk assessments and recommendations on training needs in line with the Tenancy Standard.
The new Code is backed by the Chartered Institute of Housing. Chief Executive of the CIH, Gavin Smart, said: "CIH is pleased to support the new Complaint Handling Code. The changes it makes in several key areas should strengthen the Ombudsman's ability to resolve complaints, improve transparency for all and help individual landlords and the sector as a whole learn from landlords' experiences of handling complaints."