Changes to the Housing Ombudsman complaints process to take effect from 1 October 2022

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16 August, 2022

Samantha Robinson

At present tenants who have a grievance with their landlord must follow a three step complaints process as follows:

  1. The tenant must first report the problem or complaint to their landlord, the landlord will then consider the tenant's report and take any steps possible to remedy the issue if appropriate. The landlord's standard complaints procedure will be followed with the hope of a resolution being reached before the end of the complaint's procedure is reached.
  2. If the tenant is dissatisfied with the response received or dissatisfied with the way that the complaint was handled, for example, if they received no response at all or what they perceive to be a delayed response and the complaint remains unresolved, the tenant should then contact a 'designated person.' A designated person could be an MP, a local councillor or a Tenant Panel. The designated persons role is to help to resolve the dispute in whatever way they think is most appropriate. If the designated person is unable to assist, they can then refer the matter to the Ombudsman. Alternatively, if the tenant has decided not to contact a designated person, they can proceed directly to the Ombudsman eight weeks after their landlord has provided their final response to the tenant's complaint.
  3. The final step is the escalation of the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman for consideration. The Ombudsman may take a number of steps including referring the complaint to a different organisation if they believe that the complaint is an issue which they are not equipped to deal with as it does not fall under their jurisdiction. They may also look to use their early resolution procedure, working with both parties directly to make suggestions to try to resolve the complaint. In more complex, multi-faceted cases, where it is deemed appropriate, an investigation may be carried out.

The imminent changes will remove the need for the tenant to either refer the complaint to a designated person or wait eight weeks following the date of the landlord's final response letter before the matter can be referred to the Housing Ombudsman. This step known as the 'democratic filter' is being removed after a change in legislation.

It is hoped that the changes will ensure that social housing tenants are not disadvantaged and have direct access to an Ombudsman, in addition to expediting the overall complaints process.

In the interim period, before the changes take effect, tenants can still refer complaints to a designated person once they have reached the end of the landlord's formal complaints process if they wish to do so. Similarly, tenants can still take advice from individuals who would fall within the current definition of designated person after 01 October 2022, but this will not be considered as part of the Ombudsman's formal process.

As before, the Housing Ombudsman can also take steps to help tenants access their landlord's complaints process, provide assistance where the landlord has not responded in line with its own complaints policy and encourage landlords and tenants to work together in order to try to resolve a complaint. Their ordinary stance remains, and they will not become involved in considering a matter where the landlord's complaints policy is being correctly followed but has not yet concluded.

The forthcoming changes are likely to have both beneficial and detrimental impact to those involved, at the outset at the very least. The changes may well encourage more complaints to be pursued by tenants, as the process may not be as long and drawn out. This is anticipated by the Ombudsman who are expecting an initial influx of cases, meaning that complaints will not be able to be processed as per ordinary timescales, with estimated timescales to be given to tenants. Equally, landlords will need to be mindful of a possible influx of new complaints and be conscious of the need to deal with all complaints as per the timescales set out in their policies and procedures despite the increased numbers.

On the other hand, the removal of complaint referral to a designated person will likely reduce the obligation on both landlords and those who currently fulfil the role of designated person. Tenant complaints can be varied and sometimes technical or complex, and whilst a designated person may sometimes be able to think outside of the box or use their experience of working within the local community in order to make sensible suggestions for resolution, this may not always be possible. From a landlord's perspective, there can be a heavy burden of having to once again explain intricate agreements, policies and procedures to an individual who is not familiar with the same as well as having to recount a sometimes-extensive background history.

When the new process is firmly imbedded and any backlog cleared, there will hopefully be less frustration on all sides, as complaints will be likely be determined much more quickly, which is in the interests of all involved.

For more information contact Samantha Robinson in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Housing & Regeneration department here

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