12 December, 2023
The Social Housing sector has received a lot of negative press attention in recent years, in particular following the tragic death of a two-year-old who sadly died due to prolonged exposure to damp and mould within his parent's property. In the wake of the inquest into the child's death which concluded in November 2022, there have been significant changes and proposals on the point of complaint handling.
Set out below is a recap of notable reports, consultations, proposals and legislative changes in the last year.
The Housing Ombudsmen (HO) has had the power to make A Complaint Handling Failure Order (CHFO) since January 2021. A CHFO is made when the HO has made reasonable steps to seek engagement from a landlord to resolve a tenant's complaint, but the tenant remains unable to progress a complaint. The Orders are binding and can include actions such as requiring landlords to pay compensation, make an apology or carry out a repair.
From April to June 2023 forty three CHFO's were made with eighteen not being complied with, this is the highest ever level of non-compliance within a quarter.
The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 received royal assent on 20 July 2023, it has been described by some as the most significant reform of the social housing sector in more than a decade.
The Act makes a number of noteworthy changes including the following:
Senior managers of registered providers should have professional qualifications in housing management or be working towards them.
Registered providers should have a designated 'health and safety lead' to monitor compliance, assess risk of failure to comply and notify the responsible body of the provider.
The Act includes new powers to issue unlimited fines to registered providers who fail to meet standards.
The Consumer standards consultation: Reshaping consumer regulation July 2023' was open for responses with the final forms of consumer standards and code of practice regarding safety & quality, transparency, influence & accountability, neighbourhood & community standard and the tenancy standard expected in April 2024.
On 7 September 2023 the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities guidance document entitled "Understanding and addressing the health risks of damp and mould in the home", was published.
This document has no statutory force at all but was produced in response to the coroner's findings in the inquest. It is aimed at landlords and tenants and includes guidance on how landlords should respond to tenants.
The document suggests that in damp and mould cases landlords should inspect the property at least 6 weeks after remedial works to ensure the issue has been resolved.
Also published on 7 September 2023, was the publication of the 'Summary report: outcome and next steps for the review of the Housing and Health and Safety Rating System.' Key changes included reducing the total number of hazards from 29 to 21. Additionally, introducing 'baselines' to make an initial assessment of hazards and risk and new statutory operating and enforcement guidance to be published changes to the assessment of fires in tall buildings (alike Grenfell).
The consultation for Provision of information to tenants: Direction to the Social Housing Regulator on tenant's rights and complaints was open during this period.
As part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 the Secretary of State must give direction to the regulator about setting a standard for information and transparency by 27 January 2024. The information which must be given is in relation to tenants' rights in connection with the low-cost rental accommodation and with facilities or services provided in connection with that accommodation, and how to make a complaint against their landlord.
The Ombudsmen ran a Complaint Handling Code Consultation between 28 September 2023 and 23 November 2023 with responses to be provided in 'due course.' The aim being for any proposed changes to the code to become statutory from 1 April 2014.
The Joint Complaint Handling Code ('the Code'), from the Housing Ombudsman and Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, sets out requirements for registered providers in terms of how they should procedurally be handling complaints and how to ensure that they respond to complaints in a transparent manner as well as proportionately, effectively and fairly. The Code is statutory under the Housing Ombudsman's powers in the Housing Act 1996, as amended by the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023.
What is already clear is that registered providers must make reasonable adjustments where appropriate under the Equality Act 2010 and also that there are improvements to be made with the Ombudsman upholding around two thirds of complaints.
Following the Housing Ombudsmen ordering the registered provider to apologise to the tenant's family, news outlets reported on the tragic case of another social housing tenant who was known to suffer with anxiety and depression who took his own life in September 2021. The tenant made more than twenty noise nuisance complaints over a 9-month period. His death occurred a mere 11 days after his landlord's investigations were closed, and after him having made previous attempts on his life as a result of the noise nuisance. The registered provider had been made aware of the previous attempts around the time they occurred.
In this case the complaints had been investigated and although it was agreed that it was noisy, the sounds were deemed to be created by everyday living.
The registered provider stated it had kept in weekly contact with the tenant and had allocated him a specialist offer for support. This highlights the importance of adopting a tailored approach when following policy and procedures when dealing with vulnerable tenants.
The Central London Court considered the case of Dezitter v Hammersmith and Fulham Homes, which considered the point of fitness for human habitation. A one hundred percent award of rent for the relevant period during which the property was deemed unfit was awarded. This award was made on the basis that if the property was unfit, the tenant could not have derived any benefit from it and 'endured' it rather than enjoyed the use of it. Whilst the outcome was unexpected, it is logical and suggests that Judges may well be applying a tougher approach in housing disrepair and other similar claims, reinforcing the importance of effective complaint handling in the initial stages.
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.
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