Next week the Housing Ombudsman takes over
responsibility for investigating complaints about the landlord
functions of local authorities. The aim of this move was to provide
a common and consistent approach to complaints about social
housing. Unfortunately, this looks unlikely to be the result.
ARCH has a particular interest in these changes because councils
with housing, whose work currently falls within the sole
jurisdiction of the Local Government Ombudsman, will from 1
April be accountable to both Ombudsmen. And the dividing
line between their respective responsibilities, although now
clearer, remains convoluted and, in places, counter-intuitive.
While no doubt based on sound legal advice, it makes little sense
During consultation on the new arrangements, ARCH asked both
Ombudsmen to explain where the dividing line will run. A guide
purporting to clarify the position has now been published on both
The guide begins by stating that the aim is that the Housing
Ombudsmen 'will deal with all complaints about social housing'. But
this is contradicted by what follows.
To give just one example, most complaints about housing
allocations will remain with the LGO - not just those from
applicants who are not currently council tenants, but also
complaints from tenants seeking transfers on grounds specified in
Part VI of the
Housing Act 1996 - overcrowding or unsatisfactory housing
conditions, medical or welfare grounds, or that their accommodation
is no longer reasonable to occupy.
Nor do the arrangements deliver consistency for council and
housing association tenants. Complaints from housing association
tenants about the Right to Buy go to the HO while those from
council tenants will remain with the LGO.
A second consequence of the new arrangements is that, regardless
of the precise demarcation between the HO and LGO, many complaints
will cross jurisdictions and potentially involve both. The HO and
LGO have promised a protocol on how they will work together, but
this has not yet appeared.
One must assume that this guidance is based on an authoritative
interpretation of the relevant legislation. But it is hard to
believe this outcome is what legislators had in mind when the
Localism Bill was debated in Parliament.
There is a strong case for amending legislation at the earliest
opportunity to simplify and improve the demarcation. Meanwhile we
look to the Ombudsmen to work with ARCH and others to help council
understand the new system and, in turn, explain it to the
'designated persons', whether councillors, MPs or recognised
tenants' panels, who will have a role only in relation to
complaints under the jurisdiction of the HO, and, even more
importantly, to the tenants and residents who want swift and
effective action to resolve their complaints.