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The Housing Ombudsman consults Matthew Warburton - 19/10/2012

dissatisfied_300From April 2013 the Housing Ombudsman will take over the handling of complaints from council tenants and other housing customers. Earlier this week he invited comments on a draft Scheme for the new service.

The two key changes included in the new scheme are its extension to include council landlords and amendments to reflect the creation of Designated Persons, as introduced by the Localism Act. Designated Persons can be a local district councillor, the local MP or a designated Tenants Panel.

The system for handling housing complaints is proposed to have three stages: all landlords to whom the Scheme applies are expected to have their own system for handling complaints; complainants who are not satisfied with the outcome of this stage can raise their complaint with a Designated Person.

The Ombudsman will not normally consider a complaint unless it has already been through these two stages, or if eight weeks has elapsed since the end of the first stage.

The Scheme will apply equally to council landlords and other Registered Providers (RPs), except for two important differences. The Ombudsman's work in relation to councils will be funded from DCLG grant, while other RPs are expected to pay a per-property levy for the service.

The other difference is that while the Housing Ombudsman has powers to take up complaints about pretty much any aspect of a housing association's activities, his remit in relation to councils is confined to "housing activities, insofar as they relate to the provision and management of social housing".

Other aspects of a council's work, including non-landlord housing activities, remain within the purview of the Local Government Ombudsman.

ARCH will be submitting comments on the draft Scheme by the response date of 15 December, and I would ask any member council which has views they want to see included to send them to me by the end of November.

I see little to quarrel with in the Ombudsman's proposals, which focus, as they should on quick and effective resolution of complaints, wherever possible at local level without the need to involve the Ombudsman.

I agree with the Ombudsman when he says, in the consultation document: "We recognise that there are some complaints that are better dealt with by the designated persons and not by us".

There is, however, one issue on which the Scheme is silent and which may cause difficulties if not given some consideration - that is complaints which go wider than landlord services and therefore potentially involve both the Housing and the Local Government Ombudsman.

Some reassurance is needed that there will be effective arrangements for cooperation and coordination to avoid the potential risk of parallel investigations and duplication.

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