In October, the Housing Ombudsman consulted on a
draft scheme for his work from 2013, reflecting the changes
introduced by the Localism Act, including the extension of his
remit to include council landlords. Comments are due by 15
December, and I am currently finalising ARCH's response.
The other major change reflected in the Ombudsman's draft scheme
is the role of Designated Persons, who may be a local councillor,
MP or a designated panel. Currently, a complainant can go to the
Ombudsman if they have tried and failed to get a satisfactory
response through the council's or social landlord's own complaints
This applies whether the complainant is a council tenant
approaching the Local Government Ombudsman or a housing association
tenant approaching the Housing Ombudsman. From April, tenants who
have not got satisfaction through a landlord's own complaints
process will be expected to give a Designated Person the
opportunity to resolve the complaint, or wait 8 weeks, before
approaching the Housing Ombudsman.
When I blogged on the Ombudsman's proposals on 19 October I said I
found little to quarrel with. That remains my view. But there is
one important issue on which the proposals are silent, which I do
think needs to be raised, and which is a problem primarily for ARCH
members and their local residents.
The Housing Ombudsman's remit extends only to councils' landlord
functions, or, as the legislation has it, to "housing activities
insofar as they relate to the provision or management of social
housing". All other complaints about the activities of councils,
including housing activities not within this definition, remain the
responsibility of the Local Government Ombudsman. And, in relation
to these complaints, the provisions relating to Designated Persons
do not apply.
This looks to me like a recipe for confusion - mostly for
complainants who may be unclear where to go if their problem has
not been resolved through a council's complaints process, but also
for councillors and MPs unsure whether they have a role as a
Designated Person in a particular case that is brought with
Not being a lawyer, I am hazy about exactly how to interpret the
provisions of the statute defining the Ombudsman's remit, but it
seems likely that housing functions which are still performed by
councils which have transferred their stock remain with the Local
Government Ombudsman - not just private sector housing activities
and the strategic housing role, but also administering homelessness
and the housing register.
If this is right, then there is a real possibility of there being
a significant number of complaints which are either tricky to
allocate to the right Ombudsman or potentially involve both. Almost
10 per cent of the Housing Ombudsman's caseload and a quarter of
the housing complaints handled by the Local Government Ombudsman
last year relate to the allocation of housing.
From April such complaints may be expected to stay with the Local
Government Ombudsman if they relate to priority on the housing
list, but go to the Housing Ombudsman if they concern the letting
process. Or, the Local Government Ombudsman will remain responsible
where a complaint is about the waiting list for new applicants, but
the Housing Ombudsman will deal with tenants complaining about not
getting a transfer.
Where exactly to draw the boundary may be of importance to the two
Ombudsmen and interested lawyers, but hardly anyone else. Few
complainants are likely to care much which Ombudsman takes their
complaint, provided that their complaint is resolved to their
satisfaction. What needs to be avoided is action on complaints
being delayed or frustrated because they are raised with the
"wrong" Ombudsman. ARCH wants to see the two Ombudsmen working
together to make sure this does not happen.