Dealing with complaints during coronavirus - guidance from the Housing Ombudsman
Ahead of his webinar at 1500 today, Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway looks at how the Covid-19 outbreak may affect how housing providers handle complaints.
The Covid-19 outbreak is presenting unprecedented challenges for all sectors, including social housing. So far we have been able to maintain a normal service, and we are talking to landlords to understand how their housing services and complaint handling are changing in response to the crisis. At some point normality will return and one possibility is a spike in complaints depending on the length of the crisis.
Since restrictions came into effect last month, we have been continuously updating our website with advice for residents and landlords. As things stand at the start of April, we would highlight three things:
• Keeping communication open for residents – a unique feature of our service is the support we can give on complaints while they are still within the landlord’s process. The majority of residents get in touch by telephone and our helpline continues to be available during normal working hours. This provides a vital source of assistance for residents and landlords during this period.
• Encouraging landlords to tell us where their services are changing – we have engaged with several landlords, both local authorities and housing associations, over the past few weeks from around the country and the range of our membership. Most are telling us that they are operating complaint handling processes as normal, although this can depend on the length and complexity of that process. Where something is changing, we ask that a landlord tells us, particularly if this means they cannot provide information to support our investigations.
• Recognising government guidance in our orders – generally we still expect our orders, which can range from an apology to compensation, to be met within the timescales set. However we recognise that the time required to action some of our orders may be affected in the current circumstances, such as non-urgent repairs. We are giving landlords flexibility to comply with non-urgent repairs in any new orders issued whilst Covid-19 restrictions are in place. And for outstanding orders on previously determined cases, where a landlord has compliance difficulties due to coronavirus, we recommend they contact the caseworker to discuss.
It’s a cliché to say these are extraordinary circumstances but it is hard to describe them otherwise. My brilliant team will continue to work hard to maintain our services through this period and progress complaints which is in everyone’s interests, and we recognise the efforts landlords are going to as well to maintain their complaint handling support. We have produced ‘best practice’ guidance reflecting some of the issues we have seen. In time we will also need to plan for a return to normality. And, finally, looking further ahead, it is important to note that we are now aiming to introduce our revised scheme and new powers in September, later than previously planned, given the importance of engaging with the sector on aspects prior to its commencement.
Richard and colleagues are on the CIH webinar at 1500 today. Book your place here.