Denying tenants’ access to justice?
Debbie Larner, Head of Professional Practice, discusses the Localism Bill's so-called ‘democratic filter’ and the effects it will have on tenants.
One of the bits of the Localism Bill that may have escaped your attention so far is the plan to change the Ombudsman service for housing - but please keep reading! – the proposed changes will have a significant impact on our sector – and particularly for tenants.
The biggest single concern with the proposals (some of which we support) is the so-called ‘democratic filter’. At the moment, every tenant can go directly to the Ombudsman (either for Housing or for Local Government) if they have a complaint. Under the proposed new system they would have to go first to their MP, to a Councillor or to a tenants’ panel – all of which may (it's unclear at the moment) have the right to make a judgement on their case. Leaving aside the obvious concerns about the ability and willingness of MPs and Councillors to take on this role at all (and to do so in a transparent and consistent way), the current right of tenants to directly access the justice system from the outset is being threatened by these proposals.
CIH will, along with other organisations from across our sector, be pushing for section 153 (1) of the Localism Bill to be amended by replacing “Complaints must be referred by designated person” with “Complaints may be referred by designated person”. This would mean that complainants will continue to enjoy the right to approach the Ombudsman directly as well as having the option of using the democratic filter. This will deliver what is known as “dual track” access to the Ombudsman.
Please feel free to write to your local MP about this.