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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Housing Ombudsman: Complaint Handling Code


In his latest blog for CIH, Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway talks about the recently published Complaint Handling Code and gives us an overview of the objectives it aims to address.

The publication of the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code for landlords coincided with the CIH’s Better Boards Initiative. During it we were asked about the Ombudsman’s role with governing bodies. I would summarise it in three words: culture, compliance and learning. That is creating a positive complaint handling culture, ensuring compliance with our remedies when things go wrong, and demonstrating learning from complaints to help achieve excellence.

These three objectives form part of our new Compliant Handling Code. This Code is part of our new powers and sets a framework for effective complaint resolution by landlords. It seeks to address the question ‘what does good look like?’ in complaint handling. As well as setting out expectations for boards, senior executives and frontline staff, the Code will help residents in knowing what to expect from their landlord when they make a complaint and how to progress their complaint.

At its heart is supporting the right cultures for resolving complaints and active learning when things go wrong. It aims to improve accessibility and speed up redress, points frequently raised by residents, as well as promoting more consistent practice across the sector. Given many landlords are reviewing their approaches in light of Covid-19, its publication is timely.

The Code is principle-based with self-assessment by landlords on a comply or explain basis. Nonetheless, it is prescriptive in places. This includes moving the sector to a two-stage complaint process, maximum handling times and the universal definition of a complaint to avoid any being driven underground. There is also encouragement for greater resident involvement and demonstrating learning from complaints in the landlord’s Annual Report.

The development of the Code was supported by a number of bodies, including professional bodies such as the CIH, landlords and resident representatives. Whilst feedback indicates it is seen as a positive step, we will take action where non-compliance comes to light. This includes issuing new Complaint Handling Failure Orders, with guidance on them published alongside the Code. An order could relate to the handling of an individual case or the landlord’s overall complaint handling policy. They will give landlords oversight of where their complaints policy and accessibility fall short of expectations, and when complaints are not being actively resolved and how frequently this is happening. With repeated or systemic failures, referral to the Regulator of Social Housing is possible and we will publish details of each order made.

Listening to what complaints are telling a landlord will be a major focus for the Ombudsman’s future work. Complaints should perform an important strategic role within organisations, providing vital intelligence on its health, performance and reputation. On that basis, we hope the Code is welcomed by the sector as a tool, from the boardroom to frontline services, for supporting excellence.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman

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