The Housing Ombudsman’s annual complaints review for 2021-22 shows that property condition remains the biggest area of complaint about social landlords and more action is needed by social housing landlords to improve the quality of homes and service.
Landlords handling of complaints also needs significant improvement with 66% of the complaints about complaint handling investigated by the Ombudsman upheld.
The Ombudsman has written to 32 landlords where it found maladministration in at least 50% of its decisions, and for five of those landlords it was more than 75%. This compares to an overall rate of 48% where the Ombudsman upheld at least one part of the complaints in its cases.
The review covers April 2021 to March 2022 and draws insight from 115 annual landlord performance reports where the Ombudsman investigated five or more complaints, together with results from annual surveys of landlords and residents.
In 59% of property condition complaints the Ombudsman found there had been service area failures by the landlord, 20% of which were resolved through the landlords’ own complaints procedure. However the Ombudsman upheld 39% of all property condition complaints.
There were failures in 86% of complaint handling complaints, 20% of which were put right during the landlord’s own procedure, and 66% upheld following the Ombudsman’s investigation.
Resident feedback through the annual survey shows there has been a 17% decline in the number of residents who think making a complaint would make a difference compared to the previous year. Only 36% of residents agreed that their landlord shares learning from complaints, compared to the feedback from landlords where 60% agreed that they share learning with residents.
On the accessibility of complaints procedures, residents who considered that the ease of access to their landlord’s complaint process was acceptable or better, dropped from 68% to 51%.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “We recognise that social landlords and residents are facing unprecedented challenges, with a cost of living crisis and ageing homes, but a positive complaints handling culture remains vital. Our review highlights the challenges with embedding this and also shows poor performance in some service areas still at unacceptably high levels.
“Too often landlords can focus on managing the reputational risk to their organisation when things go wrong, rather than learning and improvement.
“Landlords’ performance on complaint handling is concerning as is the feedback from residents in our annual survey, particularly after the first full year of our Complaint Handling Code. It makes the role of the Member Responsible for Complaints, set out in our strengthened Complaint Handling Code, essential and reinforces the need to maintain an accessible and empowered complaints team, even as budget pressures increase.
“It is deeply concerning that a small proportion of landlords have excessively high maladministration rates. These landlords in particular should identify the areas where service failure occurs most and address any common causes. Demonstrating change and service improvement will be essential for ensuring trust with residents.
“There is learning for all landlords in this review and I would encourage the 115 landlords where we have published a performance report to share it with their governing body and to review the determinations made to identify any lessons for service areas.”