Social landlords and residents are facing unprecedented challenges, with a cost of living crisis and ageing homes. These challenges are reflected in the continued high volume of complaints being referred to the Ombudsman.
Our annual complaints review reveals challenges with embedding a positive complaint handling culture, and poor performance in some service areas still at unacceptably high levels. This 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.
Performance has improved little on the prior year.
Property condition remains the biggest reason for referrals to the Ombudsman and this is highly likely to continue as properties age and global warming brings more extremes of weather. In 59% of property condition complaints there had been service area failures by the landlord, 20% of which were resolved through the landlords’ own complaints procedure. However we upheld 39% of all property condition complaints. This indicates more action is required to improve the quality of homes and service.
The sector’s performance on complaint handling itself is concerning. There were failures in 86% of complaint handling complaints, 20% of which were put right during the landlord’s own procedure. That landlords have identified and addressed failure through their own procedure demonstrates the Complaint Handling Code and the principles of good complaint handling are starting to work. However, that we upheld 66% of the complaints about complaint handling we investigated also indicates that significantly more progress is required.
The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill contains provisions to put the Complaint Handling Code on a statutory footing and gives us a duty to monitor compliance against it. In addition, to unify complaint handling requirements across housing associations and local authorities, we are developing a joint Code with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that will be heavily based on our existing Code.
Individual landlord performance
We have published 115 landlord performance reports (see helpful links) where we investigated five or more complaints.
The Ombudsman has written to the 32 chief executives or equivalent of landlords where we found maladministration in at least half of our decisions, comprising of 21 local authorities and 11 housing associations (see helpful links). Five of the 32 landlords had maladministration found in at least three quarters of their decisions.
A positive complaint handling culture
Our annual resident and landlord surveys (see helpful links), show there has been a 17% decline in the number of residents who think making a complaint would make a difference compared to last year. Resident and landlord views on learning from complaints differ markedly: 60% of landlords stated that they share learning from complaints with their residents but only 36% of residents agreed with this statement. Similar differences in perception exist regarding resident participation in landlord self-assessments against the Complaint Handling Code – 41% of landlords said they involved residents but only 22% of residents surveyed said they had been consulted.
These are concerning statistics and come after the first full year of the Complaint Handling Code. This sets out steps to ensure continuous learning and improvement – essential for landlords to improve their services and which can, ultimately, lead to cost savings. At the very least, they indicate that landlords should consider how they can communicate more effectively with residents on these matters.
Accessibility of complaints procedures
Our annual surveys (see helpful links), show residents who considered that the ease of access to their landlord’s complaint process was acceptable or better, dropped from 68% to 51%. Perceptions as to ease of use and responsiveness were maintained but only 44% of residents agreed that their landlord promoted its complaints process and only 58% agreed that it signposted to the Ombudsman.
These results are concerning; the updated Complaint Handing Code strengthens the provisions on access and awareness raising to ensure residents’ voices can be heard.