Complaints Policy – Guidance for landlords
Landlords have an obligation to publish a Complaints Policy in accordance with the terms of the Ombudsman Scheme. This guidance note sets out what the Ombudsman would expect to see included in that policy. It is intended as a useful guide for landlords as well as for residents who may have a complaint going through their landlord’s internal complaints procedure.
Policy aims and objectives
It is helpful for landlords to set out their approach to complaint handling and reflect the culture of the organisation. It should state that the aim is to resolve matters locally and as quickly as possible by being open, accountable and outcome focused.
The policy should include broad aims such as provide good quality services to all customers; treat all customers fairly; a recognition that sometimes things go wrong and customers may be dissatisfied and wish to complain; that complaints will be viewed positively; prompt action will be taken to carry out an investigation; to provide an opportunity to put things right; an opportunity to rebuild trust in the landlord-resident relationship; learn from any mistakes and a commitment to make service improvements.
In this respect it should reflect and preferably include reference to the Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Principles of: Being Fair, Putting Things Right and Learning from Outcomes.
The document should demonstrate it is in line with relevant legislation such as the Localism Act 2011, Housing Act 1996 (schedule 2), General Data Protection Act 2018, Equality Act 2010, Housing Ombudsman Scheme, and Tenant and Involvement Empowerment Standards. It would also be considered good practice for landlords to reference how its policy meets the requirements of the Consumer Standards where appropriate ie The Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard.
It is important customers know how information about themselves will be treated. The document should refer to how it will comply with collection, storage, access to, provision and disclosure of data in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018.
What is a complaint and a service request?
The document should include advice as to what constitutes a complaint (perhaps including a definition). It would also be useful to emphasise the importance of recognising the difference between a formal complaint and a service request.
Who can/cannot make a complaint and how?
The policy should state who can make a complaint (e.g. non-residents? former residents? anyone who receives a service from the landlord?).
It should include reference to any requirements for receiving group complaints and those received via representatives as well as guidance on how such complaints will be handled.
How to make a complaint
Clear guidance should be given regarding accessibility and the options available for making a complaint ie what means are available for residents such as email, telephone, internet, in person. This should include an indication of how complaints received via social media will be handled.
How will the complaint be handled?
A complaints policy should be explicit about how many stages the internal complaints procedure consists of and who will deal with the complaint at each stage of the internal complaints procedure. This should include job titles and details of a panel make-up if appropriate.
Timeframes for accepting a complaint
It should also set out timeframes for acknowledging complaints and for responding in full for each stage of the internal complaints procedure. This should include discretion to extend deadlines where required with the caveat that customers are kept updated and receive an explanation for any delays.
The document should reference the need to clearly label the written responses (ie Stage 1, Stage 2) and provide clear and direct guidance to customers on how to escalate a complaint to the next stage of the internal complaints procedure if they remain dissatisfied.
Complainants should be asked to be clear about why they disagree with a decision and what more they want the landlord to do to put it right.
Examples should be provided of any issues which will not be considered as part of the internal complaints procedure.
When a complaint is closed
Reference should be given to the fact that landlords have discretion to close complaints early with details of what circumstances this would apply. Examples of when a complaint would be closed:
- Investigation is complete and a response is sent
- After sending a response and attempting to make contact to discuss it, there is no further contact from the complainant after xx days
- When a resolution is agreed and the landlord’s commitment to deliver the action
Use of discretion
It is helpful that landlords state that they reserve the right to use discretion when applying the policy and may deal with a complaint differently where individual circumstances merit it. This should be accompanied by a caveat that any discretion needs to be applied fairly and appropriately and that complaints should be progressed as far as possible to maximise the opportunity to resolve a dispute.
Managing unacceptable behaviour
The landlord's approach on managing unacceptable behaviour from complainants should also be included although this may be a separate policy. It is important that landlords provide detail as to how they will manage unreasonable behaviour from complainants.
Reference should also be made to equality and diversity and the fact that it may sometimes be necessary to go outside of normal policies, procedures and practices to accommodate an individual’s needs.
Compensation and redress policy
The document should refer to the options available to put things right when there has been a service failure which would include compensation. A fuller outline of remedies is often covered in a separate compensation and redress policy.
Equality and diversity
It is important that a landlord states its approach to equality and diversity, ie fairness, accessibility and transparency, the landlord values diversity and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity to ensure all residents are treated fairly.
Reference to this and other related policies such as those situations where reasonable adjustments will be made.
Representation and support agencies
It is also helpful to reference the use of signposting to other organisations such as Citizens Advice, Lease and Shelter to aid the resolution of disputes
Next steps after the internal complaint's procedure
Housing Ombudsman Service
It is important that the landlord explains the role of the Ombudsman and if the complainant remains dissatisfied, how they can make their complaint to the Housing Ombudsman. See the section on telling residents about our service.