Guidance on effective complaint correspondence

To promote learning, we use insights captured from resident feedback and casework reviews to highlight where landlords should focus attention to make sure that their complaint handling process is straightforward and easy to navigate. In a review of our enquiries and casework, we identified that there were instances where responses were not always clear, comprehensive or timely.

Frustrated by poor quality correspondence, residents often commented that this communication left them feeling unheard, brushed off and mistrustful of their landlord because they felt that the landlord was making the process unnecessarily complicated. In addition, where final responses were not easily identified, had missing information, or were not dated, this led to increased correspondence between the Ombudsman and the landlord in an effort to clarify the situation which then delayed an investigation being initiated.

In this guidance (see Helpful links) we share some of the challenges residents have faced when receiving correspondence from landlords and the best practice that we have seen in our casework. A summary of our recommendations is also set out below.

Summary of recommendations

  1. Responses should be accessible to residents and provided in a way that takes into account any reasonable adjustments agreed with the resident, such as large print, spoken copies or other alternative formats.
  2. Landlords should take the time to agree the scope of complaints at the start of the process. Landlords should consider using the acknowledgement letter as an opportunity to set this out and gain agreement from the resident as to the issues to be addressed.
  3. Landlords should ensure that where a complaint cannot be responded to within the policy timescales, this is identified at the earliest opportunity, and provide a suitable explanation along with the date that the response will be provided. As noted in the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code, extensions should be considered only in exceptional circumstances.
  4. Complaint responses should state the stage of the complaint, whether the complaint is fully, partially, or not upheld and explain clearly how the resident can escalate their complaint. Landlords should consider setting a timescale for escalation, but be flexible over adhering to this, depending on the circumstances surrounding any delays to requests.
  5. If a complaint is escalated, landlords should consider restating the scope of the complaint and, if appropriate, specify any points that no longer require consideration and the reasons why.
  6. Landlords must ensure that residents are provided with their rights should they remain unhappy with the final response. In final responses, landlords should provide referrals to the Ombudsman. Where this is not clear, landlords should consider providing all the relevant options to residents.