Responding to a complaint

A guide for landlords

We encourage the local resolution of complaints at the earliest possible stage and promote landlords’ complaints procedures as a means through which this can be achieved. We generally expect landlords to use every stage of their complaints procedure as a genuine opportunity to try and resolve a dispute with a resident. While we cannot make a formal decision on a case which is going through a complaint procedure, we can offer support and advice to both parties where necessary.

Some landlords’ policies exclude certain issues from their complaints procedures. We encourage landlords to take all issues, or as wide a range as possible, through their formal complaint procedures. Failure to do so could result in a finding of ‘maladministration’ or ‘service failure’ from the Ombudsman. If an issue is excluded, the landlord should clearly explain this and provide its reasons in writing to the complainant. It should also advise residents of their right to approach the Housing Ombudsman Service if they disagree with the decision.

Every stage of the complaints procedure is important and should be used to conduct a thorough investigation and try and find a solution to a dispute. A landlord’s final response to a complaint is a key document as it is often the final opportunity for a landlord to resolve a complaint (see example letter in Helpful links). If a complainant remains dissatisfied following the final response, they may refer the complaint to us for investigation.

We do not prescribe how a landlord should respond to a complaint. We always advise landlords to consider and apply our Dispute Resolution Principles: Be fair’ ‘Put things right’ ‘Learn from outcomes.

From our casework experience we have developed guidance for landlords when investigating and responding to complaints through their complaints procedure. This list is not exhaustive but highlights the issues we expect landlords to consider when responding to a complaint.

Language and tone - be open, use plain English, avoid jargon and show empathy.
Labelling - clearly label each response, for example, Stage 1, Stage 2 or your ‘final’ response.
Respond to the original complaint and dissatisfaction - respond to all elements of the original complaint plus any that you may have later agreed to include in the formal complaint. Set out why the complainant was dissatisfied with the previous response.
Findings and conclusions - set out your findings and conclusions on each issue referencing any evidence on which those findings are made.
Policy and law - refer to any relevant policy, procedure, legislation or good practice when explaining a decision.
Apology and explanation - acknowledge and apologise for any mistake or service failure and provide an explanation of what went wrong.
Outcome - consider the outcome the complainant is looking for and how you might be able to provide this or go some way towards providing it.
Timescales and actions - give details and timescales for any actions you plan to take, for example, inspections or repairs.
Redress - give details of any redress offered, for example, compensation, discretionary repairs or decorations, or other actions.
Learning - explain what you have learnt from the complaint and what changes or improvements will be made as a result.
Signposting - signpost the complainant to other sources of advice or support, such as Citizens’ Advice, the Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE), Shelter, Age UK, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).
Escalation - provide details of how the complainant can take the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman Service.