Advisors and advocates

This fact sheet is for advisors or advocates who have been asked to act on behalf of a resident in a complaint about a social housing provider or to refer a complaint to us.

The resident may have already attempted any or all of the stages below. Check with them before taking any action.

1. Report the problem to the landlord

Whatever the problem, it is generally reasonable to give the landlord the opportunity to put it right before making a formal complaint. Many landlords will not accept a complaint about the service it provides before it has had a chance to provide that service.

For example, if the resident wishes to complain about a repair, check that they have reported the repair to the landlord and that the landlord has been allowed a reasonable amount of time to act. Similarly, if the resident is complaining about a neighbour’s behaviour, check that they have reported the behaviour to the landlord and that the landlord has been allowed a reasonable amount of time to act.

2. Make a formal complaint

Using the landlord’s formal complaints procedure is the first step towards resolving a dispute about the service provided by the landlord in response to a request for a service. It might be useful to obtain a copy of the landlord’s complaints procedure for you and the resident to refer to. This should be readily available on the landlord’s website or from its offices.

It is always best to start by defining the complaint and its possible resolution. You may find it useful to begin by asking the following questions:

  • What action(s) has the landlord taken, or not taken, which the resident wishes to complain about?
    • It is important to understand the resident’s position about what has gone wrong and the effect this has had on them in their home. A clear understanding of this can help both you and the resident in answering the next question.
  • What does the resident think the landlord should do to put things right?
    • Explore the options with the resident. You may have an idea about another action which could be taken to resolve the outstanding dispute, or another way in which they can achieve their required outcomes. Discuss this with the resident and see what they think.
    • A landlord can respond much more effectively if the resident is as specific as possible about what they want the landlord to do. If the required outcomes are not within the landlord’s abilities or obligations to provide, it can respond with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and a reasonable explanation which can help manage a resident’s expectations.
  • What has the landlord done about the complaint so far? Why is the resident dissatisfied with the landlord’s response to date?
    • Some aspects of the dispute may have already been resolved. If so, the focus should be on resolving the outstanding aspects of the dispute.

Once the complaint and the resident’s required outcomes are clear, you can contact the landlord on the resident’s behalf. If possible, put the complaint in writing and keep a copy. Allow the landlord the timescale set out in its complaints procedure within which to respond. If no timescale is given, we suggest it is reasonable to allow up to three weeks for a response.

If the landlord delays unreasonably in responding to the formal complaint, you can contact us. We will need a copy of the complaint if possible, and details of the outstanding dispute. We will also need evidence that the resident has authorised you to act on their behalf. We will then contact the landlord and encourage it to respond within a reasonable timescale.

A landlord’s complaints procedure normally has two or more stages. This means that if the resident is dissatisfied with the initial response, they can ask the landlord to review the response at the next stage of its complaints procedure. At each stage, the resident should be as clear as possible about what they remain dissatisfied with and what more they want the landlord to do in order to put things right.

Please note: we expect the parties to have attempted to resolve a dispute using the formal complaints procedure before intervening. We also expect complaints to be brought to the landlord’s attention within a reasonable period (normally six months) of the matter complained about arising.

3. Contact a designated person

The landlord’s final response to a formal complaint should tell you what you and the resident can do next. The first step is to contact a ‘designated person’ – an MP, local councillor or tenant panel.

The role of the designated person is to help resolve the complaint in one of two ways:

  • They can try and resolve the complaint themselves in any way they see fit
  • They can refer the complaint straight to us if it has exhausted a landlord’s complaints procedure.

More information on this part of the process is available on the designated person information page.

4. Refer the complaint to the Ombudsman

If the resident wishes you to refer the matter to us on their behalf, you can do so if:

  1. the landlord has responded to the complaint at the final stage of its complaints procedure, or has refused to consider the matter through its complaints procedure and
  2. more than eight weeks - but less than twelve months - has elapsed since the date of the final response.

We will need:

  • a copy of the landlord’s final response to the complaint or confirmation that the complaint will not be considered through its complaints procedure
  • a description of the outstanding dispute
  • evidence that the resident has authorised you to act on their behalf.

We will contact you and not the resident.

If you are bringing a complaint on behalf of a resident who is deceased, we will need evidence that you have the legal capacity to bring a complaint on behalf of the estate. This can be in the form of a Grant of Probate in the case of an executor, or letters of administration in the case of an administrator.

If we cannot investigate the complaint we will contact you to let you know why. If we can, we may first work with you and the landlord to see if a settlement can be reached that satisfactorily resolves the complaint. If not, we will pass the case for investigation and contact both you and the landlord to ask for any additional evidence or information. We will write to you at a later date to let you know what we have decided.

If you have any questions regarding the advice in this fact sheet, about our general approach or would like advice or guidance in any individual case, please contact us on 0300 111 3000 or email info@housing-ombudsman.org.uk.