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Ombudsman Services – Would a single housing ombudsman be better

Ombudsman Services announced last February that it will be starting a managed withdrawal of the free service available to redress disputes between consumers, surveyors, managing agents, estate agents and letting agents by 6 August 2018.

Chief Ombudsman, Lewis Shand Smith, stated that they decided to withdraw their services because it “does not feel it is adding any value” to an already “broken market”.

The not-for-profit organisation will now focus on developing a model that works for everyone and help to tackle the imbalance of power in the housing sector. It is not known at the moment what alternative will be made available to consumers but they are trying to make plans to listen to what consumers actually want as they want to make attempts to restore trust and ensure that consumers get a better standard of service.

It is recognised that housing is one of the biggest issues we face as a nation. It is wholly reasonable to consider that we require a fair, balanced and accurate system that will serve its consumers. This new system should work as well as the other models the Ombudsman runs i.e. in the models used in the financial sector.

The current system has received heavy criticism especially in regard to the Grenfell victims. There were concerns about their complaints not being dealt with adequately by the Housing Ombudsman.

Saying that, considering the procedures in place, we are unsure as to why it’s not making a difference? The service has four organisations in place to assist individuals complaining. There is the Housing Ombudsman, the Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services and the Property Redress Scheme. Social landlords are required to be members of the Housing Ombudsman as well. The Ombudsman services also have the power to make recommendations for action and/or award financial remedies.

In theory the models should work, however, the ombudsman’s financial remedies are very much limited and many individuals are likely to be awarded considerably less than if they had brought a claim in court. There are also issues with what the Ombudsman can and will tell the landlord to do hence enforcing their decision if action is not taken by the landlord.

The housing ombudsman produced a guide to explain which ombudsman individuals should use for which complaints.

Sajid Javid MP has criticised the existing system as having “all kinds of issues and inconsistencies” with a “confusing number of schemes in place and gaps in protection”. Predominantly, cases are taking too long to be heard and there is no compulsory scheme in place for private landlords. Mr Javid believes the new model will provide a better service to consumers/tenants, however, will all the issues noted above be addressed in the new model?

Mr Javid announced that it will be moving towards a new single Housing Ombudsman.

It is hoped that this will introduce greater transparency and accountability. The proposals suggest that the body will cover the whole of the housing sector, including both private and social landlords, and the providers of new build homes. It will also consider naming and shaming poor practice of the worst abuses. It is still unclear how they will tackle the issues noted above. The model has not yet been finalised but this one model should tackle the issues that the three models could not. For example, it must tackle the issues surrounding enforcement and financial compensation. Consumers/tenants must trust that their complaints will be dealt with and it will not be a mere ‘telling off’ that landlords will not take seriously.

The Ombudsman Services have supported Mr Javid’s idea to bring in the single ombudsman model as they believe that this is the way to tackle these issues consumers have raised. Only time will tell but Mr Javid’s plans seem promising as he has promised to take relevant measures to address the issues to help provide more comprehensive redress for home owners, home buyers, tenants and landlords.

So, if you have a complaint regarding staff misconduct, unfair treatment, delay, incompetence or other maladministration, it is important to raise concerns directly with the complainant in the first instance. Notification is key and it is helpful to follow up any concerns in writing by either letter or email.

Most agents/authorities will have a complaints policy which should be provided to you upon request. You may be eligible for legal aid funding depending on the nature of your dispute and it is recommended that you seek advice.

The consultation is due to take place over 8 weeks and we look forward to hearing its final proposals.

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