Residents’ complaints: Getting your processes right

Heart in house

The government’s recent social housing green paper has five core themes: effective resolution of complaints is one of ’em, while listening to your residents and acting on what they say underpins all five.

There’s never been a better time to check out your processes and your approach. Demonstrate to yourselves and others that you really are valuing, respecting and taking note of what your residents are saying.

This is all well and good, but, you ask, how can HQN help? Well –

Book one of our health checks to get our seal of approval. A complaints specialist will carry out an assessment against our toolkit and the latest best practice. We’ll review your processes, a selection of cases and speak to staff  – before giving you essential feedback, telling you how well you comply with regulations, and delievering key recommendations.

Book on to a training session with the Ombudsman.

Book a bespoke in-house course – we’ll come to you and deliver a tailored session. 

If you’d like to book one of our health checks, get in touch with Anna Pattison on 01904 557197 or

While we’re on the subject, Cllr Paul Smith of Bristol City Council, and an advisor to the Housing Ombudsman, recently wrote for us on the importance of ensuring the complaints process for tenants is strengthened:

‘As a councillor, my responses to government housing consultations invariably call for more powers to be delegated to the local level.

‘I was overjoyed to hear that the arbitrary cap of council house borrowing is being removed. There are many other decisions which I believe would be better made by local councils. The so-called ‘democratic filter’, however, is something which I consider should be removed. It is more of a ‘democratic barrier’.

‘Currently, tenants wishing to complain about a landlord to the Housing Ombudsman after exhausting the landlords’ own processes must submit the complaint via a ‘designated person’ – a councillor, MP or recognised tenants’ group.

‘If these can’t or won’t help, the tenant has to wait eight weeks before being able to approach the Ombudsman. This was controversial when the Localism Act was being debated. The argument was that it would keep local politicians engaged in housing, especially where councils no longer managed and owned housing themselves.

‘It was also thought that the filter would allow local politicians and groups to deal with the cross-cutting nature of complaints which, although rooted in housing, may also be affected by other public bodies.

‘There was also a hope that the filter would reduce the number of complaints to the ombudsman, as more would be settled locally and that vexatious complaints would be deterred or blocked. The government did compromise: originally all complaints would have to go through the filter, and the eight-week direct complaint was introduced.

‘The social housing green paper says of the democratic filter “our engagement revealed that the process does not appear to work for residents. There is a perception that the process of seeking redress takes too long”.

‘It also quotes research conducted by the Housing Ombudsman Service which “found that although some local “designated person” arrangements work well, in many cases they do not and that there are designated persons who did not fully understand their role”.

‘The green paper asked if the period for direct complaint should be reduced to four weeks or scrapped altogether. My view is that it should be completely scrapped for the following reasons:

  • Many councillors have no idea that the role exists
  • The demand to exhaust the landlords’ own complaints service is an effective filter
  • Residents should not have artificial barriers to them accessing a solution to their problems
  • The delay this creates is unnecessary and in some cases distressing
  • There is no evidence that the filter ensures more effective local resolution of complaints

‘The Ombudsman also shares this view, and their own research shows that only 7% of cases come through the filter with all the others stuck in limbo for eight additional weeks.

‘Yes, I do want more housing powers, both financial and legislative, to be devolved to local councils, though this is one which I’m quite happily to surrender.’

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