Overhaul for ‘broken’ housing complaints system

MHCLG goes public with plans for an all-encompassing housing complaints service.

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The housing market gets an all-encompassing complaints system, under plans unveiled by MHCLG.

For first time ever, private landlords will be legally required to join a housing redress scheme – boosting protection for millions of renters across the country.

Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire, said the proposed Housing Complaints Resolution Service was intended to ensure homeowners and tenants know where to go when things go wrong.

Redress for social housing residents is being considered separately, with the response to the Social Housing Green Paper and the Call for Evidence for the Review of Social Housing Regulation due to be published in spring.

Unlike other sectors, such as financial services, the housing market has several different complaints bodies, with homeowners and tenants acknowledged as having to navigate their way through a complicated and bureaucratic system just to work out where to register a grievance.

“All too often the process can be confusing and overly bureaucratic, leaving many homeowners and tenants feeling like there is nowhere to go in the event of problems with their home,” said Brokenshire.

“The proposals I have announced will help ensure all residents are able to access help when they need it, so disputes can be resolved faster, and people can get compensation where it’s owed,” he said.

Where membership of redress schemes is compulsory for some tenures but not others, the new service has scope for legal requirement – with private landlords facing a fine of up to £5,000 if they don’t sign up.

To protect the interests of home-owners who buy new build homes, there is provision for a New Homes Ombudsman holding developers to account.

Legislation will be brought forward at the earliest possible opportunity to require all new developers to belong to the Ombudsman.

Developers will also have to belong to the new body by 2021 if they wish to participate in the government’s landmark Help To Buy scheme.

As proposed, the service will be developed with a new Redress Reform Working Group made up of representatives from across the sector, working with industry and consumers.

These measures form part of the government response to the consultation ‘Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market’, which ran from February-April last year and received over 1,200 responses.

Kate Henderson, NHF Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said plans for a single service were “a very welcome announcement” from the Secretary of State.

“It’s important that, when a complaint can’t be resolved directly between a landlord and tenant, it can be addressed effectively, independent and fairly,” said Henderson.

“Tenants often tell us that one of the most important issues for them is that their voices are heard, loud and clear.

“A key part of this is resolving any complaints quickly and fairly, and these proposed changes should help to do just that.

“Now, we look forward to working with the government to help shape the detail of the new proposals.”

The consultation looked at a range of issues including:

  • How the current complaints and redress landscape works
  • Whether streamlining redress in housing could help improve delivery of services
  • How the ‘in-house’ complaints process and other practices and processes in redress could be improved
  • How any gaps in housing redress could be filled, with a particular focus on purchasers of new build homes and private rented sector tenants

In its response to the consultation last year, Propertymark called for greater clarity in the system and streamlining through the creation of a single portal – along with a unifying code of practice for all providers

In a joint statement, Mark Hayward, Chief Executive, NAEA Propertymark, and David Cox, Chief Executive, ARLA Propertymark, said: “We are very pleased that the government has listened and accepted our recommendation to establish a single ‘front door’.

“We agree with the government in its response that it will “provide simple access for consumers to redress, via a single user interface regardless of tenure, while retaining the specialist expertise of the different schemes.

“Propertymark welcomes this approach and is pleased to see the government taking a holistic approach to redress right across the property industry, creating the beginnings of a more integrated housing strategy rather than the piecemeal, sectoral and issue-specific approach that we have all had to deal with for too long.”

The policy proposals primarily relate to England.

Where proposed legislation has scope outside England with regard to devolved matters, MHCLG will continue to engage and consult the devolved administrations to seek agreement.

The government announced the proposal to create a New Homes Ombudsman service in October 2018.

This response indicates how that service will sit in the wider redress landscape and the next steps of its implementation.

The Housing Complaints Resolution Service is intended to provide a single point of access to resolve complaints for housing consumers, when ‘in-house’ complaint processes have been exhausted, through the current schemes providing alternative dispute resolution, while preserving the expertise of existing providers.

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