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Housing Ombudsman publishes best practice guidance on complaints handling during COVID-19, postpones revised scheme

The Housing Ombudsman has issued best practice guidance for landlords on complaints handling during the coronavirus outbreak and also delayed the introduction of a revised scheme that will give it stronger powers.

The guidance sets out best practice on engaging with the Ombudsman along with guidance on dealing with complaints raised by residents during this time.

This document, which can be viewed here, is based on the most common, specific queries and concerns that landlords have raised with the Ombudsman since the Covid-19 crisis began.

It covers:

  • Dealing with repairs
  • Complaints about repairs
  • Complaints about anti-social behaviour
  • Access to the complaints procedure
  • Providing information to the Ombudsman
  • Orders and recommendations

The Ombudsman said it would continue to monitor the situation and would update the guidance as the situation progressed.

All Ombudsman staff are working remotely and the Ombudsman Service is operating as normal, it added.

In March, the Ombudsman published its business plan for 2020-21 together with a revised scheme that was scheduled to take effect from 1 July 2020.

New provisions under the revised Scheme, which was approved by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, included:

  • A new power that allows the Ombudsman to issue complaint handling failure orders when a complaint gets stuck in the landlord’s process or where landlords do not provide evidence requested by the Ombudsman in a timely manner.
  • A ‘severe maladministration’ finding to clarify the range of determinations from service failure to maladministration to severe maladministration, together with a requirement for the landlord to demonstrate learning after the Ombudsman’s decision.
  • A more proactive approach in identifying possible systemic failure and to undertake further investigation either into an individual landlord or sector-wide issues. “Any systemic failing found would be referred to the Regulator of Social Housing, as part of a broadening range of closer working processes between the two organisations.”
  • Developing a new complaint handling code to achieve greater consistency across landlords’ complaint procedures.

However, the Ombudsman has now said that “Due to the current situation surrounding Covid-19, we are now aiming to introduce the new provisions in September 2020 to allow for engagement with the sector ahead of implementation.”

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