The Housing Ombudsman Complaints Code: 6 Key Things You Need to Know

The Housing Ombudsman published a new Complaint Handling Code in July 2020, setting out good practice that will allow landlords to respond to complaints effectively and fairly.

The purpose of the Code is to enable landlords to resolve complaints raised by tenants quicker, drive service improvements and create a more positive complaint handling culture amongst staff and residents.

6 Key areas in the Code

1. Universal definition of a complaint

According to the code, a complaint is defined as “an expression of dissatisfaction about the standard of service, actions, or lack of action by the organisation, its own staff, or those acting on its behalf, affecting an individual resident or a group of residents.” All landlords will accept a complaint unless there is a valid reason to do so.

2. Accessibility and awareness

Landlords must provide access to the complaints procedure and ensure residents are aware of it by providing multiple efficient channels through which residents can make a complaint. All landlords websites must include information on raising a complaint, and the complaints policy and process should be easily found and downloadable.

3. Complaint team, procedure, timeliness and responsiveness

Landlords should have a person or a team dedicated to complaint handling, with the code referring to this person or team as the ‘complaints officer’. For smaller landlords, it is recognised that this role may not be solely dedicated to complaint handling.
Once a complaint has been made, it needs to be acknowledged and logged at stage one of the complaints procedure, this procedure shall comprise of two stages so the resident has the opportunity to challenge any decision. A full record will be kept of each complaint, review and the outcomes at each stage, with clear timeframes set out for responses.

4. Ensuring fairness in complaint handling

Landlords must operate a resident-focused complaints process to ensure they are given the opportunity to explain their point of view and the outcome they are seeking before any decision is reached. All complaints should be resolved at the earliest possible opportunity.

5. Taking action to put things right

To resolve complaints and disputes effectively, there must be a process in place. Where something has gone wrong, a landlord needs to acknowledge this and set out the actions it has already taken or intends to take to put things right.

6. Continuous learning and improvement

A positive complaint handling culture is integral to the effectiveness with which landlords resolve disputes, the quality of customer service, the ability to learn and improve and the relationship with their tenants. Both accountability and transparency need to be embedded in a positive complaint handling culture, with landlords providing feedback to residents on failures in complaint handling and the actions taken to learn from this. All learning and improvement from complaints should be included in the landlord’s Annual Report.

How can we help?

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We also recently run the Tenant Satisfaction and Engagement Conference, providing comprehensive support for housing associations across the UK to ensure compliance with the Complaints Handling Code and improve the services they provide for tenants to increase engagement and satisfaction rates. We reached out to some of the delegates to get their feedback, which we have used to inform our upcoming Effectively Handling Complaints in Housing training course in July.

"Easily accessible and very relevant. Great combination of practical good practice and thought-provoking consideration of issues on the horizon"
Homes First at Lewes Eastbourne Council

"I became a captivated audience at this year's conference. Lots of information to take in and lots to think upon. I’ll definitely be back again"
Tenancy Engagement Officer at Melton Borough Council

"My experience was a good one. I would encourage Housing Associations and Local Authorities to attend because its beneficial to keep in touch with new ideas, regulatory and Housing Ombudsman updates"
Customer Solutions Operations Manager at Clarion Housing Group Limited

"Coming from South Wales and over 17 yrs involvement with tenant engagement as a tenant at board level on two RSLs chairman of the Welsh Tenant Advisory Board and a member of the Regulatory Board - I found the vigour and enthusiasm at the conference most inspirational"
Volunteer at Family HA Tenants Panel Family Housing Association

"All round, a very positive event experience, I like the platform and the opportunities to connect. Great resources"
Senior Resident Involvement Officer at Newlon Housing Trust