Ombudsman services releases findings of housing dialogue

by Ombudsman Services | May 02, 2018

Ombudsman Services (OS) has today released Building Balance Restoring Power, its major dialogue looking at how complaints should be handled in the housing sector in order to better protect consumers. 

Between 9 March – 5 April 2018 the dialogue collected over 400 responses from tenants, renters, homeowners, landlords and those working in the sector. Responses overwhelmingly indicated a need for change, with seven in 10 (69%) consumers finding the system for complaining in the housing sector confusing, and more than half (55%) not knowing where to go to complain about housing and property. 

The most common issues faced by consumers were with new build properties (56% of respondents), maintenance and upkeep (10%) and lettings and estate agency (10%), but also included unauthorised parking, gas leaks, asbestos, dangerous electrics and even theft. 

Consumers also used the opportunity to go into more detail about some of the complex issues they had experienced, including a case where a homeowner battled with the freeholder for two years to fix a leaky roof, a tenant who has sheets of mould on the walls of their kitchen but doesn’t dare complain for fear of being evicted, and neighbours who are faced with spending nearly £500,000 each to make their new build homes safe. 
The full report, Building Balance: Restoring power to consumers in the housing sector, has been submitted as part of a comprehensive White Paper in response to the Government’s Strengthening consumer redress in housing consultation. 

It makes several recommendations to the government including:
• The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should put consumers at the heart of the sector, offering a simple complaints journey, strong regulation and easy access to help and advice for consumers 
• The creation of a single ombudsman for housing (supported by the vast majority - 84 per cent - of Building Balance respondents) that is underpinned by statute
• The introduction of consistent standards that firms operating in the housing sector must comply with when handling complaints to provide clarity for consumers.

OS launched Building Balance following its decision to withdraw from the property sector from August 2018, saying it would no longer offer a broken solution to a broken market. The Building Balance dialogue, which aimed to identify key ‘pain points’ for consumers in order to shape a new ombudsman service for housing, was supported by charities, consumer groups and property professionals in the UK. 

Commenting on the findings, Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “Our Building Balance dialogue has given us a clear remit to call for change. The current system for redress in housing is ineffective, confusing and complicated, and clearly doesn’t provide the service that consumers need.

“The recommendations put forward in our report are underpinned by real insights, as well as the experience we have gathered during our ten years of helping consumers with complaints in the housing sector. For example, the dialogue showed overwhelming support for the creation of a single ombudsman. 

“We know this model can work well - the scheme we operate in energy handles around 40,000 complaints every year, and with oversight of the whole sector we’re able to identify issues and help companies improve their processes to reduce consumer detriment. Now it’s up to the Government to take our recommendations forward and put into place a new system; one that is fair, balanced and has the legal powers to put things right.”