/ Home & Energy

How can we fix the broken housing complaints system?

housing estate

On 18 February, the government launched an eight-week consultation aiming to shape a better complaints system for housing issues. Here, our guest, Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, outlines the government’s plans…

Rarely a day goes past that I don’t hear about a problem someone is having with their home – whether it is fixing a broken boiler, patching up a crack in the wall, or issues with their lease.

Having a decent roof over your head is not a luxury, and moving home is not an easy option when problems do occur. That’s why it is essential that everyone has swift and effective routes to complain when things go wrong; that they know where to go and are clear what they can expect.

Current system

The current complaints and redress system is not at all straightforward. While other sectors, such as financial services, have one ombudsman, in housing, there are at least four. Even this array doesn’t cover every eventuality. Too many people are left battling with their private landlord or house builder to get problems fixed.

That’s why we are offering a lifeline to disgruntled tenants and homeowners, by seeking views on how to make this system simpler and fairer.

We want to know whether we should introduce a single housing ombudsman to cover the whole of the market; and whether home builders, as well as private landlords, should have to be covered by an ombudsman scheme.

We are also considering whether an ombudsman should have naming and shaming powers to tackle the worst abuses and ensure that complaints are not just resolved, but learnt from.

What’s the government doing?

With your help, the government has already been able to bring an end to letting fees. In the future, millions of renters will only be required to pay their rent and security deposit. And at the end of last year, I also announced measures to tackle abuses in the leasehold market.

We received over 10,000 responses to these consultations, showing how important these issues are to so many.

So whether you’re a tenant or homeowner, we want to hear from you! Together we can create a complaints system that is fit for the future.

This is a guest contribution by Sajid Javid MP. All views expressed here are Sajid’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

What do you think about the government’s plans? Do they go far enough? What improvements to the housing complaints system would you like to see?

Comments
Member

Getting work done on your property is a nightmare with small companies going out of business or changing their names when the going gets tough.

I would like to see that all builders and those working on home improvements must be registered with a deposit for reimbursement for when things go wrong. Registering with an organisation attached to an independent ombudsman would be a one-stop for complaints to be resolved.

The public need to be encouraged to only use companies registered with the ombusman’s office and all complaints need to be available to the public looking to have work done on their homes. This industry needs a major clean-up and this could be a start.

Member

The land leasehold trend that has been discussed on these pages is nothing short of extortion and is clearly a way to continue to extract money from house owners when they have completed a house purchase. I would like to see some legislation to stop this practice in its tracks. If a house is sold as freehold then that house must also have the ground it stands on and its garden as part of any sale.
You would know how many facets of the housing industry need to be monitored and you should be well placed to decide whether one ombudsman service can cover everything. My uninformed reaction is to keep it to as few ombudsmen as is practical to cope with the work load. Thus there is an overall appreciation of all the problems that need arbitration and these are not fragmented and passed around, looking for the appropriate department to deal with them.
It does seem that the building trade needs to improve its reputation by building/repairing properties correctly, first time. The fact that choosing a builder is something of a lottery is shameful. Those that work hard and produce good housing need to be highlighted and praised. The government should be able to recognise these good companies and reward them with contracts. There’s more to choosing these than going for the cheapest option available, isn’t there?

Member

In December 2017 the government “announced new measures to cut out unfair and abusive practices within the leasehold system, including a ban on leaseholds for almost all new build houses. . . . . Changes will also be made so that ground rents on new long leases – for both houses and flats – are set to zero. The government will also make it cheaper and easier for existing leaseholders to buy-out their freehold and there will be better information available about redress for those consumers who face the most onerous terms.” [Extract from government press release]. See –
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/crackdown-on-unfair-leasehold-practices–2

Member

Good to know, John, and about time too!

Member

I understood that the purview of private landlords cam under the local council, since recently private landlords are having to register with trecouncil and pay seveal hundred pounds in the process. You wil then be inspected , and if you fail, you have to take remedial action quickly or else no registration.
So why have an ombudsman at all for rented accommodation.
Now council have this scheme, which is not cheap for the landlord, the should turn their focus to unregistered landlords, as this is where many of troubles lie.

Member

I am not sure that local councils have any jurisdiction over private landlords unless either (a) the local authority is placing the tenants in the properties or paying some or all of the rent, or (b) the property is an HMO – house in multiple occupation. I believe outside of those categories the private rented housing market is almost unregulated except through legislation – where compliance is inconsistent to say the least and enforcement is patchy.

Member

Once again we have a “broken” system. The government, in the press release I referenced above, has referred to the “broken housing market” and Which? has referred to the “broken housing complaints system”. To be pedantic just for once, something can only be broken if was perfect and intact in the first place, which neither the housing market nor the complaints system have ever been. Furthermore, the thing to do with a broken article is to mend it, not fix it as that would simply freeze it in its defective state.

Member

Most government departments seem to be broken into so many pieces that do not work together, so putting them back together again would seem like a good idea to me. Trouble is, governments have a habit of creating new departments without dismantling the old ones.

As long as we don’t have to go through Citizens Advice Bureau to get to this new department…….. 😨

Member

As a renter myself but with family who rent there must be a balance between landlords and their tenants but at the moment it is not right for either party. No fault evictions move people from their homes without ever telling them why and no recourse. I think with the exception of serious issues such as continued non-payment, anti-social behavior or significant property damages (no the odd scratch on the wall doesn’t count) landlords and tenants should arbitrate through an ombudsman. Moving is costly and expensive and being asked to move because a landlord wants to repaint and refurbish the house (which happened to me once) under Scottish law I would have been giving reasonable moving expenses. Evicting a tenant is also an expensive and time consuming often needing solicitors and wasting court time, this process needs to be simplified and costs reduced. Scottish model tenancies seem to be a reasonable alternative to the current method giving well thought out reasons for asking a tenant to leave (such as wanting a family member to move in) and providing security for the tenant.

Member
ElizBeth says:
27 February 2018

Online review platforms like Marks Out Of Tenancy are being used by tenants to publicly provide feedback to landlord and letting agents.
Regulation of landlords and letting agents in various forms has been in place for years and yet renting can still be horrific for tenants.
Rouge landlords and letting agents give the decent majority a bad name.
Using market forces, Marks Out Of Tenancy is driving improvement rather than relying on regulation to do so.

Member
John Potter says:
1 March 2018

We live on a retirement park home site which is owned by a very unscrupulous park owner who will stop at nothing in order to get as much money out of us residents as he can and by any method that he thinks he can get away with.
We pay a monthly ‘pitch fee’ or ‘rent’ and many park owners do little or nothing for this. Park owners also take a whopping 10% of the selling price if a home is sold – the present law allows this. This ‘selling fee’ means that many elderly residents are trapped and are unable to move home of afford care.
We would like the government to bring in legislation so that park home residents are treated as home owners and not classed as ‘caravan dwellers’ as we are at the present. These homes are to all intents and purpose are the same as conventional bungalows, the only difference is that they stand on a concrete pad and not foundations, as the prewar prefabs. did.
The present law is outdated and dates back to the days of travelling caravans and classes our permanent homes as ‘chattels’ and not houses. THIS IS WRONG.
We need to have an ombudsman and / or an arbitration system to deal with disputes between residents and park owners.