Summary of our response
By streamlining redress provision in housing through a one ombudsman portal we believe that this will bring clarity to consumers and ensure they know where to go to raise housing-related complaints. Once a complaint has been raised the portal should have the capacity to filter complaints back to agents (if the agent’s internal complaints procedures has not been first exhausted) or advance complaints for consumers to the ombudsman.
Redress works in different ways for private and social housing. Therefore, we don’t believe it is feasible to only have a single ombudsman for the property sector. By having one ombudsman for private housing and another for social housing this will ensure consistency across the housing sectors and improve the speed of redress.
Who should be the ombudsman?
Based on knowledge, size of membership, experience and capacity, we believe that the ombudsman for private housing should be The Property Ombudsman and the ombudsman for social housing should be the Housing Ombudsman. The Property Ombudsman will cover the private rented sector, block management, land and new homes, sales and letting agents. The Housing Ombudsman will cover social landlords, housing associations and providers of social homes.
The two ombudsmen should hold responsibility for and outline the overarching principles for how the private and social housing sectors should handle complaints. By doing this it will unify the existing procedures and ensure that members of redress schemes are working to the same professional standards. It will also mean that where there are overlaps between the private sector and social housing the two ombudsmen can work together, creating a commonality in approach. It will also allow for one of the schemes to take the lead if a complaint covers both sectors.
The overarching principles should then be developed to ensure that the ombudsmen hold relevant industry codes of practice that are more detailed. The industry-specific codes of practice would cater for the diversity of work carried out under the various industry disciplines (one for lettings, one for sales, one for block management, one for landlords, one for social housing providers, one for land and new homes). This would cater for the specialisms in law and practice across the property sector but also drive up professional standards.
Regulation and redress working together
We welcome the Government’s plans to regulate property agents and a streamlined redress provision in housing provides an opportunity to build a relationship between the two housing ombudsmen and a regulator of the industry. For instance, working practice could be developed to ensure that the ombudsmen are obliged to inform the regulator of any new member of the scheme and work with the regulator to ensure that complaints, such as those seeking regulatory action contact the regulator and those requiring individual redress contact the portal, are signposted effectively. There is also the possibility of ensuring that the ombudsmen can refer providers to the regulator. Currently, redress schemes can only expel agents from the scheme. By linking up with the regulator more regulatory action can be taken against agents who do not adhere to the professional standards set out by the redress schemes.
Gaps in the system
We believe there are gaps in redress for buyers of new homes, because not all developers are registered with the Consumer Code for Home Builders; and people living in blocks of flats managed directly by the freeholder also have no access to a complaints system. On the requirement as to whether all private landlords should belong to a redress scheme, we believe that the requirement should be limited only to those landlords who do not use an agent to let and manage their property.