Complaints about councils

Find out how to complain about your local council.

What you can complain about

You can complain to the council if you receive a bad service.

Bad service can include:

  • poor communication
  • long delays
  • rudeness of staff
  • failure to carry out legal obligations


You can complain if you are a council tenant and the council won't do repairs or does them badly.

Homeless applications and temporary accommodation

You can complain if you are a homeless applicant and the council fails to carry out their legal responsibilities when you approach them.

If you were given accommodation by the council after a homeless application you can complain about:

Housing benefit

The council is responsible for housing benefit payments.

You can complain if the housing benefit department:

Council-owned Gypsy and Traveller sites

If you are a Gypsy or Traveller, you can complain to the council about:

Freeholder responsibilities

If you own your home on a long lease (including a shared ownership lease) and the council is the freeholder, you can complain if the council is not doing what the lease says, for example failing to clean the common parts of the building or carry out structural repairs.

Who to contact to complain

Your council may have a complaints department that deals with all complaints.

Or you may need to contact the department responsible for your problem, for example:

  • the homeless department, for problems with bed and breakfasts and temporary accommodation
  • the housing benefit department, for complaints about your housing benefit
  • the housing department, for repairs and other tenancy issues

Find the right department on your local council's website

How to complain

Use the council's formal complaints procedure.

Ask about this at a council office or find more information from the council's website.

Tell the council:

  • the nature of your complaint
  • details of the time, date and place where the problem happened
  • what you would like the council to do to solve the problem

Keep copies of any documents you send.

Make notes if you speak to someone at the council. Keep a record of what was said and who you spoke to.

What happens next

After you make your complaint, the council should investigate.

An investigator or complaints officer, who has not been involved with your case before, may ask you for more information. They can also ask for information from other people connected with the problem.

When the investigation is complete, the council sends you a decision letter, which explains:

  • what decision the council has made
  • the reasons for the decision
  • what you can do next if you are not satisfied with the decision

How to take your complaint further

You can complain further if you are not satisfied with the result at the end of the complaints procedure.

The council may have a process for taking your complaint further or appealing their decision about your complaint.

You may be able to complain to an MP, a local councillor a tenants' panel, or an ombudsman.

You might be able to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle your dispute without taking legal action.

Find out more from Citizens Advice about alternative dispute resolution

Complain to the Housing Ombudsman

You can complain to the Housing Ombudsman if your complaint is refused or the council refuses to look at a further complaint.

The Ombudsman is an independent organisation and their service is free.

The Ombudsman looks at how the council dealt with your problem. They will decide if the council acted properly and followed the correct procedures.

If they agree with your complaint, they can recommend that the council takes steps to put things right.

Decisions by the Housing Ombudsman are not legally binding but most councils usually follow them.

The Ombudsman deals with complaints about:

  • a council's repair responsibilities to its tenants and leaseholders
  • cleaning or repairs of communal areas
  • compensation payments for damage to property or tenants' belongings
  • the types of tenancy a council offers

What the Ombudsman can do

The Ombudsman cannot usually help you until you have gone through the council's formal complaints procedure.

The Ombudsman cannot usually help you if you have a court case about your complaint.

The Ombudsman doesn't look at every case they receive.

Find out more from Housing Ombudsman about what it can do about complaints.

You may be able to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or go to court if you are not happy with the Ombudsman's decision.

When to ask for a review of a decision

Some council decisions can be reviewed.

If you disagree with a decision the council has made about your homeless application, you can ask it to review the decision.

Find out more about challenging homelessness decisions.

You can also ask for a review of any council decision to:

You can complain about how long the council took to deal with your housing benefit application, but you can also appeal or ask for a review if you disagree with the decision the council made.

Find out more about housing benefit reviews and appeals.

You can also appeal if you think the council is charging you the wrong amount of council tax.

Find out more from about council tax appeals.

Last updated 02 Jan 2014 | © Shelter

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