Complaints about councils

Find out how to complain about housing-related services from your local council.

What you can complain about

You can complain if you receive a bad service from your council such as:

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

When to ask for a review instead

Sometimes you can ask for a formal review of a council decision if you think it's wrong. This is usually the best way to get a decision changed.

You can ask for a review of a decision on a:

You can still complain if you want to after your review has been dealt with.

How to complain to the council

Complaints might be dealt with by a central department such as customer services.

Or you might need to contact the service responsible, for example, the housing department or housing benefit section.

Find the right department for complaints on your local council's website

You can usually:

  • complete an online form
  • submit your complaint by phone, email or letter

Keep copies of any documents you send.

If you speak to someone, keep a record of what is said and who you speak to.

What happens next

The council should follow their own internal complaints procedure.

Usually an officer who was not involved with the original problem will investigate the complaint. They may ask for further information. 

When the investigation is complete, the council writes to you to explain:

  • their final decision and the reasons for it
  • what to do next if you're not satisfied with the outcome

You could contact your local councillor or MP about your problem. They might refer your complaint to the Housing Ombudsman if you're a council tenant or leaseholder.

Complain to an ombudsman service

An ombudsman is a free, independent service for resolving disputes and complaints.

It can consider a complaint that has not been resolved through the council's internal complaints procedure.

Which ombudsman to complain to

An ombudsman won't usually look at the case if it's more than a year since you got a final response from the council.

The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman considers complaints about council services generally, including homeless and waiting list applications, and administration of housing benefit.

Contact them if either:

  • you're dissatisfied with the council's final response to your complaint
  • you haven't received a response within 12 weeks of your original complaint

The Housing Ombudsman considers complaints from council tenants and leaseholders about the council's service as a landlord, for example, repairs, rent and service charges, and occupancy rights.

Contact them if:

  • you're dissatisfied with the council's final response to your complaint
  • 8 weeks have passed since you received it

A local councillor or MP can refer your case to the Housing Ombudsman earlier so you could contact them first.

Find out more about which ombudsman can deal with your complaint.

What happens next

The ombudsman decides if they can and should investigate. They don't investigate in all cases but will write to you with reasons if they decide not to. 

The Housing Ombudsman has an early resolution process where they try to resolve matters within 2 months without an investigation.

If a formal investigation takes place it can take up to a year although most cases are decided within 6 months. 

Ombudsman decisions

The ombudsman writes to you with their decision when the investigation is complete. They usually also publish an anonymised version of the decision on their website.   

If the ombudsman upholds your complaint they could ask the council to:

  • apologise
  • pay some compensation
  • improve their procedures
  • make a decision that they should have done
  • provide a service that they should have done  

The council is not legally obliged to comply with an ombudsman decision but in most cases they do.


Last updated 12 Jul 2018 | © Shelter

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