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Tenant complaints to the Housing Ombudsman Service

This content applies to England

Information about complaining to the Housing Ombudsman Service about a registered provider of social housing.

Role of the Housing Ombudsman Service

From 1 April 2013, complaints about registered providers of social housing in England, including local authorities in respect of their landlord functions, are considered by the Housing Ombudsman Service.

The Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS) can decide whether a registered provider of social housing in England has been responsible for maladministration while carrying out its landlord functions. The Ombudsman may investigate complaints and, if they find in favour of the complainant, may require the provider to take steps to put things right or to compensate the complainant. Maladministration may include neglect and unjustified delay; malice, bias or unfair discrimination; providing inaccurate or misleading advice.

The HOS also supports landlords and tenants to resolve disputes between themselves, and promotes good practice.

Anonymised reports of HOS investigations are available from the Housing Ombudsman Service.

The Ombudsman is independent and impartial, and the service is free of charge.

The HOS jurisdiction

All registered providers of social housing in England must be members of the HOS.

The HOS can consider complaints against:[1]

  • local authorities in respect of their landlord functions
  • private registered providers of social housing (PRPSH) – principally housing associations
  • arm's length management organisations (ALMOs), and
  • certain private landlords and management agents who have agreed voluntarily to be subject to the HOS, for example, some unregistered subsidiaries of registered providers and some charities providing housing.

See the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) page for information about the LGSCO's jurisdiction. The HOS and LGSCO have arrangements in place for transferring cases between them and/or working together on cases of overlapping jurisdiction.

Types of complaint

The HOS can consider the following types of complaints:[2]

Occupancy rights

This includes complaints about:

  • terms and conditions of a tenancy
  • succession and assignment
  • ending a tenancy (eg notice periods)
  • abandonment of property
  • possession proceedings.

Moving to a property

This includes complaints about:

  • transfer applications that fall outside the statutory regime (complaints about allocations and transfers under Part 6 of the Housing Act 1996 fall under the LGO's jurisdiction)
  • type of tenancy offered
  • mutual exchange
  • decision whether to renew a fixed-term tenancy
  • decants
  • mobility schemes.

Condition of property

This includes complaints about:

  • condition of the property when first let
  • repairs
  • planned maintenance
  • improvement works carried out by landlord or tenant
  • disabled adaptations.

Tenants' behaviour

This includes complaints about:

  • antisocial behaviour
  • noise nuisance
  • harassment.

Estate management

This includes complaints about:

  • maintenance of communal areas
  • use of communal areas
  • boundary issues
  • maintenance of grounds
  • parking.

Landlords' complaint handling

This includes complaints about the handling of a complaint under then landlord's complaints procedure, including delays.


These include complaints about:

  • home loss payments
  • disturbance payments
  • compensation for improvements carried out by the tenant/occupier
  • payment for damage to property or tenant's belongings
  • discretionary payments or 'goodwill gestures' under the landlord's compensation policy.

Leasehold services

These include complaints about:

  • shared ownership
  • sales processes for leasehold properties owned by housing associations
  • right to buy and right to acquire for tenants of housing associations only (complaints about the right to buy for local authority tenants fall under the LGO's jurisdiction)
  • repair responsibilities under the lease
  • mortgage rescue schemes
  • leasehold services provided by the landlord.

Who can complain

Anyone who is, or has been, in a landlord/tenant relationship with a registered provider of social housing in England can make a complaint to the HOS. This includes people who have, or have had:

  • a lease
  • a tenancy
  • a licence to occupy
  • a service agreement, or
  • any other arrangement to occupy premises owned or managed by the provider.

Representatives of any of the above can make a complaint on their behalf.

How to complain

A complainant may contact the HOS at an early stage of their complaint, as the HOS encourages early, local resolution of disputes. The HOS will not usually begin a formal investigation until the complainant has exhausted the provider's internal complaint procedure (see under Time limits below). If the complainant remains dissatisfied, they can either:[3]

  • refer their complaint to a 'designated person' (see below) who will try to resolve the complaint locally and if unsuccessful will refer the complaint to the HOS, or
  • complain direct to the HOS, but only if:[4]
    • eight weeks have elapsed since the internal complaints procedure was exhausted, or
    • a designated person refused to refer the complaint to the HOS, or
    • a designated person agreed in writing that the complainant could complain directly to the HOS.

Designated persons

The following are designated persons for the purpose of referring complaints to the HOS:[5]

  • an MP
  • a local councillor for the relevant local authority (ie in which the property is located)
  • a 'designated tenant panel' (see below).

The Chartered Institute of Housing together with other housing organisations has published 'Understanding the Designated Person: Frequently Asked Questions'.

Designated tenant panels

A 'designated tenant panel' is a group of tenants specifically formed for the purpose of referring complaints to the HOS and recognised by registered providers of social housing.[6] Each registered provider may recognise more than one panel and it must provide the HOS with each recognised panel's contact details. The HOS is required to maintain a list of all recognised designated tenant panels.

Registered providers of social housing do not have to set up designated tenant panels but must support their formation and activities if their tenants want them.

Time limits

The HOS will not start formal investigations into complaints that are:

  • made prior to having exhausted a registered provider's complaints procedure (although there are exceptions when a complainant has been prevented from completing the complaints procedure)
  • referred directly to the HOS by the complainant (except in the situations allowed, see 'How to complain' above)
  • brought to the HOS's attention more than twelve months after the complainant has exhausted the provider's complaints procedure
  • brought to the attention of the registered provider as a formal complaint after a reasonable period has elapsed, which would normally be within six months of the matters to which the complaint relates.

Although formal investigation is subject to the above time scales, the HOS will intervene in a dispute at an early stage in order to facilitate early resolution.

Dispute resolution

The HOS aims to secure a fair outcome within all of the circumstances of each case, having regard to legal standards, good practice and regulatory requirements. Thus the HOS may award compensation even in the absence of any particular loss if there has been a lack of fairness in how a complainant has been treated. The HOS aims to achieve early, local resolution by supporting parties to make the best use of local processes, and by providing advice and guidance as well as intervention.

Ombudsman determinations

The HOS may decide to:

  • reject the complaint
  • recommend that the landlord follows a course of action, such as apologise to the complainant, pay compensation, carry out (or not carry out) works, or to take any other reasonable step to secure redress.

The HOS expects landlords to comply with its determinations, and may require evidence to demonstrate compliance. Where a landlord fails to comply with a recommendation, the HOS may make an enforceable order requiring its determination to be followed.

Regulatory concerns

The HOS or any designated person can refer issues of regulatory concern about a registered provider to the Regulator of social housing. A statutory committee of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is the regulator of all registered providers of social housing, including local authorities, and will investigate complaints if:

  • the complaint provides evidence or grounds to suspect systemic failure against one or more of the its standards, or
  • it raises serious regulatory concerns, such as an immediate/potential risk to a tenant's or a number of tenants' health and safety, an allegation of mismanagement or fraud, or a significant risk to the reputation of the sector.

For more information about complaining to the Regulator of social housing see the Complaints against social housing providers page in the Regulation of social housing providers section.


The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] The Localism Act 2011 (Commencement No. 2 and Transitional Provisions) Order 2013 SI 2013/722 (C. 33).

[2] s.181 Localism Act 2011.

[3] para 7A, Sch. 2, Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.180 Localism Act 2011.

[4] para 7B, Sch. 2, Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.180 Localism Act 2011.

[5] para 7A(3), Sch. 2, Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.180 Localism Act 2011.

[6] para 7C, Sch. 2, Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.180 Localism Act 2011.

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