Tenant complaints to the Housing Ombudsman Service

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

This content applies to England

Role of the Housing Ombudsman Service

The Housing Ombudsman Service considers complaints about registered providers of social housing in England, including local authorities in respect of their landlord functions.

The Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS) is independent and impartial. The service is free of charge.

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 promotes good practice and supports landlords and tenants to resolve disputes between themselves.

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

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

The HOS and Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman have arrangements in place for transferring cases between them and working together on cases of overlapping jurisdiction.

Who can complain to the HOS

Anyone who is or was in a landlord or tenant relationship with a registered provider of social housing in England can make a complaint to the HOS. This includes people who have or 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 to the HOS

A person with a complaint can contact the HOS at an early stage of their complaint, as the HOS encourages early, local resolution of disputes.

The HOS does not usually begin a formal investigation until the complainant has exhausted the provider's internal complaint procedure.

If the person following the internal complaint procedure remains dissatisfied, they can:[2]

  • refer their complaint to a designated person who will try to resolve the complaint locally and if unsuccessful will refer the complaint to the HOS

  • complain directly to the HOS, but only if one of the following applies:[3]

    • eight weeks have elapsed since the internal complaints procedure was exhausted

    • a designated person refused to refer the complaint to the HOS

    • a designated person agreed in writing that the complainant could complain directly to the HOS

Types of complaints to the HOS

The HOS can consider the following types of complaints.[4]

Occupancy rights

This includes complaints about terms and conditions of a tenancy, succession and assignment, ending a tenancy (for example 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.

Compensation

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.

Designated persons for complaint to the Ombudsman

These are designated persons who can refer complaints to the HOS:[5]

  • an MP

  • a local councillor for the relevant local authority in which the property is located

  • a designated tenant panel

Designated tenant panels

A designated tenant panel is a group of tenants formed for the purpose of referring complaints to the HOS. It is 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 must 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 for complaints to the HOS

The HOS does 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)

  • brought to the HOS's attention more than 12 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 6 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.

Housing Ombudsman dispute resolution service

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.

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.

By supporting parties to make the best use of local processes, and by providing advice and guidance as well as intervention, the HOS aims to achieve early, local resolutions.

Housing Ombudsman decisions

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.

HOS referrals to the regulator of social housing

The HOS or any designated person can refer issues of regulatory concern about a registered provider to the Regulator of social housing.

The Regulator will investigate complaints if either:

  • the complaint provides evidence or grounds to suspect systemic failure against one or more of the its standards

  • 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

Last updated: 22 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

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

  • [2]

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

  • [3]

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

  • [4]

    s.181 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.