Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Should tenants retain direct access to the housing ombudsman?

Three 'big hitters' have thrown their weight behind the National Housing Federation's campaign to ensure tenants can continue to complain directly to the Housing Ombudsman.

Shelter, TPAS and 24housing magazine are supporting the Federation's scheme to remove a clause in the Localism Bill that would force tenants to complain through councillors, MPs or tenant panels to access the Ombudsman, having first completed their landlord's internal complaints procedure. This is known as the 'democratic filter'.

The Federation sees this as unneccessary red tape, likely to mean fewer, less successful complaints. Their campaign has already attracted the support of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Lord Best and Lord Patel of Bradford.

In May this year the Federation published an article voicing concern that, 'the proposal would force tenants who might have an in-depth knowledge of the policies surrounding the particular issue at hand to make their complaint via someone who in effect would be a third party generalist.'

The Ombudsman has published information outlining its current position - inviting questions or comments, and in February 2011 the British and Irish Ombudsman Association submitted evidence to Parliament's Public Bill Committee.

They said, 'In summary, we believe that restricting access to ombudsmen by the introduction of a filtering scheme would undermine the rights of the citizen and would not in practice achieve more local resolution of complaints.'

During a recent Westminster debate, Grant Shapps made it clear that he is in favour of the democratic filter. He said:
'The reason why I am so keen for [complaints] to be channelled through local MPs, local councillors and tenants panels is that the tenants will be empowered to resolve problems, with the implicit threat that if the problem is not resolved through work with tenants and their representatives, a referral can be made to the ombudsman.'

'I believe that if that happens, far more cases will be resolved at local level and it will have the added benefit of drawing in councillors, who in many cases have become distant and disconnected from local housing problems, particularly where stocks have been transferred. It will draw them back into the discussion and an understanding of what is happening with the stock. It is very much about resolution.'
In December 2010 we wrote an article outlining moves to end the system of two separate ombudsmen handling social housing complaints in England.


  1. Whilst I agree in principle that tenants should continue to have direct access to the Housing Ombudsman, the process is itself flawed. In this respect I take issue with TPAS because I have remained at Stage 2 of Sanctuary H/A own complaints procedure for 600 + days because TPAS fiddled one of it's Mediation processes to help Sanctuary H/A out of a hole it had dug itself. I am also aware that a lot of tenants who have complained to the Housing Ombudsman did not think the outcome was worth the long journey and time involved.

  2. Housing Ombudsman Dr Michael Biles told Kate Murray (writing in The Governor last month) that the 'democratic filter' goes against a key principle of a good ombudsman.

    "Direct access to the ombudsman is one of the crucial pillars [of the service],"he says. "The Cabinet Office guidance itself says that an ombudsman service should be independent, accessible, efficient and effective and accountable. For an ombudsman to be an ombudsman, citizen should have direct access."

    He continues:
    "Why not experiment on middle class people going to the Local Government Ombudsman complaining about planning, education or refuse collection? Why social tenants?"

  3. The NHF has published a news article about this, including a link to a letter signed jointly by TPAS and Shelter.


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