Housing Ombudsman Service
The role of the Housing Ombudsman is to resolve disputes either directly or by encouraging early and local complaint case resolution.
When handling a complaint the Ombudsman expects the landlord to:
a) Be fair – treat people fairly and follow fair processes
b) Put things rights
c) Learn from outcomes
From April 2016 the Housing Ombudsman Service are piloting a new approach in complaints being resolved locally. The Housing Ombudsman Service are working with complainants and landlords to see if cases can be resolved as 'early resolution'.
- This only applies only to complaint cases which have completed the landlord's complaints process
- Landlords and Customers now have an option to have the Housing Ombudsman service assist with what is termed ‘early resolution’
- Both parties must agree to this otherwise the case will go forward for investigation
- There is a limit of two months to reach an agreeable solution during which the Ombudsman service will offer focussed support to reach a resolution
- There will be a determination made by the Housing Ombudsman at that stage to reflect the agreed solution
- If an agreement/solution cannot be reached within the two month period the case will go forward for investigation.
Full details are in the Factsheet here.
The Housing Ombudsman Service has launched a free e-learning training package. By completing this training you will be able to understand what is meant by a fair outcome, and recognise how your actions contribute to a fair outcome.
Please click here for more information on the Housing Ombudsman Service including how to register and start the course.
Housing Ombudsman Service Case Digests
- Case 1 Tenancy management and service charges - determination received June 2014
Mrs X submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman about the way Orbit had managed her lease, including day-to-day management of the estate where she lived and accounting issues.
The complaints panel hearing, which took place under Orbit’s former complaints policy, focused on:
- Mrs X’s difficulties in contacting staff
- the lack of notification around change of management at the estate in question
- errors in service charges and changes to direct debit
- contractors notifying of intended works and letters not signed or dated
The complaints panel concluded that the issues raised had been addressed during the complaints procedure. It was accepted that Mrs X should have been given a choice on the repayment of the overpayment on service charges however, in conclusion, the overall complaint was not upheld as the complaints panel members felt that Orbit staff had dealt with the complaint satisfactorily.
An outcome of ‘no maladministration/no service failure’ was received from the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman said they “…will not make a finding against a landlord which has used its complaints procedure to improve its original service and to learn from the complaint so that similar issues are avoided in the future. We expect landlords to handle complaints using our dispute resolution principles. These ask that landlords are fair, put things right and learn from the complaint”. The Ombudsman identified that this had been done during this complaint.
- Case 2 Anti-social behaviour and tenancy management - determination received August 2014
Mr Y made a complaint to the Ombudsman relating to the action Orbit had taken to his reports of anti-social behaviour and parking problems in the communal parking area.
The complaints panel hearing which took place under Orbit’s former complaints policy met with Mr Y.
- Mr Y informed the panel that he felt he remained a victim of anti-social behaviour and he wished for the relentless intimidation to stop
- He wished to move to a private rented ground floor property and requested financial assistance from Orbit to enable and support a move
The complaints panel reached a decision that Mr Y’s complaint was not upheld. The panel concluded that officers had investigated Mr Y’s reports of anti-social behaviour with appropriate responses and action, based on the evidence available. The panel also determined that officers, working with other agencies, had actively sought to seek permanent solutions to the on-going situation, and in doing so had adhered to policy. The panel noted and supported Orbit’s previous offer of help with the cost of removals via Orbit’s under occupation incentive scheme, together with the offer to help with the disposal of any unwanted items and assistance with the clearing of Mr Y’s home, if required.
An outcome of ‘no maladministration/no service failure’ was received from the Ombudsman.
Having investigated the allegations relating to anti-social behaviour the Ombudsman concluded ‘that the Association [Orbit] offered appropriate redress to satisfactorily resolve the complaint’. In relation to the parking problems the Ombudsman stated ‘‘the Group (Orbit) dealt with the parking issues in an appropriate manner. It wrote to residents about the parking arrangements, conducted a survey and made significant changes to the customer’s parking bay to make it more accessible.’
- Case 3 Repairs - determination received October 2014
Mrs Z made a complaint to the Ombudsman about Orbit’s handling of her request to undertake a loft conversation at her property and the poor communication and conflicting advice she had been given. This led to her request to recover costs for drawings and calculations for a proposed loft conversation totalling £1543.
The complaints panel hearing which took place under Orbit’s former complaints policy met with Mrs Z.
- Mrs Z requested the Association reimburse accrued costs of £1543
- She also asked for an additional £750 in recognition of time spent dealing with this issue and the number of telephone calls and emails made
The panel recognised and accepted the period of time that Orbit failed to communicate effectively with Mrs Z and the considerable confusion which occurred regarding the refusal and then subsequent acceptance of loft conversion proposals. £100 was awarded by the panel in acknowledgement that Orbit failed to meet service standards in terms of delays of communication. However, the panel did not agree it appropriate to cover the costs for drawings and calculations. The panel considered that the decision not to proceed was Mrs Z’s personal decision due to a change in personal circumstances and the loft conversion was no longer required.
An outcome of no maladministration was received from the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman advised the refusal to reimburse the customer for the costs of the drawings and costs of engineer calculations was not unreasonable and that the offer of £100 compensation made during the complaint process for the inconvenience arising from how Orbit communicated with the customer was proportionate.
- Case 4 Repairs and planned works - determination received March 2016
Mr A complained to the Ombudsman about Orbit’s handling of aids and adaption works and various associated repairs.
Orbit investigated the complaint in line with its former complaints policy; the complaint was partially upheld. Orbit accepted there had been errors in communicating with Mr A surrounding the initial adaption works including timescales for completion. In light of this a new member of staff was asked to oversee all future works. On conclusion of the complaint, Orbit made an offer of compensation to Mr A which was accepted. However, Mr A progressed his complaint to the Ombudsman.
Following a lengthy review an outcome of no maladministration/no service failure was received from the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman informed Orbit that “The Association had upheld the complaint raised by the complainant during the course of it’s internal complaints procedure and offered suitable redress for the service failure. In addition the compensation offer was seen as being adequate. The Ombudsman deemed that Orbit had taken more than reasonable steps to progress the outstanding works”.
- Case 5 Shared Ownership and complaints handling - determination received October 2015
Mrs B complained to the Ombudsman about Orbit’s handling of the sales process in respect of their shared ownership property. While the complaint was being progressed through Orbit’s complaints procedure, there were delays with how the outcome was communicated to Mrs B. However, in recognition of these delays Mrs B was offered compensation.
After the complaint was investigated and reviewed, Mrs B remained dissatisfied with the explanations provided by Orbit surrounding the sale of their property and progressed the complaint to the Ombudsman.
An outcome of no maladministration was received from the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman advised they were satisfied that Orbit had handled the sale of Mrs B’s home appropriately and had given suitable compensation in respect of how the complaint was handled. The Ombudsman also concluded that the delay to the sale of Mrs B’s property was not caused by Orbit’s handling of this complaint but as a result of delays in being provided with the mortgage details of prospective buyers which was outside their control.
- Case 6 Complaints handling and tenancy issues - determination received November 2015
Mr C complained to the Ombudsman about Orbit’s response to reports of outstanding repairs to the communal areas of the building and at his home:
- The standard of cleaning and maintenance in the communal areas of the building
- The Association’s complaints handling
Orbit investigated the complaint in line with its former complaints policy and the case was also heard by a complaints panel. The complaint was upheld and compensation offered for the poor service. Additionally a number of actions and recommendations were made by the complaints panel including the need for a review of the repairs service, the creation of a specialist repairs team in Orbit’s Customer Service Centre and a review of Orbit’s complaints and compensation policies and procedures. However, Mr C progressed his complaint to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman initially referred the complaint back to Orbit for local resolution as it believed there was opportunity for both Orbit and Mr C to work together and resolve ongoing and new issues. Orbit met Mr C and agreed an action plan, however, Mr C requested the Ombudsman further investigate his complaint.
An outcome of no maladministration/no service failure was received from the Ombudsman. It was highlighted that Orbit had satisfactorily addressed the issues raised in the complaint, had demonstrated that it had put things right and learnt from the outcome of the complaint as well as making an appropriate offer of compensation to Mr C.
- Case 7 Allocations and lettings complaints handling - determination received July 2016
Mrs D complained to the Housing Ombudsman Service as she was unhappy with the outcome of her complaint which had been investigated and reviewed in line with Orbit’s complaints policy.
Mrs D’s complaint was that she felt Orbit had unfairly refused her mutual exchange application; she believed she had been given inaccurate advice by the Housing team when first submitting the application for a mutual exchange and was, as a result, financially disadvantaged. Her application for the mutual exchange had been refused, so Mrs D appealed but the application continued to be refused by Orbit. Mrs D asked for a formal complaint to be raised.
The formal complaint was fully investigated and reviewed but was not upheld by Orbit. The property was deemed unsuitable for Mrs D’s needs as there were too many bedrooms and included property adaptations which Mrs D did not require. Orbit identified there had been no failure in service by staff who had acted and given advice in line with policies and procedures.
The Ombudsman considered all the evidence provided by Mrs D and Orbit and confirmed there had been no maladministration with respect of Orbit’s handling of the mutual exchange application. In addition they advised there was no maladministration with respect of Orbit’s handling of Mrs D’s complaint.
- Case 8 Complaints handling, Shared Ownership and tenancy issues - determination received July 2016
Mr E complained to the Housing Ombudsman Service that Orbit had not responded to his concerns that the new communal doors were a health and safety risk as they were too heavy to open unassisted, nor had Orbit responded to his complaint in accordance with its complaints procedure. The Housing Ombudsman Service dealt with this case gathering information from Mr E, his family and Orbit. As a result of their investigation the Ombudsman concluded that there had been maladministration in how Orbit had dealt with the complaint
It concluded that there had been significant delays by Orbit in providing responses to Mr E. This was unacceptable as this did not promote Orbit delivering good customer service, nor did Orbit seem willing to address or investigate the matters raised by Mr E. In addition Orbit had failed to respond to Mr E’s concerns that Orbit had not complied with terms of the lease, specifically it had not enforced checks to ensure properties could only be occupied by elderly or retired people. It was also found that Orbit had not demonstrated it had adequately investigated the impact of the new doors on Mr E, despite these concerns having been raised.
The Housing Ombudsman Service ordered Orbit to pay Mr E compensation for the time and trouble spent in pursing his complaint. In addition Orbit were ordered to pay compensation for not providing timely responses to correspondence and to pay compensation for not adequately investigating Mr E’s concerns that the new doors installed were a health and safety risk.
Orbit complied with all orders within the timescales set and the Ombudsman considered the case to be closed.
- Case 9 Repairs - early resolution achieved. Case closed October 2015 without formal determination received.
Mr F complained to the Housing Ombudsman Service about Orbit’s actions in response to a leak at his property which, he stated, had resulted in him receiving an unusually high water bill. Although the complaint had been investigated and responded to in line with Orbit’s complaints procedure, the compensation offered was not reflective of the amount of water lost and the marked increase in the most recent water bill received.
The Ombudsman, in line with their new early resolution approach, asked whether Orbit and Mr F would consider working with the Ombudsman in trying to reach a determination without the need to go down the formal jurisdiction route. Both parties agreed.
With the Ombudsman’s intervention Orbit were provided with full details of the customer’s water usage and associated bills, evidence which hadn’t been provided by the customer previously in the complaint process. This new information was reviewed and, taking into account the continued time and trouble and upset experienced by the customer, an agreement was reached which the customer was happy with.
- Case 10 Repairs, tenancy issues and complaints handling – determination received December 2016
Mrs J complained to the Housing Ombudsman Service about how Orbit had failed to carry out agreed property adaptations, responded to faults to her immersion heater, refused to deal with a formal complaint relating to the immersion repairs and Orbit’s decision to restrict contact. Due to the complexity of the case and history surrounding Orbit’s dealings with the customer the Ombudsman advised they would determine on the case without it having exhausted Orbit’s complaint’s policy.
In determining the outcome of a complaint the Housing Ombudsman Service considers the extent to which a landlord has recognised and addressed any shortcomings and the appropriateness of any steps taken to offer redress.
In relation to the complaint about property adaptions, the Ombudsman concluded that there had not been any maladministration. The delay in carrying out the adaptations originally was not Orbit’s responsibility; Orbit indicated they were still willing to carrying these adaptations out.
In relation to the complaint about the immersion repairs, the Ombudsman concluded that had been no maladministration, in so far as Orbit carried out the repairs within a reasonable period, taking into account difficulties with access to the property.
In relation to the complaint about complaints handling the Ombudsman concluded service failure (as opposed to Maladministration) in so far as Orbit did not accept Mrs J’s complaint under its formal complaints policy when it would have been best practice to have done so.
In relation to the complaint about restricted contact, the Ombudsman concluded that there had been service failure (as opposed to Maladministration) in that Orbit did not fully comply with its complaints policy and procedure.
Orbit were ordered by the Housing Ombudsman Service to pay £100 compensation for the combined service failures.
- Case 11 Tenancy issues – determination received January 2017
Mr G complained to the Housing Ombudsman Service about Orbit’s handling of the sign up and termination of his tenancy. Mr G had received and accepted an offer via Choice Based Lettings for an Orbit property. The property was viewed by Mr G and the tenancy agreement signed. The day after Mr G moved into the property he subsequently moved out citing the property was not suitable due to activities that were going on in the area which would affect his occupation.
Orbit received a complaint from the customer with their belief Orbit were aware of activities but had failed to make these known. As a result a request was made from Mr G for the rent for the four week notice period to be waived.
The complaint was investigated and responded to in line with Orbit’s complaints policy and was not upheld by Orbit. Mr G was advised that the property was suitable for his needs and for families. The four week notice period on the property had been made clear to Mr G at the sign up meeting and this was an obligation of the customer as set out in the tenancy agreement which Mr G had signed. Orbit concluded there was no failure in service and were not able to agree for the rent to be waived.
Following the response Mr G contacted Orbit several times before approaching the Housing Ombudsman Service. The Ombudsman concluded Orbit had taken appropriate action in line with its Allocations and Lettings procedure. In addition it was concluded Orbit had taken appropriate steps in line with its complaints procedure and had carried out a fair investigation of the complaint.
The Ombudsman confirmed there had been no maladministration in respect of Mr G’s complaint about the landlord’s handling of the sign up and tenancy of the property.
- Case 12 Shared Ownership and tenancy issues – determination received January 2017
Miss H, a leaseholder with Orbit, complained it had taken approximately one year liaising with Orbit’s insurance company to have the leak in her property repaired. She complained that Orbit did not adhere to terms of the lease in that they did not contact the insurance provider to make a claim in relation to the leak, nor suspend rent owed on the property for the period Miss H had to vacate for repairs to be carried out.
For the period Miss H vacated the property, she did not pay rent relying on a clause within the lease that the rent would be suspended until such time as property fit for use. However, Orbit pursued rent for the 6 month period leaving Miss H’s account in arrears. During this time, Orbit’s insurers paid for the full costs of the temporary accommodation Miss H had to vacate to.
Orbit investigated and reviewed the complaint in line with the complaints policy. Although some shortcomings were recognised the complaint was not upheld. Miss H remained dissatisfied with the responses provided and escalated her complaint to the Housing Ombudsman Service.
Having considered all information, the Ombudsman concluded that there had been no maladministration in relation to the complaint that Orbit did not suspend the rent at the property. There was also no maladministration in relation to Miss H’s complaint in relation to Orbit’s involvement with the insurance company when filing the claim.
Reasons for this being:
Miss H had accommodation for the period during which the works were being carried out, therefore it was reasonable for rent to be paid on one of the properties. As the temporary accommodation costs were covered by the insurance company, it was reasonable that Miss H continued to pay rent at her property during this period of time.
The lease states that Orbit was to liaise with the insurance company. In this instance, however, Orbit provided Miss H with the insurer’s details and asked her to liaise directly with the company herself. This is in line with Orbit’s procedures and was seen to be reasonable in the circumstances.
- Case 13 Repairs – determination received January 2017
Mr K complained to the Ombudsman about Orbit’s decision not to reimburse him for additional water charges incurred due to a faulty toilet at the property. Mr K had submitted his complaint direct to Orbit whereby it was investigated and reviewed in accordance with Orbit’s complaints policy and procedure. The complaint had not been upheld throughout as Orbit advised it had met its service standards in regard to the toilet repair. The repair had been carried out timely (within 5 days of the problem being reported within the 28 day service standard), there had been no leak causing any damage to any part of Mr K’s home and the problem was not considered to be an urgent or emergency repair.
Mr K complained to the Ombudsman that his water bill had increased noticeably in comparison to the same period the previous year and he believed this was due to the faulty toilet. Mr K felt Orbit should have refunded him this additional cost.
The Ombudsman would only expect a landlord to offer compensation, reimbursement or additional costs in circumstances where the landlord had failed to carry out a repair or there had been a delay in doing so meaning the landlord had not fulfilled its repair obligations.
The Ombudsman concluded that Orbit was correct to identify the toilet leak as a routine repair. Until the repair had been reported, Orbit would not have known about any leak. The Ombudsman determined that there had been no maladministration by Orbit in the decision not to reimburse Mr K for the additional water charges incurred. There was no service failing in Orbit’s handling of the case.