The Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Mr Gove MP, has now named and shamed 14 social landlords (at the time of writing) for a variety of service failures.

In an article posted on the Government website dated 28 December 2022, which describes a letter penned by Mr Gove, he urged lawyers to direct tenants to the Housing Ombudsman to save tenants time and money. He further remarked that the Ombudsman should be the first port of call for reporting complaints about their landlord (presumably after the internal complaints process has been exhausted).

He also noted that it was unacceptable that landlords let legal proceedings get in the way of repairs. This would appear to be a thinly veiled remark to the policy of Rochdale Borough Housing not to undertake repairs once a legal claim had been initiated unless it had been agreed with the tenant's solicitors.

Mr Gove sought to remind tenants (and lawyers) that the Ombudsman is free to use and complaints can be made directly without a lawyer. He went on to say that "I'm urging everyone offering advice, from solicitors to voluntary organisations, to always direct social housing tenants with complaints to the Housing Ombudsman".

The Birketts view

Many social landlords would, we are sure, be more than happy for complaints to be made via the internal procedure and then via the Ombudsman rather than through third party solicitors. Indeed we expect many landlords already explain the benefits of the complaints process and the Ombudsman as a free to use measure of resolving disputes quickly and efficiently without the involvement of costly third party lawyers. However, it is anticipated that third party solicitors will be much more reluctant to encourage their clients to use the Ombudsman service, as it stops the lawyers from making money. Therefore, whilst the Government seems to be relying on the good conscious of the claimant lawyers to do this, it may require an amendment to the Pre-Action Protocol, or the Courts penalising the Claimant Lawyers in costs for not advising the tenants to try this route first, before we see it being widely used.

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