The key findings from the Housing Ombudsman's recently published annual complaints review for the year 2022-2023.

Annual Complaints Review 2022/2023

The Housing Ombudsman has recently published his annual complaints review for the year 2022-2023. It paints ‘a challenging picture of social housing'.

Notably, the report details a significant increase in findings of maladministration. For the first time the report also includes details of Complaint Handling Failure Orders (CHFOs).

Headlines from the report include:

  • a 28% increase in complaints received compared to the previous year
  • a 323% rise in findings of severe maladministration
  • a 40% increase in findings of maladministration
  • a 20% drop in no findings of maladministration
  • an increase in findings of maladministration where service requests were not handled reasonably
  • a decrease in findings of no fault
  • 91 landlords have a maladministration rate above 50%
  • 146 CHFOs were issued last year
  • £1.1 million was ordered in compensation

The Ombudsman concludes that the increase in adverse findings is due to a combination of poor property conditions, legislative changes, media attention and the inquest into the tragic death of Awaab Ishak. Most CHFOs were issued based on failures to progress complaints in line with the Complaint Handling Code.

What are maladministration and severe maladministration?

Maladministration is defined as ‘a formal decision by the Ombudsman Service that a landlord has failed to do something, done something it shouldn't have or, in the Ombudsman's opinion, delayed unreasonably'. It is a defence for the landlord to prove that there has been no fault on its part.

A finding of severe maladministration is found in the most serious cases, usually when residents have experienced problems over an extended period of time or the landlord has missed opportunities to resolve them. Cases often centre around repairs, leaks and damp and mould problems.

‘No fault'

To seek to prove that there has been no fault on its part, it is essential that the landlord has well written policies, a robust complaints procedure and comprehensive record keeping systems. With those in place, a landlord should be able to demonstrate the steps taken following receipt of a tenant's complaint, in line with its own policies and procedures and the reasons for the same. Where appropriate, when a failing has been identified, the landlord should offer the tenant suitable compensation. This should hopefully demonstrate to the Ombudsman that the landlord has responded promptly and appropriately and complied with all of its legislative and regulatory responsibilities.

The future

Under the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 the Ombudsman has gained considerable new powers and is now able to order a landlord to evaluate a particular policy or practice to prevent service failure being repeated. Previously, these types of orders would only have been recommendations which the landlord was not duty bound to act upon.

The Ombudsman can also require the landlord to go beyond the scope of individual complaints and seek to address any wider issues, and he has also launched a complaint handling code consultation ahead of it becoming statutory. This gives landlords the opportunity to provide their views on the proposals before they are set in statute.

All of this comes alongside an increase in the number of ‘no win - no fee' housing conditions claims being pursued by tenants, often in tandem with their complaint to the Ombudsman, complicating matters further and increasing overall expenditure for landlords.

Best practice

With the spotlight on the social housing sector shining more brightly than ever before, it is vital that landlords take stock, audit their policies and procedures, and update where necessary to ensure they are able to appropriately address their tenants' complaints, thereby reducing the risk of adverse findings being made and published by the Ombudsman.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.