Complaints over unsafe housing taking a year to resolve after campaign to speed it up
Social housing tenants are being forced to wait 12 months or more for the housing ombudsman to deal with complaints of unsafe conditions, despite a government campaign to speed up the process.
Earlier this year, Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, launched the “Make it Right” advertising campaign, directing people to complain to the housing ombudsman if requests for maintenance and repairs to their landlord were ignored.
Previously, there was what was called the “democratic filter” which tenants had to go through first – making a complaint to their local MP or councillor and waiting eight weeks before escalating the matter.
But the changes, which came into force in October last year, have caused more delays for tenants.
One tenant, who wanted to remain anonymous, made numerous complaints on behalf of a disabled neighbour, who, he says, was living in unsuitable conditions in March last year. A year later, after the new powers came into effect, his case was yet to be allocated to an investigator.
An email seen by City A.M. from the ombudsman to the tenant acknowledged the extensive delays as a result of a deluge in new complaints.
It said: “Unfortunately, due to the increased volume of cases being handled by the Ombudsman, we are experiencing some delays in allocating cases.”
The ombudsman said it was going through an “intensive recruitment drive”, to match the number of complaints.
“The current timescale seems to be about a year. If you double the number of complaints, that’s not going to improve”, said Giles Peaker, partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors LLP, who regularly deals with cases of unsafe housing conditions.
The ombudsman was granted the ability to charge higher subscription fees, which private housing providers pay, but were given no extra resources.
“We are confident the ombudsman and regulator will have the resources and skills they need to implement our changes”, said a spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The housing ombudsman confirmed they’ve seen a 78 per cent growth in requests for formal investigations in the year from 2021 to 2022 and further increases in the following year.
“In 2021/22 the Housing Ombudsman’s average time to determine a case was 4.6 months, which was within the adjusted target agreed with DLUHC following the unprecedented surge in demand”, the ombudsman said.
In the email seen by City A.M. the ombudsman also said they “are undergoing an extensive period of recruitment” to manage the increasing demand.