With the Housing Ombudsman already applying a code, the consultation forms part of it becoming a statutory requirement under the Social Housing Regulation Act. For social landlords, including councils, already under the Complaint Handling Code, there will be few changes with the main provisions of the proposed statutory Code unchanged.
For the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, the consultation sees a code, which is being introduced for all local government functions for the first time. For councils who are landlords, this will end the two-tier system with housing management and corporate complaints.
While social landlords have had to meet the obligations within the Code since it was introduced three years ago, under a statutory Code landlords will have to demonstrate they are meeting the requirements of the Code, including submitting their completed self-assessment to the Housing Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman will have new powers under its duty to monitor to hold landlords to account on complaint handling.
The joint Complaint Handling Code is the first time two Ombudsman schemes have worked together on a unified Code and will help raise the standard of complaint handling across housing and local government services.
The consultation will run from 28 September 2023 to 23 November 2023.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Effective complaint handling is essential for landlords and an indicator of culture and behaviours. The Code helps organisations to get it right – to build relationships with residents, horizon scan and manage risks, promote organisational learning and develop services.
The original Code was the result of continuous engagement with a working group of landlords drawn from across our membership, together with tenant and professional bodies. This consultation is an opportunity to engage residents and landlords further.
With a statutory Code there will be a legal duty on landlords to comply with it and we will be able to intervene with a landlord on the Code even when we have not received a complaint.
However, landlords should not be waiting for the Code to become statutory. It is vital landlords are proactive in seeking to comply with the Code ahead of time. The existing Code will remain a condition of Scheme membership and we will continue to take action where necessary.”
Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The new Code will become the single gold standard for complaint handling in the local government sector. It will allow local councils to be confident they are employing best practice, while making it easier for local people to hold councils and social landlords to account. It will also align complaints about housing management, which are already subject to the Code through the Housing Ombudsman, with other local authority services.
The quality of complaint handling within an organisation and the willingness to learn from complaints is an essential measure of corporate health. The Code puts complaint handling at the heart of corporate governance in councils, requiring regular reporting of performance allowing for effective scrutiny of service delivery.
While we are committed to introducing a Complaint Handling Code, we very much want the views of the local government sector to steer its implementation. We have written to Chief Executives of all local councils in England inviting them to respond to the consultations and are also providing a route for the public to comment through our website.”
The aim is for the Code to become statutory from 1 April 2024.
Both Ombudsman offices will be hosting webinars with the local government and social landlord sectors during the consultation period, and will be inviting relevant parties directly.