Council shamed over poor handling of complaint from social housing tenant

Sunday, 7 April 2024 17:02

By Chris Barnett, Local Democracy Reporter @

Sandwell Council is among several local authorities named and shamed by the Housing Ombudsman for its poor handling of complaints from social housing tenants.

The order issued by the Housing Ombudsman – which investigates social housing complaints – said Sandwell Council had not complied after failing to deal with a complaint properly and on time. The authority was among nine social housing landlords, which included several London councils, to be highlighted for its poor performance.

The orders are given to social housing landlords who do not comply with the ombudsman’s code. Orders might also be given out to landlords that have “systemic issues” with handling complaints.

A spokesperson for Sandwell Council said: “We have learned from this particular case and we have already made a number of changes to the way we handle complaints from residents. We have apologised to our tenant for the delay and inconvenience caused.

“As determined by the Housing Ombudsman, we recognise our failings in the way we handled complaints in this case and the ongoing distress caused.

“We are working with our tenant and their family to make ongoing repairs to the property and to rectify any outstanding issues. We will complete a full review of our actions in this case to understand what went wrong and continue to make improvements to our services.

“We have created a new Housing Resolutions team, which will work with residents and advocate for them when they are dissatisfied with the service they have received. This team is improving the way complaints are investigated, managed and responded to, to prevent other residents from experiencing unreasonable delays in having their concerns resolved.

“This is so we can improve our response to residents when these issues arise in the future.”

Housing ombudsman Richard Blakeway said the orders were only issued in “exceptional circumstances” and only came after several attempts to contact social housing landlords had been made.

“Most of these orders are made while the complaint is live the landlord’s procedure, revealing issues that occurred in the last three months,” he said in response to the latest complaints reporter.

“We only issue a handful compared to the thousands of cases we handle and after much intervention with the landlord.

“These orders help landlords to identify where action is necessary to improve complaint handling, and with most landlords this appears to be successful. Ultimately, this helps complaints to be resolved earlier by the landlord itself, which is essential given the continued rise in complaints. “It is vital landlords assess their complaints procedure as the code becomes statutory. This also means ensuring its complaints team has the resources and leverage within the landlord to do its job and to ensure there is fairness for residents when making a complaint.”

The criticism by the ombudsman comes as the body’s complaints code is set to become law from April – as well as a steep rise in complaints in the last 12 months.

Sandwell Council was criticised by local government secretary Michael Gove last year for failing to properly respond to an anti-social behaviour complaint from a resident with complex mental health needs. “You let your resident down on this occasion and in a way that is totally unacceptable,” the letter from Mr Gove to council chief executive Shokat Lal said. “… You failed to provide the level of service your residents should expect to receive. This is deeply disappointing.”


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