A step too far
The Law Commission is fighting the requirement for tenants to make all complaints in writing, says Lynne Murray
Recommendations published last week by The Law Commission, directly challenging the Localism Bill’s proposals for managing tenants’ complaints, will have received a mixed reception from social housing landlords and tenants.
The commission, in its report on the role of public services ombudsmen, has expressed concern with the bill’s proposal that all complaints to the Housing Ombudsman must be made in writing, without exception. It argues that this approach will adversely affect vulnerable tenants. At present, complaints need only be ‘duly made’, which means that a telephone call by a tenant will suffice.
The Law Commission is also questioning proposals in the Localism Bill which require all social housing complaints be made to a ‘designated person’ (for example an MP, a local councillor or a ‘designated tenant panel’), before a tenant can approach the ombudsman. This ‘democratic filter’ is meant to encourage the local resolution of complaints. It is not immediately clear how tenants’ interests are better served by inserting another step in the process.
Furthermore, landlords will be concerned about tenants shopping around to find someone who will take up their case, and in doing so, turn a quasi-judicial process into a political free-for-all.
Landlords will, therefore, not necessarily welcome the commission’s suggestion of a dual track approach, whereby tenants would have direct access to the ombudsman in tandem with the democratic filter.
It is not yet known how the report will impact the Localism Bill, but landlords will certainly want to keep an eye on developments.
Lynne Murray, partner at TLT