Housing

Private landlords will have to join a housing complaints service or be fined

The Housing Complaints Resolution Service will help tenants get compensation for maintenance issues

Secretary of State for Housing James Brokenshire has announced a new scheme set to streamline the complaints process for tenants and homeowners, with 14,000 private renters having sought advice on maintenance disputes in the last 12 months.

It’s hoped the Housing Complaints Resolution Service will simplify the current system in England which consists of several different complaints bodies and can prove difficult for residents to navigate when they want to raise an issue, from broken boilers to mould problems. It was described by the government as “confusing and bureaucratic”.

For the first time, all private landlords will be required by law to register with a redress scheme regardless of tenure – and could be fined £5,000 if they neglect to do so.

The government surveyed 1,200 private renters and homeowners between February and April last year when developing the plans.

Brokenshire said: “Creating a housing market that works for everyone isn’t just about building homes, it’s about ensuring people can get the help they need when something goes wrong. But all too often the process can be confusing and overly bureaucratic, leaving many home owners and tenants feeling like there is nowhere to go in the event of problems with their home.

“The proposals I have announced will help ensure all residents are able to access help when they need it, so disputes can be resolved faster, and people can get compensation where it’s owed.”

The overhaul will create a single access point, working to direct complaints to the right service instead of residents having to go through the process themselves – but some have said this action doesn’t go far enough and are calling for a single housing ombudsman to be established.

Kirsty Good, head of campaigns at MoneySavingExpert, said: “Today’s announcement is a real step forward for private tenants and leaseholders, who will finally have somewhere to turn when they can’t resolve a problem directly with their landlord or freeholder. But while the portal system should make the process of complaining easier for the consumer, the question still remains of how toothless the dispute resolution schemes are that it will filter complaints to.

“MoneySavingExpert is campaigning for wholesale reform of ombudsman schemes – many alternative dispute resolution and ombudsman schemes are not set up by law, and don’t have the power to enforce their decisions in court by statute.

“We hope that today’s announcement is just the beginning and the government will now rise to the challenge of implementing comprehensive reform of dispute resolution across consumer sectors, to create a truly gold standard ombudsman system.”

In response to the government announcement, Citizens Advice said that repair and maintenance problems were the single biggest issue private renters sought their help on.

Chief executive Gillian Guy said the current system is “risky, costly and complicated”, and that the single portal model is great news.

However she added: “It’s important the Housing Complaints Resolution Service is free, easy to navigate and protects renters from ‘revenge eviction’ if they complain.

“We look forward to working with the government to make sure this service is fit for purpose and is legislated for as soon as possible.”

The complaints system for social housing is being considered separately.

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