Regulation  

Ombudsman calls for simplified housing complaints process

Ombudsman calls for simplified housing complaints process

Ombudsman Services is calling on the government to simplify the system of consumer complaints in the housing and property market.

The national private sector ombudsman scheme has claimed the current complaints process is too complex and confusing with a “baffling patchwork” of schemes involved.

The body is approved to provide dispute resolution across sectors including energy and communications but recently withdrew from the housing sector so as not to add further confusion to the consumer compliant procedure in the market. 

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Despite its withdrawal, the ombudsman body is continuing to call for a single ombudsman for the housing sector - following a survey in which seven in 10 people said they found the current system of housing complaints confusing and more than half did not know where or how to complain. 

Matthew Vickers, chief ombudsman designate at Ombudsman Services, said the current system is fragmented, complicated and ineffective with consumers deserving better.

Ombudsman Services produced a diagram showing nearly 40 services, charities, advice groups and trade bodies involved in the housing and property complaints sector, leading to overlaps and gaps in the system making it “virtually impossible” for consumers to resolve disputes.

Mr Vickers said: "By following the model used in energy, where strong regulation is backed up by a single ombudsman and effective advocacy, redress in housing could be transformed for the better.

"Our research shows that the vast majority of the public support this approach."

In June 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment published the 'Better redress for homebuyers' report calling for a new homes ombudsman to better provide redress for dissatisfied homebuyers.

The group suggested the ombudsman should be independent, free of charge and provide swift resolution to consumer complaints.

The same report recommended a single portal, with a single entry point, for dispute resolution services spanning the residential sector which would see consumer complaints referred to the appropriate ombudsman and reduce confusion in the market. 

However, Ombudsman Services has argued that such a portal would fail to address the fundamental problems within the current system, preferring the implementation of a single ombudsman body instead. 

Mr Vickers said: "The approval of new schemes and portals in the sector would add more layers of complexity to a system that is already failing consumers.

"The government must take action to reduce confusion and detriment."

Jeremy Leaf, former  Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) residential chairman and independent North London estate agency owner, believes most property professionals would favour further simplification of present complaints procedures but a single ombudsman for the housing sector may not necessarily make much difference.

He said: "What is more important in my view, is that the process is independent, efficient  and cost-effective.

"Complaints should be considered by professionals with appropriate knowledge and experience  to minimise delays and is seen to be fair for all concerned."