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Existing system for redress in housing is ‘ineffective, confusing and complicated’

Almost seven in 10 people find the current system for complaining about housing confusing, according to the results of Ombudsman Services' major dialogue, Building Balance, which sought views from more than 400 renters, tenants, homeowners and people working in the sector responded.

Ombudsman Services (OS), which has been gathering opinions on how complaints in the housing sector should be handled, said the responses “overwhelmingly indicated a need for change”, with 84% of people surveyed supporting the idea of creating a single housing ombudsman.

Some 69% of respondents find the system for complaining confusing, with more than half - 55% - not knowing where to go to complain about housing and property.

The study found that common issues faced by consumers included those with new-build properties, maintenance and upkeep, lettings and estate agencies, as well as problems with unauthorised parking, gas leaks, asbestos and dangerous electrics.

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith commented: “Our Building Balance dialogue has given us a clear remit to call for change. The current system for redress in housing is ineffective, confusing and complicated, and clearly doesn’t provide the service that consumers need.”

The full report, Building Balance: Restoring power to consumers in the housing sector, has been submitted as part of a comprehensive White Paper in response to the government’s Strengthening consumer redress in housing consultation.

It makes several recommendations to the government including:

+ The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should put consumers at the heart of the sector, offering a simple complaints journey, strong regulation and easy access to help and advice for consumers.

+ The creation of a single ombudsman for housing (supported by the vast majority - 84 per cent - of Building Balance respondents) that is underpinned by statute.

+ The introduction of consistent standards that firms operating in the housing sector must comply with when handling complaints to provide clarity for consumers.

Smith added: “The recommendations put forward in our report are underpinned by real insights, as well as the experience we have gathered during our ten years of helping consumers with complaints in the housing sector. For example, the dialogue showed overwhelming support for the creation of a single ombudsman.”

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