Council rapped by ombudsman over housing complaint

Resident receives apology from Enfield Council after delays dealing with complaint, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Enfield is one of two councils under investigation by the housing ombudsman following delays in responding to a complaint.

The council failed to comply with an order that was made by the ombudsman due to “unreasonable delays” in accepting or progressing a resident’s complaint, a report reveals.

It means the case is now in the ombudsman’s formal remit after the council’s complaints process was deemed to have been exhausted.

According to the ombudsman’s report, a code introduced last year sets out “clear expectations” for social landlords on handling housing complaints and a power to issue orders when they fail to meet their obligations.

The order, which was issued to Enfield Council on 18th February, is generally made after a landlord has been given three chances to contact the resident and progress their complaint but fails to engage, and the ombudsman is satisfied the complaints procedure has stalled.

But the council took until 3rd March to respond to the order, which was outside the date for compliance. Although it apologised for the delay and advised that it would respond to the complaint, which it did the following day, the ombudsman began a formal investigation.

Eight social landlords complied with the complaint handling orders issued by the ombudsman, but Enfield Council and Lambeth Council did not.

Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “It is crucial residents are listened to when they make a complaint and that landlords’ procedures are focused on timely resolution, not putting residents off complaining or a series of stages in order to reach the ombudsman.

“Our code sets clear expectations for efficient, effective and accessible complaint handling, and we issue orders where landlords fail to meet them. These orders can now be made while the complaint is still within the landlord’s procedure.

“In most cases where we issued handling failure orders, the landlord responded well and sought to resolve the complaint, making clear the benefit of these orders to earlier resolution.

“However, it is disappointing that in two cases landlords did not comply, and we have taken these complaints into formal investigation.

“We received some really positive feedback from residents about the difference these orders have made to their experience of the complaints process, and I hope this report will promote transparency, accountability and learning across the social housing sector.”

A council spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise to the resident affected by this matter. Enfield Council takes complaints very seriously and we are working to improve our processes to ensure they are resolved more effectively going forward to avoid a repeat of this occurrence.”