The English Government’s February 2018 consultation entitled ‘Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market’ received over 1,200 responses. The Government has now published the summary of responses to the consultation and its response. The response proposes:
- a Housing Complaints Resolution Service, a new single point of access to redress that housing consumers can use;
- a New Homes Ombudsman for buyers of new build homes (announced in October 2018);
- to bring forward legislation to close the gaps in redress services for consumers including to require all private landlords to sign up to a redress scheme; and
- a Redress Reform Working Group with the housing redress sector to develop the proposals outlined in the response over the coming months
Housing Complaints Resolution Service
The new service will ultimately cover all housing consumers including tenants and leaseholders of social and private rented housing as well as purchasers of new build homes and users of all residential property agents. The aim is to provide a single point of access for all the current schemes in housing that offer access to redress and alternative dispute resolution. It will be developed in collaboration with the redress sector, initially on a voluntary basis, but it is open to legislation to make this mandatory if necessary.
The Housing Complaints Resolution Service will be developed with a new Redress Reform Working Group made up of representatives from across the sector, working with industry and consumers.
New Homes Ombudsman
Although the Government feels that there are benefits to having competing redress providers in the Private Rented Sector, which has an established redress system, it feels that it is clear from the consultation responses that the number of schemes operating in the new build sector has created an unacceptable variance of standards and, as there is an opportunity to establish a new system without disruption to consumers and there is a need to reform all the existing schemes, it believes a single New Homes Ombudsman could solve these issues without unnecessary disruption.
Legislation will be introduced to require developers of new build homes to belong to the New Homes Ombudsman; and it would charge developers to ensure that the service is free of charge to buyers of new build homes.
Government will consult on the detail of the proposed legislation, and this will include the approval mechanisms and standards that a New Homes Ombudsman must meet as well as whether a Code of Practice for developers should also be underpinned in legislation. This will involve working closely with industry and consumer groups to establish a voluntary New Homes Ombudsman ahead of legislation. We expect this ombudsman to be:
- Free to the consumer and funded by industry;
- Independent from the organisations the ombudsman will investigate;
- Fair in dealing with disputes;
- Open and transparent and have public accountability through regular reporting; and
- Have effective powers to hold developers to account.
Redress Reform Working Group
The Redress Reform Working Group will enable Government to work with redress schemes to develop the new Housing Complaints Resolution Service and the other proposals above, including best practice guidance. This guidance will eventually, where appropriate, be underpinned by sector specific legislation or regulation. It is the Government’s ambition that this will develop in to a Code of Practice on complaint handling for the whole housing sector.