Housing sector ombudsman in UK declares redress system unfit for purpose

Ombudsman Services has announced it will withdraw from complaints handling in the property sector in the UK as it declares redress in the housing sector to be too confusing for everyone.

The not for profit organisation provides services for estate agents, letting agents, managing agents and surveyors and will now begin a gradual withdrawal to be completed by 06 August 2018 and in the meantime open a new dialogue to sort it out.

It is the largest multi-sector Ombudsman in the UK and it will now work with charities, consumer groups, property professionals and the public on a major report around the creation of a single housing ombudsman for submission to the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in the spring.

OS envisages a model similar to that outlined by Secretary of State Sajid Javid in a speech last November which echoed the model currently used in the Finance and Energy sectors, that is an effective regulator supported by a single ombudsman and a strong advice and advocacy service for consumers.

To ensure that the new model addresses issues currently faced by consumers, OS wants to consult with the public about the shape of the service, understand key ‘pain points’ for renters, tenants and home buyers and model potential demand.

‘Redress in the housing sector is a really confusing picture for all involved. The patchwork of ADR and ombudsman schemes is a mystery to consumers and therefore is incredibly difficult for them to navigate,’ said chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith.

‘We are ceasing what we’re currently doing in the housing sector in a professional and planned way, because we believe it is not adding value. Rather than continue to offer a broken solution to a broken market, we are stepping away to listen to what consumers actually want,’ he explained.

‘There are models in other sectors that work far better, for instance the single ombudsman model in financial services and the scheme we operate in energy which handles around 40,000 complaints every year,’ he pointed out.

He believes that only with a single ombudsman will the housing sector be able to restore trust and ensure that consumers get a much better standard of service. ‘Housing is one of the biggest issues we face as a nation and a fair, balanced, redress system will make sure that it serves the whole of society. We want to work to develop a model that works for everyone,’ he added.

More details of the dialogue will be announced in March.

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