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New Housing Ombudsman Empowered to Enforce Policy and Prevent Service Failures

In a significant development, the Housing Ombudsman now wields greater authority to compel social landlords to assess their policies and practices, with the aim of averting recurrent service deficiencies. This heightened regulatory power is a direct outcome of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act.

Starting this month, the Ombudsman possesses the authority to mandate councils and housing associations to scrutinize specific policies and practices. This represents a considerable departure from its previous capacity, which was restricted to making recommendations that landlords were not legally obliged to follow.

The Ombudsman’s newly bestowed powers expand its purview to address broader concerns beyond individual complaints. As stated by Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, “These changes will enable us to extend equity to residents who may be enduring substandard service without landlords addressing the underlying issues. Furthermore, it will encourage landlords to glean insights from complaints and drive modifications in their conduct. By broadening the Ombudsman’s reach beyond individual grievances, a larger number of residents will gain from the Ombudsman’s oversight and intervention, ultimately elevating the quality of social housing.”

Blakeway continued, “These powers also equip us with additional instruments to act when we detect recurring service deficiencies.” In the fiscal year 2022/23, the Ombudsman issued approximately 6,500 orders and recommendations to landlords.

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act, enacted in July, constitutes a comprehensive reform of consumer regulations pertaining to social housing. In addition to empowering the Ombudsman, the Act bestows an array of new powers upon the Regulator of Social Housing, including the capacity to routinely inspect social landlords.

The impetus for this legislative overhaul stemmed from widespread public apprehension regarding living conditions in social housing, with a tragic incident in Rochdale—where toddler Awaab Ishak lost his life due to exposure to black mold—serving as a catalyst for change.