Our White Paper Fixing our broken housing market, published February 2017, highlighted the need to make the housing market work for everyone, and set out a comprehensive plan to achieve this.
We have been clear that we want to make the housing market fairer and more transparent for tenants, leaseholders and homeowners. This includes making sure consumers have straightforward routes for getting problems swiftly put right when things go wrong with their homes.
That is why my Department consulted earlier this year on options for strengthening consumer redress in housing, including options for streamlining housing redress services to simplify access for consumers.
The consultation sought views on the existing provision of redress for housing consumers and considered how we could improve services, strengthening access where there may be gaps in existing provision, and how future services could be configured to serve consumers better.
Today I am pleased to publish my response to this consultation. The response sets out proposals for a programme of reform to strengthen redress for housing consumers.
First, I am clear that people should be able to access help in resolving housing complaints without needing to apply to the court system. We will bring forward legislation to require all Private Rented Sector landlords, regardless of whether they employ an agent for full management services, to be a member of a redress scheme, including all residential park home site owners and private providers of purpose-built student accommodation. We will also introduce legislation when parliamentary time allows to require all freeholders of leasehold properties, regardless of whether they employ a managing agent, to be a member of a redress scheme. Finally, we propose to bring forward legislation to create a similar requirement on all developers of new build homes to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman and will consult on the detail of that legislation in due course.
Secondly, there is a need to simplify access to existing redress schemes. Responses to the consultation were clear that we need to reduce confusion for customers in the face of a multiplicity of schemes, while maintaining the specialisms needed to handle complaints within specific tenures.
I therefore propose the establishment of a new Housing Complaints Resolution Service, a new single access portal through which consumers will be able to seek help to resolve complaints and access redress when they have not been able to resolve disputes with their landlord, property agent or developer.
I intend to work closely with ombudsmen and redress schemes to deliver this in partnership. My ambition is for this service to be available for social housing residents, private renters, leaseholders and buyers of new build homes. People must be confident in their options when things go wrong with their homes, and we will commit to raising consumer awareness of how to resolve complaints once the new service is operational.
We will establish a Redress Reform Working Group with ombudsmen and redress schemes to help drive the programme of reform, including the establishment of the resolution service. We want to work with this group to undertake a comprehensive audit of existing standards for handling complaints and explore how they could be improved through existing and new voluntary guidance on a sector by sector basis which, where appropriate, will be underpinned through legislation or regulation.
It is my ambition that this will develop into a comprehensive ‘Code of Practice’ on complaint handling for the whole housing sector. Through this we can ensure that there are clear expectations for accessibility, transparency, timeliness and sanctions in terms of handling complaints. Work to improve complaints handling in the social housing sector will initially be carried forward separately, given our commitments in the Social Housing Green Paper to address the specific issues facing social housing residents.
The Redress Reform Working Group will also help us work both to understand how to deal with complex and difficult cases, which may not fit easily within the remit of redress schemes, and how to better enforce decisions. We will keep open the option of tabling further legislation if necessary, to make this as effective as possible.
Finally, in October, we announced proposals to ensure that a New Homes Ombudsman is established to protect the interests of homebuyers and hold developers to account when things go wrong. We intend to bring forward the legislation to require developers of new build homes to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman and we will consult on the detail of the proposed legislation.
Cumulatively these reforms will help ensure that nobody will be left without somewhere to go when something goes wrong with their housing, and that they will have free, accessible and independent routes to have their case resolved in a timely way.
The policy proposals primarily relate to England. The UK Government will be discussing these issues with devolved administrations on those matters where proposals have scope outside England.
Copies of the consultation response will be placed in the House Library and are available on the Government's website here https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-consumer-redress-in-housing
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords