The government says it is going to look at “bold options” to improve consumer redress across all aspects of housing - and that includes considering having one Ombudsman-style service for agencies instead of the current three.
As part of the government’s broad commitment to reform many aspects of the housing market, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid says: “We’re looking at bold options to improve redress in the New Year – including whether housing, like other sectors, should have a single ombudsman. This could help drive up standards across the whole industry and increase protections for consumers.”
He continues: “Currently, there are four government approved providers of redress that cover some aspects of home buying and renting, but not all. Membership of ombudsman schemes is compulsory for some groups, but not for others.”
And he promises that after the Christmas break “the government will consult with consumers and the industry, and look at options to explore how the overlap between responsibilities can be improve. This would help to avoid the confusion faced by consumers over where to seek help.”
The four redress systems to which Javid refers are the three approved providers covering estate and lettings agents - The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services: Property, and the Property Redress scheme - plus the Housing Ombudsman which handles issues in the social housing sector.
In a separate speech to the National House Building Council this week Javid said: “Sales, lettings and property managing agents have to be part of a redress scheme, but private landlords do not. Abuse of the leasehold system is rife, yet leaseholders and tenants can find it almost impossible to get their complaints heard and acted on. And the current system contains all manner of unjustifiable loopholes.”
He continued: “Earlier this year I announced that we will be changing the law so that all landlords have to be covered by an ombudsman scheme … giving all tenants access to quick and easy dispute resolution over critical issues like repairs and maintenance. We’re also going to be consulting on reforms of the leasehold market to tackle abuses there, and launching a call for evidence on regulation of property agents.”
Then the Secretary of State made a critical point: “I believe the time is right to go further, to look at what can be done to improve the means of securing redress right across the housing sector. One of the options to do that is to create a new Housing Ombudsman - a single, transparent and accountable body with a remit that covers the whole of the housing sector including both private and social landlords and the providers of new-build homes.”
He concluded by saying: “Research in other sectors has shown that redress works more efficiently for consumers when there’s a single ombudsman in place. So, in the new year, we’re going to consult on this and see whether it’s right for the housing sector too.”