Housing Ombudsman – Insight on data, individual complaints and learning

Guest blog by Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman

It is critical for the Ombudsman, as well as resolving individual disputes, to share the insight and learning from our casework to improve services across the sector.

We do this in several ways already – from training through to reports focusing on a specific issue – and will be doing more during this year. In January we published the first in a new series of quarterly Insight reports. It is the start in providing more frequent data on our complaints as well as drawing on a selection of cases that illustrate the range of our work and to share knowledge and insight that we believe will help landlords improve their complaint handling and housing services.

Focused on the first six months of 2019-20, issue 1 of the Insight report shows that complaints about repairs was the biggest category of complaint, accounting for 29% of the 4,724 complaints received. This is consistent with previous years which is why we focused on repairs complaints as the subject of our first Spotlight report published last year. Take a look at it on the website, if you haven’t seen it already. It identifies the most common causes of complaints about repairs and good practice points to help landlords avoid them.

The five cases summarised in the Insight Report are very powerful. They vary from one incident where we found no fault in the way an ALMO had responded to a complaint about damp and mould in a resident’s home to a group complaint from 29 residents in supported accommodation for the elderly with a finding of severe maladministration. In the latter case, the housing association withdrew daily support visits for elderly residents without consultation, despite contractual commitments. We ordered a formal apology and compensation between £250-500 for each resident depending on their tenancy agreement.

From the five case studies, we’ve highlighted some wider lessons for the sector. Some concern policies and processes, including fulfilling policy commitments, while others are more focused on culture and behaviour, such as taking responsibility for complaints and for resolving the issue. A good procedure and well-trained staff will achieve results, but for maximum impact a positive complaints culture is essential.

In 2020-21 we plan to publish the Insight report on a quarterly basis and further expand our activities to promote positive change in the sector.

We hope the reports will be a useful resource for landlords. We would appreciate your feedback on the report including any other information you would like to see in future issues. See the report on our website for details on how to do this.



How the NHC strive to support staff wellbeing

“Our staff are the key to our ability to deliver excellent services to members”.

Catherine Wilmot, Executive Director (Operations & Finance), Northern Housing Consortium talks about why empowering staff through training and development is so important to the NHC and how we strive to support staff wellbeing.

Having worked most of my professional career within services organisations I am a passionate believer in the importance of a happy, healthy and motivated workforce in an organisation’s ability to be cohesive and deliver the best services it can.  Furthermore, through study towards a Masters degree in Organisational and Business Psychology, I have academically cemented my experience that one size does not fit all when it comes to managing your workforce or promoting the many different facets of health and wellbeing to individuals. Health and wellbeing not only covers physical and mental health, but also the environment staff work in, the opportunities to develop or train, and to work as a team, work-life flexibility, and organisational leadership and overarching values.

“We believe in empowering staff at all levels”

Our personalised training and development plans support our staff to become subject matter experts in their field. I believe that staff members should feel encouraged to complement their sector and role knowledge through study and through affiliation to the professional member body related to their role. We are currently supporting 26% of our staff body in their studies towards recognised academic or professional qualifications and many staff are members of professional member bodies, ensuring authenticity in the specialist and sector support we provide to our members.

We believe in empowering staff at all levels. Each individual has a unique insight into what works in their roles and involving them in the strategy shaping process is a powerful way to give staff some autonomy over the processes they know best.

This year our staff at all levels were actively engaged in the development of our new corporate plan, encouraging them to use their individual areas of expertise to best effect. Using key corporate objectives and ambitions developed from a recent member perception survey and agreed by our Board, we developed a refreshed plan that will help us to continue to succeed and to achieve our objectives through to 2022 and beyond.

We have a strong staff culture at the NHC, and this year we asked a volunteer staff working group to support a modernisation of our corporate values, the glue to our ability to deliver the new corporate plan. Our member focussed, collaborative, innovative and supportive values relate to us as teams, as an organisation and as a membership body.

“We are passionate about the wellbeing of our staff”

We are passionate about the wellbeing of our staff in order to facilitate the best support to our member organisations. We have established a staff-led wellbeing working group to discuss and promote initiatives to sustain and improve physical and mental health and wellbeing amongst staff.  We recently undertook a full staff wellbeing survey which generated very positive results – but we are striving to do more.

“Our flexible working policy, allows staff to be fully agile”

We now have nearly 80% of our staff signed up on our remote working programme, which, together with our flexible working policy, allows staff to be fully agile and choose an optimal time and location to deliver their workplan effectively. 100% of our staff are now fully equipped with the communication tools and IT infrastructure to be able to work remotely if required, minimising any risk of downtime.

“We have held several events in recent months on mental wellness”

We are all very aware of the impact housing has on mental health. Staff working in housing organisations are particularly susceptible due to the nature of the vulnerable residents and complex issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis. The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has launched a guide to help housing organisations improve their approach to mental health and here at the NHC we have held several events in recent months on mental wellness: including a mental health and housing conference and training courses covering individual, team and tenants’ mental health. We will continue to bring members together to discuss approaches to mental health – look out for a seminar for HR and People Directors later this year.

Overall, we believe our noteworthy recent sickness record, of only 1.8 days per employee for the full year, is testament to the success of our remote working programme and other staff wellbeing measures put in place. We hope that these measures and ongoing actions will help to sustain this excellent performance within the organisation, and further develop our staff as role models and ambassadors for the sector in general.


‘Time to level-up’: Northern Housing Consortium calls for government to act as study sets out scale of housing cut-backs in northern councils

Research launched today shows councils in the North of England have been disproportionately impacted by reductions in spending since 2010, leading to significant loss of housing and planning capacity.

Membership body, the Northern Housing Consortium (NHC) has launched new research conducted by academics at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) highlighting the scale of the problem. The NHC is calling for Government to set out a package that provides an increase in local government funding ahead of the upcoming Budget and Spending Review.

The evidence shows the average net spend on housing in Northern councils has fallen by 54% since 2010/11, compared to a reduction of 34% in the rest of England.

The average net spend on planning services in Northern councils has fallen by 65% since 2010/11, compared to a reduction of 50% in the rest of England. Many more duties have been placed on planning services over this time.

NHC Chief Executive, Tracy Harrison said: “our northern council members have had to be creative to deliver on their housing aspirations whilst under huge pressure due to cuts in their resources. Councils that have been able to retain some capacity have deployed this to boost the supply and quality of homes in their area. We are ambitious to do more right across the North but to do this councils need a commitment from Government to level-up funding.”

Stephen Hincks, The University of Sheffield, lead author of the study said: “the cuts in spending since 2010 have fundamentally reshaped the capacity of local authorities to deliver services in housing, planning and development. This new evidence demonstrates the impact this loss of capacity has had over the course of ten years.”

The NHC has set out a three-point plan which they are urging Government to adopt. The plan calls for:

  1. a sustained real-terms increase in local government funding,
  2. a national centre of specialist expertise located in the North and open to all,
  3. place-based outcome-focused deals that rebuild local capacity.

Read further about the research and the NHC’s recommendations in the summary booklet ‘Time to Level-Up’ alongside the report on the NHC’s website.