The aim of the new complaints service according to the announcement is to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for all housing complaints across the entire housing market except social housing, which will be subject to a separate redress scheme. The service will cater for homeowners and tenants and deal with any complaint a resident may have about their home, whether it relates to a faulty heating system or a recurring damp problem. Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said that the service "will help ensure all residents are able to access help when they need it, so disputes can be resolved faster, and people can get compensation where it’s owed.”
Whilst the Government’s plans will be welcomed by homeowners and tenants in England, it may not be so warmly welcomed by the 1.5 million private landlords in UK. The Communities Secretary announced that all private landlords will be legally required to join a housing redress scheme or face a fine of up to £5,000 if they fail to do so. This compulsory registration with a Government approved scheme is akin to the procedures introduced in 2007 for registering tenancy deposits with an approved tenancy deposit scheme. Since 2007, the courts have dealt with a vast number of cases relating to the tenancy deposit schemes and failures to comply and until more detail is available we do not know if the new redress scheme will result in the same amount of litigation. One thing that is certain at this stage is that registration with a scheme will be an extra hoop that a landlord has to jump through to ensure that they are correctly letting their property.
The new complaints service is another attempt by the Government to bring more fairness and transparency into the housing market. The new service follows in the wake of the tenant-friendly regulations that were introduced by the Deregulation Act 2015 (which require landlords to provide more pre-contract information to tenants entering into Assured Shorthold Tenancies) and the Tenant’s Fees Bill (which will limit the number and types of add-on fees that landlords can charge to tenants) which is due to become law in June 2019.
The finer details of how the service will operate and what the costs will be to be registered and participate in it are currently unknown. But based on recent experience we would suggest that the majority of the cost could fall on landlords in order to ensure that the scheme is as ‘accessible’ as possible for homeowners and tenants to use it.
The Government’s attempts to reform the housing market are also unlikely to be welcomed with open arms by developers. In October 2018, the Government announced its plans to create a New Homes Ombudsman which will seek to protect the interests of home buyers of new build homes. Although this Ombudsman scheme has been promised there is still no detail about how it will interact with the new Complaints Service, although the suggestion in the Minister’s announcement is that it will. Developers will have to register with the new Ombudsman scheme by 2021 if they wish to continue to be able to offer the Government’s Help to Buy scheme on their developments.
If you would like to discuss the potential impact of the Housing Complaints Resolution Service further, please contact Alice Harris on 01473 406219 or [email protected]. Alternatively, please contact another member of Birketts' Property Litigation Team.