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LGA submission to the Housing Ombudsman’s consultation on Good Practice

The Housing Ombudsman ran a consultation on the development of Good Practice from 26 March to 21 May 2024. The publishing of Good Practice aims to help organisations learn from the mistakes of others, and improve their services accordingly by conducting self-assessments.

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Key Messages

  • We are in favour of issuing Good Practice guidance, and we support the requirement as set out in legislation that local authorities as members of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme should be consulted before any Good Practice guidance is issued, revised or replaced. 
  • Consultations on proposed Good Practice guidance must be well planned to help mitigate the capacity and resource constraints on local authorities.
  • The issuing of Good Practice must occur with restraint, not exceeding the suggested twice per year frequency to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to participate fully in consultations and the voluntary self-assessments. The self-assessment template should be co-created with local authorities. 
  • Local authorities should be provided with flexibility in terms of timescales to complete voluntary self-assessments.
  • On the occasion that a local authority is ordered to self-assess against guidance issued (as of point 3.6 in the consultation proposals) adequate timescales should be given to allow local authorities to conduct these properly.

Consultation Questions 

The Ombudsman intends to use learning from the complaints handled as well as ideas and suggestions from residents and landlords to generate Good Practice. Do you agree with this approach? Yes/No 

Yes, we agree with the approach set out in the consultation for generating ideas for new Good Practice, including learning from complaints handled, recommendations from Spotlight and Insight reports and feedback from both residents and landlords. As noted in the consultation document, the issuing of Good Practice will be a focused and specific tool with the aim of improving resident satisfaction and reducing complaints. The intended results of the tool’s use will be of benefit to social housing landlords.  

Learning from the complaints handled is of benefit to the whole sector as this allows for the Good Practice to be focused on areas where guidance would be most beneficial and helps the sector improve from the lessons learnt by others. We welcome the inclusion of landlords and residents in generating ideas for Good Practice. 

Do you agree with our proposal to consult with key stakeholders during the development of Good Practice? Yes/No

Yes, we agree that consulting key stakeholders must occur when developing Good Practice. We would like to ensure that local authorities are robustly represented during the key stakeholder consultations. This is crucial to ensure that the Good Practice will be fit for purpose. We also urge the Ombudsman to include the Local Government Association and other membership bodies including the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) in this consultative stage, to provide additional layers of foresight and a national perspective on the development of a tool which would impact local authorities which might otherwise lack representation. 

The key stakeholder consultations must remain proportionate and not become burdensome. There is a risk of consultation fatigue, particularly as local authorities already have resource and capacity constraints causing them to strictly prioritise their work. The government is currently introducing multiple changes over the next few years which will impact on the delivery of housing management services by registered providers of social housing. These include Awaab’s Law, a proposed new Decent Homes Standard, and new Consumer Standards, including the new Competence and Conduct Standard with the requirement for professional qualifications, which we have also previously provided consultation responses on. The Housing Ombudsman should be aware that during this period of change local authority landlords will need to review their housing management services and delivery models to ensure they can respond to all changes, including those proposed in this consultation, in the round.

To manage these challenges, efforts should be made to allow local authorities to plan their resources accordingly and ensure their contributions to the consultations are meaningful and not disproportionately burdensome. These should seek to avoid typically busy times of the year such as end of year accounts in March. We suggest an informal consultation process through roundtables with local authority officers could complement the official process and increase the volume of feedback received.

We welcome the Ombudsman’s commitment to working with the Regulator of Social Housing to ensure there is no conflict between the regulatory standards and regimes – the Ombudsman should seek to ensure the accountabilities of local authorities to each body are clearly set out. 

Do you agree with the principle of only issuing Good Practice for self-assessment when it is the most appropriate tool to handle the issue identified? Yes/No

Yes, we agree that issuing Good Practice for self-assessment should only be used when it is the most appropriate tool, with the assumption that this will occur no more than twice in a 12-month period as suggested. We support the proposal that self-assessment is voluntary, unless an Order to self-assess is issued, which will manage some of the capacity challenges that local authorities face. Self-assessment, when conducted comprehensively, could be burdensome for local authorities, and we again highlight the significant resourcing and capacity challenges being faced within housing teams. We recognise the benefits that self-assessment brings, but this must be weighed against the practical realities which local authorities face. Good Practice for self-assessment only being used when it is the best tool to do so should mediate these challenges, however this is dependent on the Housing Ombudsman ensuring that its suitability as the best tool is carefully considered on each occasion. 

We have set out above a number of potential topics for Good Practice. Do you have any comments on them and are there other topics you would like to see the Ombudsman issue good practice on? Please provide more details below. 

We agree with the proposed topics for Good Practice, including knowledge and information management, effective root analysis of complaints, and effective complaint handling during merger or stock transfer. However, we find it curious that the first topic on the list is ‘making an effective apology’. We suggest that an alternative topic on the list is utilised first which may be of benefit to a higher proportion of the sector, such as ‘knowledge and information management’. It is important that local authorities view Good Practice as a critical friend which presents opportunities to learn from others and improve their services. 

Do you agree with the principle of requesting that landlords self-assess voluntarily against the issue of Good Practice at the point of publication? Yes/No

Yes, we broadly agree with voluntary self-assessment at the point of publication. Our agreeance is with the condition that landlords will have a sufficient amount of time to self-assess voluntarily. It must be held in mind that local authorities have stretched capacity and will require sufficient time to produce a self-assessment of good quality. Local authorities must have flexibility to complete voluntary self-assessments at a time which suits their schedule of improvement, and which avoids delaying or prolonging other programmes of improvement work. 

On the occasion that a local authority is ordered to self-assess against guidance issued (as of point 3.6 in the consultation proposals) adequate timescales should be given to allow local authorities to conduct these properly. 

Do you agree that a tailored self-assessment template, published alongside the relevant issue of Good Practice, would be of assistance? Yes/No

Yes, we agree that a self-assessment template should be published alongside the relevant issue of Good Practice. The capacity restraints that local authorities face will, on some occasions, result in limited resources being allocated for self-assessments, which may diminish their level of detail. A well-designed template would help reduce the burden that the self-assessment process may place on local authorities. 

The templates for self-assessment must be co-designed with local authorities and other key stakeholders to ensure that they are fit for purpose and will be of optimal use. For the sake of preserving the resources of both local authorities and the Housing Ombudsman, we recommend publishing the draft self-assessment template for comment alongside the relevant issue of Good Practice at the point of consultation. 

Do you have any other comments on good practice or self-assessment that you would like us to consider?

Considerations must be made regarding the practicalities and scope of implementing Good Practice. It is crucial that Good Practice is implemented with restraint, and that the Ombudsman’s suggested two publications in any 12-month period is adhered to. We are concerned that should it extend beyond this that local authorities would not be able to engage effectively in the consultation process, nor maintain a high quality of self-assessments which would undermine the intended ambition of Good Practice. 

It is imperative that local authorities are fully consulted on the development of Good Practice topics and the self-assessment criteria to ensure that it will be of optimal use, and that such consultations do not cause an unduly large burden on them. 

We would be willing to facilitate a group of relevant officers in local authority housing teams to engage with the Housing Ombudsman during the development of, and consultation on, future Good Practice. 

We would like to understand how the Housing Ombudsman plans to monitor self-assessments, and whether the Housing Ombudsman is intending on evaluating how successful issuing Good Practice has been for both local authorities and tenants. Information on how Good Practice would be applied to the handling of cases would also be beneficial, particularly in circumstances where the case occurred prior to the Good Practice being released. 

Housing Ombudsman: Good Practice Consultation