Ombudsman settles for quiet life

ombudslogo                                              whoDr Mike Biles

I first published this article on 27th October. Lo and behold the title was spot on as Mike Biles announced on 28th October that he will be leaving his job. I considered changing the article, but on reflection thought it was still pretty apposite. So Mike have a nice time, not sure many tenants will miss you. Hopefully whoever the new job holder is will focus on redress for tenants. I noticed, in the comments Mike made to ‘Inside Housing’ on his departure, tenants hardly got a look in on his list of valued achievements.

Anyway the original article starts here :

The Housing Ombudsman has a strange way of keeping an eye on the protection of Housing Association and other tenants. His website, http://www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk seems totally focused on the need for ‘local resolution’ of complaints and provides endless hurdles to stop him having to get involved in a tenants problem.Doubtless he will not view it that way as ‘signposting’ is the latest shorthand for “nowt to do with me” and he certainly has taken signposting to a whole new level. But the thing is Mike, when a tenant is at the end of their tether, enough to look to you, the last thing they want or need is a bureaucratic maze to run through.With some 5 million households to look after you would hope for something better.

In fact if you manage to find your way through the labyrinth that he sets you its pretty clear that the hope is you will have given up complaining by the time he has to do anything and no doubt a lot of tenants do give up pursuing complaints because of the time and energy they need to expend.

Prior to this latest incarnation of the Housing Ombudsman in April 2013, the older published data showed that less than 10% of complaints were found in favour of the tenant. In response to my Freedom of Information request it seems that Mike Byles has done slightly better in 2012/13 with the positive results for tenants coming to 27.3% of the total determined. He reached a determination on 543 cases in 2012/13 which means that just 148 tenants got a positive result from approaching the Housing Ombudsman. If you estimate the amount that tenants pay for his operation at , say, 90p per property per annum for 2012/13 this gives a total of £2,610,810.00. And just 148 tenants got a return on the money.

In 2012/13 Mike Byles refused to deal with over 6000 complaints because they had not followed due procedure. He helpfully referred these frustrated tenants back to their landlords.

But really, when you think about it, you have to conclude that  tenants in general are a moaning lot of discontents seeing injustice where there is none or The Housing Ombudsman has a undue regard for the organisations that pay his substantial wages or he is totally misconceived in his focus.

Recent experience of the Housing Ombudsman is that the staff, of which there are 31 so called investigators, do all their investigations sat at a desk in London. They merely review the correspondence between the parties involved and reach a decision. This approach fails to address the relationship between tenants and landlords and does nothing to raise standards of good practice.

Further  if only 543 cases are determined by 31 ‘investigators’ that means on average they conclude one case every three weeks. What they do the rest of the time I imagine your guess is as good as mine. However I expect they stay busy ‘signposting’ tenants away from the Ombudsman.

The relative power between the parties in landlord/tenant cases is totally disproportionate in favour of the landlord and to my mind demands an approach based on proper investigations on site with face to face interviews to ensure complaints have a chance to be properly articulated. Burden of proof should be on the landlord as the powerful agent. The investigators need to be properly trained and be leaders in best practice in Housing management practice and get out from London to….er……..actually investigate.Perhaps a driving licence could be a good qualification for them to have.

The problem maybe that the Ombudsman is funded by the people he is supposed to police. A relationship based on piper pays has never been a good approach to independence and rigour. Well I say that because they send him the money, but of course he is funded by the tenants actually. The Housing Ombudsman charges £1.02 per annum for every property under its jurisdiction. So nearly 10p per month of tenants rent goes to fund a service that rarely gives support to tenants. However it also pays for the associated wages and pensions of the Ombudsman and his staff. From what I can make out from the 2013 accounts Dr Mike Biles pension pot stands at £1.35 million. So he will be a little better off than most of the tenants he signposts.

The Housing Ombudsman says the statutory ‘ purpose of the Scheme is to investigate complaints against certain landlords by their tenants and others and to award compensation or other remedy when appropriate.’ When out of 6000 complaints he only gets to reach a decision on rare occasions one might ask is the method missing the purpose.

Of course if you know different and have a good happy story about the Housing Ombudsman let me know. I’m always willing to stand corrected.

Link : http://www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/