Planned shake-up of rental market complaints system

Last October, Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities (and now Housing) said that he wanted to start requiring landlords to join a redress scheme if they did not already use a letting agent.

The government is now consulting on plans for this. The good news is it is considering doing away with the three different schemes tenants have to navigate when they have a complaint at the moment.

Letting agents must be a member of one of three redress schemes: the Property Redress Scheme, the Property Ombudsman or Ombudsman Services. If you complain and the agent doesn’t respond adequately, you have to figure out first who their redress scheme is, and second whether your complaint falls within its remit.

It’s such a pointlessly convoluted system that Ombudsman Services recently announced it was pulling out of the rental market in protest (it also covers energy and finance so isn’t exactly closing down).

So the government’s plans to roll the schemes into one are welcome. But simply requiring membership is not enough.

We would like to see landlords licensed so that their properties are checked against minimum standards before being let out. At the very least we need to require landlords to register every property with information such as what kind of tenancy is being offered. That will give enforcement authorities basic intelligence on local rental properties and help flathunters check that their prospective landlord is legit.

The government also plans to name and shame poor practice “to help tackle the worst abuses”. This is promising as one problem with disputes being settled behind closed doors is that it is often unclear where the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour is. With a better idea of what complaints are worth pursuing, more tenants would be encouraged to take on their own agent or landlord.

Ultimately, however, many tenants will be intimidated into staying quiet as long as agents and landlords are able to respond to a complaint with a no-fault eviction or rent increase.

That’s just one reason why it is so important to improve security of tenure, by stopping unfair evictions and unreasonable rent rises. Until the government acts on that we will not have a functional complaints process. Add your name to our petition.

Even then, there are so many ways for a tenancy to go wrong – your house might be falling apart, the electrics might be unsafe (there’s another new consultation on tightening the rules on this), your deposit might not be protected – and neither the current or reformed redress system can do anything about it. You’d have to go to the council or court.

These types of problem might well be too varied for a single redress body to deal with, but as it decides on the new regime the government’s priority must be to make complaining as straightforward as possible for tenants.

Respond to the consultation, “Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market”, by 16 April.


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