Majority of people 'would not know where to complain about housing'

Nearly seven in 10 people find the system for complaining about housing confusing, according to a body which resolves consumers' gripes.

Ombudsman Services (OS), which has been gathering opinions on how complaints in the housing sector should be handled, said the responses "overwhelmingly indicated a need for change".

It said 69% of consumers find the system for complaining confusing, with more than half (55%) not knowing where to go to complain about housing and property.

The responses were gathered from renters, home owners, landlords and those working in the sector.

Common issues included those with new-build properties, maintenance and upkeep, lettings and estate agencies, as well as problems with unauthorised parking, gas leaks, asbestos and dangerous electrics, according to the responses from more than 400 people - 84% of whom supported the idea of creating a single housing ombudsman.

Currently, several bodies exist in the sector.

OS said cases it had heard of included one where a tenant had mould in their kitchen but did not complain for fear of being evicted.

Its Building Balance report said firms should follow consistent standards when handling complaints to provide clarity for consumers.

The findings have been submitted in response to a Government consultation.

OS previously announced it planned to withdraw from complaints handling in the property sector from August, saying it would no longer offer a broken solution to a broken market.

It said it would work with other bodies to help shape a new ombudsman service for housing.

The Government has previously said it would look at "bold options" to improve consumer redress across the housing sector, suggesting a single housing ombudsman could potentially help to provide more comprehensive redress for home owners, home buyers, tenants and landlords.

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: "The current system for redress in housing is ineffective, confusing and complicated, and clearly doesn't provide the service that consumers need."

He continued: "The dialogue showed overwhelming support for the creation of a single ombudsman.

"We know this model can work well - the scheme we operate in energy handles around 40,000 complaints every year, and with oversight of the whole sector we're able to identify issues and help companies improve their processes to reduce consumer detriment."

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Everyone deserves a safe and decent place to live, and people in rented properties and home owners need a simpler and better system to complain when something goes wrong.

"We have consulted on bold options for change, including whether housing, like other sectors, should have a single ombudsman.

"We will look at the responses in our consultation and publish our response in due course."

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