Clause 29 - Guidance for scheme administrator and local housing authority

Part of Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 28 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:00, 28 Tachwedd 2023

We agree that the new or expanded ombudsman, with responsibility for dealing with complaints from tenants in the private rented sector, will have to work effectively with local authorities given the latter’s enforcement role. When the new ombudsman has been established, a complaint from a tenant concerning the breach of a regulatory threshold will be able to be made either directly to the ombudsman or to the local authority that would have the power to take enforcement action to bring the landlord in question into compliance with the said regulations, and if they fail to do so, to sanction them. There is therefore a clear risk not only that the role of the ombudsman vis-à-vis local authorities is not clearly delineated, but that tenants themselves will be confused about which body it is appropriate to approach in any given circumstance.

This issue was raised during the progress of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 because there is a general issue about how the ombudsman relates to local authorities. Given the Minister’s indication that the Government’s preferred approach is to have that ombudsman take on a responsibility for the private rented sector, I think—if anything—this point becomes more pertinent. The Government acknowledge, as is clearly stated in the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill, that the new ombudsman and local authorities must have “complementary but separate roles.” I put this point to the housing ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, in one of our evidence sessions two weeks ago. He replied that

“that is a really important point, because there is a risk of duplication between the role of a council and the role of an ombudsman. Again, there is a lack of clarity for residents—tenants—about which route to take. An ombudsman does not operate in isolation—it will not operate in a bubble—so the relationship between the ombudsman and the courts will be critical, as well as the ombudsman discharging its own functions.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 14 November 2023; c. 28, Q28.]

It is crucial that guidance on how local authorities and the ombudsman will work together to resolve complaints, including how they share information and how each signpost to the other where appropriate, is fit for purpose. The clause allows for such guidance to be published, and I would be grateful if the Minister, either now or in writing, could perhaps give us a little more insight into how the Government will ensure that the roles of the two are separate but complementary, as the Government have indicated they must be.