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Unified Private Rental Ombudsman Essential for Landlords and Tenants, Says Housing Chief

In an article penned for the Conservative Home website, the current Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, has stated that private landlords have no reason to dread the expansion of an Ombudsman service into the buy-to-let sector. Blakeway’s argument is premised on the need for a single, distinct Ombudsman for the private rental sector, thereby ensuring lucidity for both landlords and consumers.

The Ombudsman reasons that private landlords might perceive the establishment of a sector-specific Ombudsman as an additional bureaucratic load. However, he is adamant that this misinterprets the role of the Ombudsman.

He clarifies, “Our decisions are impartial and rooted in fairness: around half of the cases we investigate are not upheld. This can be an effective way for the landlord to resolve a dispute where relationships with tenants have broken down. If something has gone wrong, the remedies are not punitive – they are simply aimed at putting the consumer back in the position they would have enjoyed had things been as they should. If requirements are not being met, surely it is better to learn through an Ombudsman decision than risk repeating the same mistakes?”

Blakeway, an advocate for the extension of the Ombudsman principle into the private rental sector, applauds the inclusion of this provision within the Renters’ Reform Bill. However, he expresses concern that the bill’s allowance for one or more private rented sector redress schemes could compromise its effectiveness.

The Ombudsman takes issue with the potential for multiple schemes as it muddies the intertwined roles of freeholders, developers, agents, and landlords in both the social and private sectors, across varying tenures of home-ownership. He asserts that these relationships can become convoluted, leading to a dispersion of accountability and responsibility. Blakeway believes this “salami-slicing redress when there are disputes” could result in confusion, unnoticed gaps, and consumers being given the runaround.

According to Blakeway, the recent history of redress should serve as a warning to the government on how not to proceed. “Six years ago, ministers declared the system of housing redress broken. Then the proposal was to simplify and strengthen it, including consolidation through a single housing Ombudsman, providing a modern and agile response to a changing housing market. Yet today there are more bodies than ever. Consumers may have to approach at least seven different organisations to get their issues addressed. This may mean neighbours going down different routes – even for the same issue.”

Blakeway maintains that this disjointed approach serves neither the consumer nor the provider, as it potentially forces the latter to join and navigate multiple schemes. He says, “It sucks up energy and innovation, and makes it harder to identify and implement lessons to improve services … The dysfunctions in the housing market should not be compounded in the way problems are redressed.”