This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
There are various circumstances in which a homeowner might want to lodge a housing complaint. The current redress landscape is acknowledged to be confusing.
In January 2019 the Government announced plans to strengthen consumer redress in the housing market, including the creation of a new Housing Complaints Resolution Service as a single point of access to redress services across all tenures. A timetable for introducing this service has not been announced.
An overview of some of redress schemes and avenues currently available to homeowners to resolve a selection of housing complaints is provided below.
General advice on lodging a complaint
- In the first instance the complaint should be raised directly with the organisation involved using their internal complaints procedure (if it exists).
- If the issue is unresolved, the next step could be independent redress, e.g. via an Ombudsman where one exists.
- Some businesses may belong to a professional association (for example, the Federation of Master Builders) which may provide an Alternative Dispute Resolution service.
- As a last resort, homeowners may resort to legal action to resolve disputes. Constituents considering this route should seek professional legal advice. The Advicenow website has information on legal aid and assistance. There is also a Commons Library briefing paper: Legal help: where to go and how to pay.
Complaints about the home buying and selling process
Estate agents: estate agents must belong to a government-approved redress scheme: The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme. These schemes provide for independent resolution of disputes. A consumer should first contact the estate agent in question. If the complaint remains unresolved, the matter can be directed to the appropriate redress scheme. Each scheme offers an escalated complaints procedure and has the authority to resolve the complaint. See: Who regulates estate agents?
Conveyancers and solicitors: The Legal Ombudsman can investigate complaints against a legal service provider.
Unfair trading: the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 impose a general prohibition on traders in all sectors from engaging in unfair commercial practices with consumers. In October 2014, amendments were made to the regulations to give consumers new rights of redress if subject to a misleading action or aggressive selling by a trader. The regulations are enforced by Local Authority Trading Standards Services. The Commons Library briefing paper Consumer protection: Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 provides further information.
Complaints about the standard of new-build properties
Property developers: may be signed up to the Consumer Code for New Homes (CCNH) or the Consumer Code for Home Builders (CCHB) which provide a free, independent dispute resolution scheme. A defect liability period of two years post-completion usually operates during which developers are responsible for rectifying defects.
The Government has committed to create a New Homes Ombudsman and to require all developers of new-build homes to belong to the Ombudsman scheme. Legislation is expected in the 2019-21 parliamentary session
New home warranty providers: Most new-build properties are sold with a warranty lasting for around ten years. If a homeowner is unable to resolve a complaint with a warranty provider they may be able to seek redress from the Financial Ombudsman Service. The Commons library briefing paper: New-build housing: construction defects – issues and solutions (England) provides further information.
Long leaseholders’ complaints (including shared owners)
Common leaseholder complaints include matters such as the level of service charges and the standard of services provided.
Property managing agents must belong to a government-approved redress scheme: The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme. These schemes provide for independent resolution of disputes. There is government guidance on the schemes.
Certain leasehold disputes can be adjudicated by the independent First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), including disputes over service charges, lease variations and the determination of premiums for freehold purchase and lease extensions.
Leaseholders with a social landlord can use the landlord’s internal complaints procedure. If the matter is unresolved they may then seek redress from the Housing Ombudsman Service. Not all complaints are covered by the Ombudsman Scheme, see The Scheme, Housing Ombudsman Service (PDF 375.25KB), (e.g. it does not cover disputes over the level of service charge or service charge increases).
The Association of Retirement Housing Managers (ARHM) has published a Code of Practice to which agents operating in the leasehold retirement sector are expected to adhere: ARHM revised Code of Practice for England (2016). The Code requires managers to have a complaints handling procedure and to belong to a Government-approved redress scheme.
Freeholders of houses on residential estates
Freeholders of houses on private and mixed-tenure estates who are required to contribute to the maintenance of the estate’s communal areas and facilities, do not have equivalent statutory rights to leaseholders to challenge the level of estate charges.
Where an estate charge is collected by a property agent a freeholder may be able to raise a complaint through the relevant redress scheme (see above).
The Government has committed to give freeholders equivalent rights to challenge the reasonableness of estate charges, as well as a right to apply to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) to appoint a new manager for the provision of services covered by estate charges. The Commons Library briefing paper Freehold houses: estate charges provides further information.
The best way to deal with these complaints depends on the specific behaviour/issue concerned and the tenure of the alleged perpetrator. There are two Library papers which provide relevant information:
- Anti-social neighbours living in private housing (England)
- Anti-social behaviour in social housing (England)
Park home residents
Residents who live year-round on mobile home parks currently have no access to a redress scheme. The Government intends to legislate to require all residential park home site operators to be members of a redress scheme, Strengthening Consumer Redress in the Housing Market Response, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, (PDF 539.36KB), but there is no timetable for this.
Park home residents have a written agreement with their site owner which sets out the contractual obligations of both parties. The independent First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) can adjudicate on most disputes about park homes. Tribunal decisions are binding and can include a financial award for compensation. The county court deals with applications to terminate an agreement with a park home resident.
Disputes over the site licence or harassment arising on the park can be referred to the local authority. Complaints which are not dealt with satisfactorily by the local authority may be taken to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The Commons Library briefing paper: Mobile (park) homes provides an overview of the rights of park homes residents.
- The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) has factsheets and FAQs on leasehold issues and gives free advice by telephone or by email.
- LEASE provides an independent advice service for park home residents and site owners.
- National Trading Standards: Guidance for consumers seeking redress for leasehold matters.
- Citizens Advice consumer helpline.
- HomeOwners Alliance.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.