This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
- In the first instance, tenants should raise a complaint directly with the landlord or letting/managing agent.
- Once an internal complaints process is exhausted, if the issue is unresolved the next step could be to seek independent redress, e.g. via an Ombudsman where one exists.
- As a last resort, tenants and landlords normally have the option to use the courts to resolve disputes. Constituents should seek professional advice before undertaking legal action. The Advicenow website has information on seeking legal aid and assistance. There is also the Commons Library briefing paper: Legal help: where to go and how to pay.
Private rented sector
There is currently no overarching Housing Ombudsman for the private rented sector. The potential routes for redress depend on the type of dispute (see some common complaints below).
Some local authorities have a Tenancy Relations Service that can assist private sector tenants and landlords to resolve tenancy issues.
The government-approved Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) schemes offer a free dispute resolution service which can be initiated by either the landlord or tenant. The Commons Library briefing paper: Tenancy deposit schemes provides further information.
Problems with disrepair must always be reported to the landlord/managing agent. If the matter is not resolved, the tenant may request an inspection from the local authority’s Environmental Health Officers who have enforcement powers in certain circumstances.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 provides tenants with the means to take legal action against their landlord without having to rely on their local authority. The government has published detailed guidance on the Act. See also the Commons Library briefing paper: Housing conditions in the private rented sector (England).
Tenancy related fees
Landlords and letting agents may only charge ‘permitted fees’. Questions/complaints about fees should be directed to Local authority Trading Standards Officers – these officers have enforcement powers. The Government has published detailed guidance; see also the Commons Library constituency casework page on Tenancy related fees.
Letting and management services
Private sector letting and managing agents must be members of 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.
These are criminal offences under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Local authorities have power to prosecute landlords for offences under this Act. Tenants should seek assistance from their local authority and the police. Legal advice will also be appropriate, e.g. to secure an injunction to be able to return to the property.
Using the courts
Depending on the nature of the dispute legal action may be appropriate. Certain disputes can be adjudicated by the independent First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), including disputes over rent increases and tenant fees. The county court will consider actions such as claims for rent arrears and breaches of a landlord’s repairing obligation. Anyone considering legal action should seek advice from a suitably qualified professional.
Social rented sector
Social landlords (local authorities and housing associations) must have an internal complaints procedure and must publish information on the nature and number of complaints received and inform residents of how information on complaints is used to improve services. In the first instance, tenants should use the landlord’s internal complaints procedure.
If tenants are unhappy at the end of this process, they may refer certain complaints to the Housing Ombudsman Service for investigation. (Nb. from 1 October 2022 social tenants can refer complaints to the Housing Ombudsman immediately, without being required to wait eight weeks or contact a ‘designated person’, such as an MP)
The Housing Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial complaints resolution service. The Ombudsman’s determination may include recommendations for action and/or a financial remedy. Not all complaints are covered by the Ombudsman Scheme (PDF).
If the Ombudsman identifies possible significant systemic issues they can refer the case to the Regulator of Social Housing who can take action if there is evidence of a breach of its consumer standards and there has been, or is a risk of, ‘serious detriment’ to tenants. The Regulator does not resolve individual disputes between tenants and landlords.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman considers complaints about local authorities’ wider housing activities, for example in discharging their statutory homelessness duties or allocating social housing. The factsheet Which ombudsman for social housing complaints? provides guidance on the complaint categories that should be referred to the different Ombudsman services.
Using the courts
In some cases, it might be appropriate for a social tenant to seek redress through the courts e.g. where a landlord fails to carry out repairs. Measures in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 also apply to social landlords.
The Government’s social housing white paper, published in November 2020, included a range of measures intended to improve the complaints process for social housing residents. The Commons Library briefing paper on Social Housing Reform in England: What Next? provides further information.
Further information and advice
Shelter – How to complain.
HM Government – Social housing complaints – make things right.
The charity TAROE Trust – provides general housing advice and directly supports social housing tenants to resolve issues that arise with their landlord.
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.