Localism Act (1) - Amends Schedule Two, Housing Act 1996 Designated Tenant Panels 7C(1) In paragraph 7A(3)(c) “designated tenant panel” means a group of tenants which is recognised by a social landlord for the purpose of referring complaints against the social landlord. (2)There may be more than one designated tenant panel for a social landlord. (3)Where a social landlord becomes a member of an approved scheme, the social landlord must give to the person administering the scheme contact details for any designated tenant panel for the social landlord. (4)Where a group becomes a designated tenant panel for a social landlord, the social landlord must, as respects each approved scheme of which the social landlord is a member, give to the person administering the scheme contact details for the panel. (5)Where a group ceases to be a designated tenant panel for a social landlord, the social landlord must inform the person administering each approved scheme of which the social landlord is a member. (6)A complaint referred to a housing ombudsman under an approved scheme by a designated tenant panel for a social landlord is not affected by the group concerned ceasing to be a designated tenant panel for the social landlord.
There is no obligation on the landlord to set up a Designated Panel, unlike the (regulatory) obligation to set up a Scrutiny Panel. Councillors and MPs can fulfil the role together with or instead of a Panel. They are a given. It is a specialist Panel for complaints. Complainants must be reassured that it is an independent and fair step, not just a stage in the landlord’s procedure.
LANDLORD’s INTERNAL COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE Does the complainant need advocacy support? Can you help to bring about an amicable solution? Review? Does it pinpoint shortcomings in the ICP? Have the lessons been learnt? Scrutiny Panel? Referral to the Housing Ombudsman? DESIGNATED TENANTS PANEL How may the Panel consider a complaint? EARLY INVOLVEMENT? RING-FENCED FROM REVIEW/SCRUTINY FUNCTION?
Does the complainant need advocacy support? How may the Panel consider a complaint? Can the Panel remain impartial if it becomes involved in advocating the complainant’s case? Ring-fencing function? Can the matter be referred to a local advocacy agency (CAB, Law Centre, Rights Group, etc.)? Does the Panel member/s involved have the right skills for this type of specialist work? Will clear expectations be agreed with the complainant at the outset, with reasonable outcomes and timeframe?
Review? Does it pinpoint shortcomings in the ICP? How may the Panel consider a complaint? What is the organic relationship between the Panel and the landlord? Will there be a formal Protocol or Memorandum of Understanding which defines reciprocal expectations, rights, and duties? Will the panel have a direct communication line with the landlord’s governance structure? The Board? What help can the Panel offer the landlord to resolve any shortcomings in the ICP? How can the Panel reassure itself that the landlord has taken your views on board and acted accordingly?
Can you help to bring about an amicable solution? How may the Panel consider a complaint? Will your role include negotiating between the parties in dispute? Will you do that as a mediator or conciliator? What powers will you have? And what skills are required? Given that your decisions will not be binding on the parties, can there be a different way to ensure that the efforts are not wasted? A general agreement or a case-by-case one? What if a disagreement develops between the Panel and the complainant – or, indeed, the landlord? What mechanism can be deployed to resolve it? What quality controls can you bring about in order to ensure that your decisions are fair, consistent, and lasting? What about the administrative audit trail?
Have the lessons been learnt? Scrutiny Panel? How may the Panel consider a complaint? How can the Panel reassure itself that the landlord has taken your views on board and acted accordingly? Is there going to be a link between the Panel and the Scrutiny Panel? [The former is external to the landlord’s governance, the latter is internal.] Will you be able to share what you know with other tenants and other parties? What about confidentiality? How will you learn from what other Panels are doing elsewhere, and keep yourself well informed about relevant policy and practice?
Referral to the Housing Ombudsman ? How may the Panel consider a complaint? Is the case in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction? Do you want to add details to or comment on the complainant’s and/or the landlord’s positions? Do you know how to make the referral? It has to be in writing. Website? What are your expectations following the Ombudsman’s consideration of the case? Do you want feedback from the complainant, the landlord, the Ombudsman – or all of them? Will the outcome from the Ombudsman be part of the Panel’s own future dealings with complaints?
How will Panels deal with... Who and how sets up a Panel? How independent can it be? Recognition by social landlord? What criteria will be used? Who decides? How often will the recognition be reviewed and on which grounds? Handling complaints made to different Designated Persons? Consistency in approach by different Designated Persons with potentially different perspectives on the same complaint? Resourcing? Administration? – New regulatory expectations Conflict of interest? (Register of interests?) Confidentiality? Will tenants wish to share personal details with Panels and/or other Designated Persons? What conduct and principles will guide the consideration of complaints? Data protection? DPA subject requests and FoIA access? Insurance? (Professional indemnity? Premises?)
Don’t panic! The new system starts on 1 April but although the clock is ticking you have time to come up with the best option for you. Remember: neither landlords nor tenants HAVE to have these Panels unless they are both ready for them.