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What do you say and do for tenants when things go wrong? Practice makes perfect (06 Dec 07)

How housing associations can handle complaints: an 18 step guide - with a rather surprising research finding

We are all so busy trying to involve people that sometimes it pays to remember why.

Besides giving them a say in how their communities are run, one very good reason is that you are more likely to find out what sort of services they really want.

Nothing beats hearing straight from the horseís mouth what makes people happy or unhappy about anything, and it would be wonderful if all you got back was a shower of praise. But it wouldnít help much, because oddly enough, complaints and how you handle them do much more to improve your work than anything else.

In fact research commissioned by the Housing Ombudsman Service and the Housing Corporation shows that landlords who tend to get a high volume of complaints from tenants also tend to get a high level of tenant satisfaction in surveys.

That seems a bit of a paradox at first, doesnít it? But other research by Ford some years ago discovered hat people who had been satisfied by the firmís handling of a complaint were better customers than those who had never complained at all

Also itís a case of practice makes perfect. If you get a lot of complaints you either learn how to deal with them well or give up.

In short, how you handle a complaint is vital. Get it right, and your ratings go up. Get it wrong and you put people off from getting involved in anything you do.

Hereís some advice straight from another horseís mouth, Rafael Runco, the Deputy Ombudsman.

If you find this advice particularly useful why not attend our one day course on the topic, How to handle a housing complaints?

  1. Find out right away what they want you to do about the problem. Do not try to double-guess them. What is obvious to you may not be a simple matter for them.
  2. Be clear about what you can and cannot do. Try and understand the problem from the tenantís point of view, but donít commit yourself or your organisation to things you cannot deliver.
  3. Keep any advice you give simple. Avoid jargon, give Plain English advice and make sure you communicate effectively with people with language or disability needs.
  4. Avoid using too many forms or formal procedures. Remember that not everybody can express themselves (or understand you) in writing.
  5. For complaints which seem less serious an early apology and a clear statement of what you intend to do about the problem is often sufficient Ė provided you do what you say!
  6. When you write to people do it in a personal way. Donít use a standardized reply as that will only make things worse.
  7. If you do need to pass the problem to someone else in your organisation make sure you tell the tenant what is happening and who is now dealing with it.
  8. Let your tenants know about changes you have made as a result of their complaints.

Complaints Procedure

9. Your formal complaints procedure should be easy to follow and have no more than three stages. Each should involve the following:

10. The published procedure should detail the stages a complaint needs to go through, contact addresses and time targets for each stage, and details of how to approach the Ombudsman once it is exhausted.

11. The procedure should attempt to define what a complaint is and who can use it

12. The procedure should be accessible to applicants for housing and other people with whom the organisation has a relationship to, as well as to those receiving a housing service from it.

13. Be conciliatory. At some stage in the procedure you should consider whether mediation between the landlord and the complainant might help resolve the complaint. If the landlord does not think mediation appropriate, they should be able to show why. The complainant can, of course, refuse mediation and insist that the complaint be dealt with through the formal procedure only

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