The Government is to look at the possibility of having just one housing ombudsman in future, operating across both private and social sectors.
It would replace the four that current operate – The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services: Property, the Property Redress Scheme, and the Housing Ombudsman.
TPO Katrine Sporle this morning gave only a cautious welcome to the move, saying that there should be one ombudsman in the private sector and one in the public sector.
She said: “We support the Government’s debate regarding the need for a single ombudsman and think this is right for the property sector.
“One ombudsman for the whole of the public and private housing and property sector may be a step too far, but a single housing ombudsman and a single property ombudsman would be an effective and efficient step forward. I also believe that establishing a regulatory framework is long overdue.
“We will be publishing TPO’s responses to the various calls for evidence, starting with the response to the DCLG call for evidence on protecting consumers in the letting and managing agent market, in due course.”
Sporle was reacting to plans unveiled by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, who said: “We’re looking at bold options to improve redress in the New Year – including whether housing, like other sectors, should have a single ombudsman.
“This could help drive up standards across the whole industry and increase protections for consumers.
“Currently, there are four government approved providers of redress that cover some aspects of home buying and renting, but not all. Membership of ombudsman schemes is compulsory for some groups, but not for others.”
Javid said there will be a consultation in the New Year.
He told the National House Building Council: “I believe the time is right to go further, to look at what can be done to improve the means of securing redress right across the housing sector.
“One of the options to do that is to create a new Housing Ombudsman – a single, transparent and accountable body with a remit that covers the whole of the housing sector including both private and social landlords and the providers of new-build homes.”
He added: “Research in other sectors has shown that redress works more efficiently for consumers when there’s a single ombudsman in place. So, in the New Year, we’re going to consult on this and see whether it’s right for the housing sector too.”
The announcement appears to represent something of a U-turn for the Government. The newest of the authorised redress schemes, the PRS, was created amid concern that there would be insufficient choice in the market once letting agents were required to offer redress from October 2014.
The Government specifically invited applications for new redress schemes in late 2013, and in April 2014, then housing minister Kris Hopkins confirmed that three had been approved – TPO, Ombudsman Services and newcomer the PRS.