MAKING A COMPLAINT
If tenants believe their housing provider has broken the Code they are signed up to, they are entitled to make a formal complaint, and this process is open to tenants, ex-tenants, a parent or relative representing the tenant or former tenant, students unions, universities, or local authorities.
In the first instance any complaint that an aspect of the Codes have been breached should be raised with the accommodation provider directly and using that provider’s own complaints process where relevant. This resolves most issues.
Where parties experience any difficulties in accessing such procedures, they should contact the National Codes for assistance.
Where such an action does not result in the breach being resolved, then a formal complaint should be made to the National Codes. The accommodation provider will be contacted by the Codes Complaints Investigator and invited to respond to the allegations that they have breached the Codes. This process resolves the majority of issues that have not been resolved in the first instance.
Should a resolution to the matter/s not be achieved following this process, then the complaint will be referred to the Chair of the Tribunal
The complaint must state clearly:
- When the tenants informed the provider of the alleged breach and what steps, if any, the provider took to resolve it
- the section(s) of the relevant Code the complainant believes has been breached
Upon receiving the complaint the National Codes Administrator will check that it fulfils the above criteria and then acknowledge receipt of the complaint.
Once a complaint is received the owner of the property will be written to, informing them of the complaint and giving them 14 working days in which to respond.
Generally, it is hoped that reporting a complaint about a property of an owner who has signed the Code voluntarily will result in that owner taking any necessary remedial action immediately.
COMPLAINTS UNDER THE NATIONAL CODES ABOUT COVID-19 RELATED RENT REFUNDS
The Codes set an operational deadline for receiving complaints relating to Covid-19 rent refunds relating to the 2019-2020 academic year six months from lockdown on 23rd March 2020 and that took effect at midday on Friday 25th September 2020. No complaints relating to Covid-19 rent refunds for the 2019-2020 can now be accepted.
Covid-19 Related Rent Refunds for 2020-2021
The 2020-2021 academic year is significantly different from the year that went before it. In the previous year the Coronavirus pandemic was entirely unforeseen. In the current year, many students have entered into obligations knowing about the pandemic and the effect on their course and academic teaching. The need for testing and self-isolation were also known. The Office for Students has made it clear that the academic year would proceed with a blend of on-line and face-to-face teaching and that any academic fee reductions are a matter for Government.
The Code can only have a limited role to play in looking at issues where students are requesting that their accommodation fees or rent be refunded in whole or in part for 2020-2021. It may be helpful to outline how the Code will approach this:
• Matters relating to mis-selling or not providing contracted services. Where services have been closed to be in line with Government advice then this will not constitute valid grounds for complaint
• Setting unreasonable conditions for tenancy options. This would particularly be the case if a room had to be vacated in a period when Government “stay put” advice was in place
• Unnecessarily rigid and inflexible conditions have been set by a supplier in matters relating to the tenancy which fail to appreciate the individual circumstances of the complainant
• An offer of a “flexible contract” was not being followed through when flexibility was requested
• The tenant or potential tenant was not able to travel to the UK or could not obtain a visa to do so or were being told they must pay for a significant period of time in advance of when they could actually have taken up their accommodation
• Tenants who leave their property without informing the supplier within 48 hours of doing so will not be able to complain successfully about the lack of any rent mitigation
• Accommodation providers are responsible for ensuring that their buildings are Covid-secure and buildings must be adequately signed, provided with hand washing and sanitising facilities, staff are protected and special arrangements made for vulnerable groups (this would fall under the general provisions within Section 6 of the Code). Accommodation providers cannot be held responsibility for the actions of individual tenants failing to self-isolate and have no legal or disciplinary powers to enforce social distancing (unless they are an educational institution in which case a problem should be brought to their attention). Where complaints are received the Code would expect these to be dealt within the terms of Section 8 of the Code.
Any student making a complaint within these areas will be asked if they think they have any exceptional circumstances where their case should be considered individually by a supplier.
If the Codes Complaints Investigator feels that the exceptional circumstances merits individual consideration they will forward these to the supplier for such consideration and it is expected that these representations will be properly considered and responded to in a timely manner by the supplier.
Exceptional circumstances must relate to the individual circumstances of the complainant they cannot simply state a sense of entitlement that contracted rent should not be charged in the light of the pandemic.
In some cases, complaints about rent refunds are accompanied by other complaints that are covered by areas within the Codes. In the first instance any complaint that an aspect of the Codes has been breached should be raised with the accommodation provider directly, using that provider’s own complaints process where relevant. Only if a tenant is dissatisfied with the response (or non-response) can this be dealt with under the Codes. The Codes Complaints Investigator has been instructed to check that this is the case as part of processing these related complaints.
Students can also get advice from their students’ union or educational institution, which may be in a position to advocate on their behalf