This policy explains the procedure for making complaints against a member of the co-op alleging a breach of tenancy.
ASH Co-op has three policies which aim to help it manage complaints and disputes.
- Member Complaints Policy – This policy explains the procedure for making complaints against a member of the co-op alleging a breach of tenancy.
- Disputes policy – This policy aims to guide the Co-op towards resolving disputes between two or more members of the Co-op. There may on occasions be an overlap between the this policy and the Member Complaints Policy. In this case, each procedure shall be followed separately
- Co-op Complaints Policy – This policy describes how a member can make a complaint about the Co-operative as an organisation or a member’s work as a Committee member or Co-operative officer (secretary, treasurer, group co-ordinator etc). It is intended to be followed if a member is unhappy about the way the Co-op has acted in regard to either their tenancy agreement or the management of the Co-op in relation to the Co-op’s registered rules.
|Section 1 – Introduction|
|Section 2 – Procedure for making a complaint|
|Section 3 – Appeals|
The Co-operative’s tenancy agreement describes the legal relationship between the Co-operative as a landlord and each member as a tenant. This policy has two aims:
- To guide the Co-operative in responding to complaints about members whose actions have brought them into conflict with their tenancy agreement (i.e. a breach of tenancy); and
- To set the limits of the Co-operative’s involvement in incidents affecting Co-operative members which require the involvement of the Police or other outside agencies.
Any Co-operative member, or non-member who is a paid member of staff, may bring an allegation of breach of tenancy to the attention of the Co-operative, guided by this policy.
What types of complaint does this policy cover?
Types of complaints covered by this policy involve an alleged breach of tenancy and might include:
- complaints about noise, animals, visitors, guests, standards of housework etc.
- allegations of under-occupation
- allegations of racial, sexual, homophobic or other forms of harassment in accordance with the Co-operative’s anti-harassment policy
- any other allegations of a breach of tenancy or conflict with the Co-op’s registered rules.
Serious misconduct warranting Police or other emergency action
Where a member alleges such serious misconduct as a breaking of the law e.g. theft, rape, false imprisonment, fraud etc. it is not up to the Co-operative to intervene, but up to individual members or the Co-operative to inform the Police or appropriate authorities (e.g. RSPCA, NSPCC). The Co-operative shall (through the Welfare Group and Housing Co-ordinator) offer support to members in dealing with the police or other similar bodies in such cases.
Members may act without reference to the Co-operative in such instances, however they are requested to report such matters to the Co-operative, and to make a record of any such incidents involving Co-operative members to support the Co-operative if it should need to take subsequent action regarding a member’s tenancy.
Members who need to report an incident which requires emergency assistance may approach one of the Welfare Co-ordinators for assistance in contacting the appropriate agency. If the Welfare Co-ordinators are not available, the member may approach the Secretary or the Housing Co-ordinator. In this instance a record may be made detailing any action taken.
Even where there is an alleged breach of tenancy, members are encouraged first to attempt to resolve their complaint through informal channels such as a house meeting or with assistance from the Welfare Group. Mediation can also be offered, using The Cambridge & District Mediation Service who exist to help in disputes. Mediation is an impartial (mediators do not take sides), independent (the service does not answer to any other organisation) confidential service. If this is not appropriate, or if it fails, the following procedure shall be followed.
Who to approach
Any member who feels that they have a serious complaint to make that cannot be resolved through a house meeting or other informal forum shall present a written statement to a Welfare Co-ordinator. If no Welfare Co-ordinator is available, the member may approach the Secretary or the Housing Co-ordinator (paid worker).
This statement must be on the Member Complaints Form, which is available from the office. The statement shall identify which section of the tenancy is claimed to have been broken. If a member wishes to include evidence that is longer than the space provided, there must be clear reference between supporting evidence and any breach of tenancy mentioned on the form. Only evidence that supports this alleged breach may be appended in this way to the Form.
Members are encouraged to be as clear as possible in making their complaint. The Welfare Group can provide assistance in filling out the form, and clarifying the links between alleged breaches and the additional evidence, on request. It is in the interests of an effective and fair management of a complaint that it is reported in this way. Complaints received not using the above procedure will not be processed.
The Member Complaints Form must be signed by all those members who wish to complain and who are willing to be interviewed by a complaint panel if necessary.
Anonymous complaints will not be accepted by the Co-op. The Co-op will seek to manage any complaint with full respect for the confidentiality of all individuals affected by it, in accordance with the Co-op’s current Confidentiality Policy.
What happens when a complaint is received ?
The officer presented with the complaint will see that the matter is brought to the attention of one of the Co-operative’s Welfare Co-ordinators. The Welfare Co-ordinator shall convene a Complaints Panel Meeting as outlined below.
Where appropriate, he/she shall also gather any available evidence or statements prior to the panel’s first meeting.
Where necessary a Welfare Co-ordinator is authorised to seek legal advice (within budget) from the Co-operative’s solicitor or an external advisor.
The Welfare Co-ordinator shall also ensure that the member about whom the complaint has been made is informed in writing of the complaint and of the panel meeting that is to take place. The member concerned shall be sent a summary of the complaint along with the proposed composition of the panel (see below). The person making the complaint (‘the complainant’) may choose whether or not they are identified in this correspondence.
The Composition of Complaints Panels
Complaints shall be investigated by a panel of three Co-operative members. It is the responsibility of the Welfare Co-ordinator to choose a panel appropriate to the needs of the complaint.
The Welfare Co-ordinator may appoint a panel to investigate more than one complaint, or ask an existing panel to investigate additional complaints. This only applies in circumstances where there is more than one complaint against the same member on similar or overlapping issues.
Both the Complainant and the Person complained about shall be given the opportunity to veto any panel member who they feel will be unable to consider the complaint impartially. The complainant has the opportunity to do this on the Member Complaints Form, and immediately after they are informed of who is being proposed for the panel. The person complained about has an opportunity to do so on a reply slip with the letter notifying them of the complaint.
At least one of the panel members shall have received training in, or have a working knowledge of, handling members’ complaints, including Co-op tenancy and rules, the Member Complaints Policy and interview skills. None of them shall live in the same house as the member being complained about. At least one panel member shall have lived in the Co-operative for at least 12 months. Both genders must be represented. Close friends, partners or relatives of anyone involved in the case may not be a panel member.
Each proposed member of the panel shall sign an approved confidentiality statement.
How soon shall the Complaints Panel Meet?
The Complaints Panel shall meet within 15 working days of the receipt of the complaint. If the complainant considers it to be more urgent than this, they shall ask for a meeting to be called within five working days.
The panel may ask an external advisor to sit as a member, or to assist in the investigation of a complaint.
In cases of serious misconduct, where the allegation is sufficiently serious and there is clear evidence supporting the allegation, the panel may decide to recommend to a GM that the Co-operative begin legal action to repossess the member’s accommodation.
In this case, the panel shall recommend this to an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), which shall be called as soon as possible, within the Co-operative’s rules.1
If this EGM decides that legal action is required, the Secretary (or Welfare Co-ordinator) and the Housing Co-ordinator shall ensure that proceedings are initiated the following day. Such proceedings shall only be halted in the event of the member concerned leaving the Co-operative, and the Co-operative taking possession of their room, having served an appropriate Notice to Quit.
In all other cases, where the allegation is not sufficiently serious, or where it requires further investigation, the panel will investigate the complaint.
Records of Complaints Panel Meetings
Detailed minutes of all interviews and written summaries of Panel discussions must be taken.
The panel shall keep a file of the complaint in a secure place in the office.
What happens at the panel meeting?
The panel shall take into account any action being taken by another agency (i.e. the police may request that criminal proceedings are taken before a civil action for eviction is started).
The panel will prepare questions for all those involved and will interview each separately. Written invitations to be interviewed will be delivered to all those invited to meet with the Panel at least 48 hours before their interview.
If the complainant fails to come to such an interview without giving prior notice, the complaint can be dropped at the discretion of the panel and the Welfare Co-ordinator.
Having heard all the allegations, the Panel will prepare a separate set of questions for the member(s) against whom there is an allegation of a breach of tenancy.
All correspondence with members related to the complaint shall be kept confidential, delivered in sealed envelopes, and ideally posted under the person’s bedroom door. Copies of all correspondence shall be made and kept in the case file, along with the complaint and records of interviews and the Panel’s discussions.
The panel shall seek consensus between its members in making a recommendation to the Co-operative. If it cannot reach a consensus decision, the panel members shall vote to determine its decision.
What can the Panel recommend?
The panel may recommend one of the following courses of action:
- No action – if the panel feels that the complaint is unfounded they will recommend that no action be taken by the Co-operative.
- A warning – in the event that the panel are satisfied that the complaint is justified, but do not feel that the member concerned deserves to be evicted, nor that a placement2 is appropriate, they may decide to issue a written warning. The panel shall confirm in writing the breach of tenancy and identify behaviour that they deem to be unacceptable.If behaviour or actions which caused the complaint still need to be rectified at the time of issuing the warning, the member concerned will be given 28 days to do so.3 The warning letter may also state that a recurrence of the breach could result in immediate proceedings to evict the member(s) concerned. If during these 28 days, there is a further complaint of recurrence of the breach, a Welfare Co-ordinator shall, if possible, re-convene the original panel, or if not, call another panel. If this panel accepts that a breach mentioned in a current warning has re-occurred, an EGM may be called to evict the member concerned.If the particular breach of tenancy identified by the panel is rectified within the 28 days, but complained of again within 12 months, a Welfare Co-ordinator shall, if possible, re-convene the original panel, or if not, call another panel. If this panel accepts that a breach mentioned in a warning issued within the previous 12 months has re-occurred, an EGM may be called to evict the member concerned.4
- To serve a Notice to Quit – if the panel feel that a complaint has been proved to be correct and is sufficiently serious to warrant such action, the panel may recommend that the Co-operative serve a Notice to Quit, and then commence legal action to recover possession of the member’s room (i.e. evict them). In this case, this course of action must be approved by an EGM, which shall be called as soon as possible within the Co-operative’s rules.Complainants and members being complained about shall receive 48 hours written notification of any EGM that is to consider issuing a Notice to Quit.
The panel shall write to complainants and members being complained about as soon as possible after agreeing their recommendation.
Guidance on confidentiality for any meeting discussing Member’s Complaints.
The meeting will follow guidelines set out in the current Confidentiality Policy, with particular reference to the following sections:
Discussion of complaints at meetings
- Where a complaints panel is called upon to make recommendations in ASH Co-op’s meetings, the panel shall present the complaint, its recommendations and the basis for any recommendations without naming individuals or addresses
- Where a meeting is called to discuss the recommendations of a complaints panel, any individual may agree to identify themselves, yet no-one at that meeting shall identify any other individual unless they have given their consent to the meeting. Such agreement shall be addressed to the Chair and minuted, and may be done verbally, before or during the course of the meeting.
Representatives at meetings
Any member who wishes to delegate another person to speak or be present on their behalf at this meeting may do so, but the member concerned must sign a written consent form to this effect addressed to the Chair.
Important notes on the Co-operative taking legal action
The Co-operative must have enough evidence (written statements) and witnesses who are prepared to testify in court to warrant legal action, otherwise this course of action may be costly and unsatisfactory for all concerned.
In cases where a panel has decided on this course of action, the Co-operative may seek professional legal advice before commencing legal action.
In the case of recommendations a or b above
If a member is dissatisfied with the result of the panel’s decision, he/she may appeal against the result of the panel. This must be in writing using the Member Complaints Appeals Form, and must give the reason for wishing to appeal against the Panel’s decision.
The member must contact the Welfare Co-ordinator in writing within 10 working days of the Co-operative’s communication of the result of the panel. The Welfare Co-ordinator will then arrange for a new panel to consider the appeal. The new panel will meet within 15 working days of receiving the appeal, and will consider the minutes of the previous panel meeting and the reason for the appeal. The Appeal Panel may recommend a change to the original recommendation.
In the case of recommendation c above
If a panel has recommended serving a Notice to Quit, appeals against this may only be made to the EGM receiving this recommendation. After this point any appeal may only be made to the Independent Housing Ombudsman (see below).
The Independent Housing Ombudsman
If any member is still not happy with what the result, he/she may complain to the Independent Housing Ombudsman service at: Norman House, 105-109 Strand, London WC2R 0AA Tel. 020-7836 3630, Lo call 0345 125 973). There is a leaflet about the Ombudsman scheme in the welfare file in the office. The Welfare Group may be able to assist the complainant with this if desired.
- An EGM may be called by a written request by one tenth of the membership (usually at least nine members) to the Secretary of the Co-operative. 48 Hours notice to all members is required.
- recommending that a member seeks accommodation elsewhere within the Co-op
- For example if an allegation is made of a member keeping a pet in a house unauthorised, and sustained by the panel’s investigation, they have 28 days to either find alternative accommodation for their pet, or receive the approval of a GM to continue keeping it.
- This recommendation is intended to manage breaches of tenancy which are deemed to be rectifiable or not particularly serious as long as they don’t happen again. It gives the Co-op a framework to act decisively if they are not rectified or if they do recur. By being persisient, a minor breach of tenancy becomes a more serious problem to the Co-op.
- This gives these parties opportunity to prepare any appeal.