Appointment of the Housing Ombudsman Contents

1Appointment of the Housing Ombudsman

Introduction

1.This Report follows the pre-appointment hearing we held with the Secretary of State’s preferred candidate for Housing Ombudsman, one of four posts which are subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.1

2.In June 2017, Denise Fowler, the last permanent holder of the office of Housing Ombudsman, resigned from her post. The Ministry conducted a recruitment campaign for a new Ombudsman in the summer of 2017 but received a limited number of applicants.2 David Connolly was appointed interim Housing Ombudsman for six months, which was eventually extended to the end of August 2018. A second campaign was launched in January 2018 with a new, revised job specification emphasising the increased importance of social housing issues.

3.The Ministry informed us that this second campaign attracted a stronger field of applicants. The Assessment Panel recommended an appointable candidate to the previous Secretary of State in April 2018. Following a Cabinet reshuffle, the new Secretary of State, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire, wrote to our Chair to explain that he would not appoint the candidate and did not consider any of the shortlisted candidates to have the right skills or experience for the role.3 For the second time, the job specification was revised to include more emphasis on social housing. As a result of no permanent appointment being made, Andrea Keenoy, the then Director of Finance and Corporate Performance at the Housing Ombudsman Service, took over from David Connolly as interim Housing Ombudsman for a year from 31 August 2018.

4.The third campaign to find a new Housing Ombudsman was launched on 4 January 2019. We were not consulted on the proposed selection process before the recruitment campaign began, as advised under Cabinet Office guidance.4 Kit Malthouse, the Minister of State for Housing, wrote to our Chair on 28 March 2019 to apologise for this oversight and lack of engagement.5

5.On 26 June 2019, the Secretary of State wrote to our Chair to inform the Committee of his nomination of Richard Blakeway to be Housing Ombudsman.6 This information, along with the other required documents, was sent to us three working days before the hearing. Cabinet Office guidance recommends at least seven working days in advance.7

6.We are disappointed that the Department neglected to consult us on the proposed selection process prior to the start of the recruitment campaign and failed to send us the information set out in the Cabinet Office guidance within seven working days of the scheduled pre-appointment hearing. We expect the Department to take appropriate measures to ensure it has the required capacity to meet the requirements set out in Liaison Committee and Cabinet Office guidance for pre-appointment hearings.

The Housing Ombudsman Service

7.The Housing Ombudsman Service defines its role as:

[…] to resolve disputes involving members of the Scheme, including making awards of compensation or other remedies, where appropriate, as well as to support effective landlord-tenant dispute resolution by others.

The service is independent and impartial.8

8.On its website the Housing Ombudsman Service explains its vision:

We understand the importance of housing to people’s lives. We ensure the fair and impartial resolution of housing complaints, locally where possible. When things go wrong we put things right and encourage learning from outcomes. We help improve landlord and resident relationships. We role model the service we expect of others.9

9.According to its 2017–18 Annual Report and Accounts, as of 31 March 2018, 2,452 landlords were in membership, representing around 4.8 million housing units.10 The Housing Ombudsman Service employs an average of 68.2 FTE staff, including the Housing Ombudsman, and has an annual budget of £5.9m.

The role and responsibilities of the Housing Ombudsman

10.The responsibilities of the Housing Ombudsman are set out in full in the candidate information pack.11 They include the following essential criteria:

The candidate

11.Richard Blakeway, the Government’s preferred candidate, was Deputy Mayor of London for Housing, Land and Property during Boris Johnson’s mayoralty and Chair of Homes for London from 2012 to 2016. Following this, he was a policy adviser for 10 Downing Street in 2016, before setting up his own consultancy firm which has advised a range of companies, including real estate developers. He is also currently Chair of BexleyCo Ltd, the housing company for the London Borough of Bexley, and a Non-executive Director for Homes England. Mr Blakeway’s CV is appended to this report.12

12.We held a pre-appointment hearing with Richard Blakeway on 1 July 2019. In line with the guidance drawn up by the Liaison Committee on the conduct of pre-appointment hearings, our questioning sought to test Mr Blakeway’s professional competence and personal independence. We explored the following areas:

Conclusion

13.We endorse Mr Blakeway’s appointment to the position of Housing Ombudsman, subject to him resigning from his roles at Home England and BexleyCo Ltd, and ensuring that Tudor Blakeway Consultants Ltd is not active for the duration of his appointment.

14.We intend to evaluate Mr Blakeway’s performance against his ambitions as stated to us. We will conduct a follow-up evidence session six months after his appointment.


1 For the full list, see Annex A

2 Annex C, para 1

3 Annex C, para 3

4 Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office Guidance: pre-appointment scrutiny by House of Commons select committees, January 2019, para 15

5 Annex B

6 Annex B

7 Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office Guidance: pre-appointment scrutiny by House of Commons select committees, January 2019, para 20

8 Housing Ombudsman Service, Corporate Plan 2019–22: Making a difference, p4

9 Housing Ombudsman Service, ‘Our vision’, accessed 1 July 2019

10 Housing Ombudsman Service, Annual Report and Accounts 2017–18, p3.

11 Annex D

12 Annex E




Published: 4 July 2019