Carol Brady

In the Fifth edition of the Code, we have set out more detailed requirements for complaints handling including response times, to help ensure buyers’ concerns are quickly addressed. Although these requirements officially apply from 1 January 2024, we’re encouraging all builders to start implementing the changes as soon as possible to build on existing good practice and help improve customer service.

A Complaint is defined in the Code as ‘an expression of dissatisfaction about an issue brought to the builder’s attention by the buyer’ either verbally or in writing. Full details are contained in section 5.2.4, and include that:

  • Complaints will be acknowledged in writing within five working days of the complaint being made.
  • A more detailed response will be provided within 20 working days. Where applicable, the response should include one or more of the following:
    • an acceptance of the complaint and the action that will be taken to resolve the issue,
    • an estimated timescale for the work required to resolve the issue(s) raised, or
    • a rejection of the complaint with the reasons behind the rejection, or
    • details of any further investigation work necessary to determine whether the complaint will be accepted or rejected, including timescales, and/or
    • that a written final response will be provided as soon as possible after any further investigation has been carried out, which must include whether the complaint is accepted in part or in full and the reasons why.
  • If the complaint becomes a dispute, the buyer may refer it direct to the Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme or the Home Warranty Body (or both) as appropriate.

How you handle complaints can make a big difference to the outcome – in some cases even enhancing customer satisfaction if an issue is handled well. In addition to the specific requirements and guidance included in the Code, we’ve put together a short guide of other aspects to consider which can help you handle complaints effectively. These suggestions can help your customers feel heard, ensure problems are identified and resolved, and encourage lessons to be learned.

Be open and transparent

Be open with your customers about their right to make a complaint, how you will respond and what options are available to them if they want to take their complaint further. The Code requires you to give your buyers a copy of your complaints procedure and to make it available on your website.

Include a copy of the Code and a link to our Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme, as well as details of the relevant home warranty complaints process.

All customer-facing staff should be familiar with your complaints process and how to signpost customers to the relevant information.

Provide a clear process

Your complaints policy should be clear, easy to follow and written in plain English. Include guidance on how to make a complaint, where to send it, what information to include, and how quickly customers can expect a response. This information should be readily accessible for home buyers and should be included with their Reservation Agreement, as well as being published on your website.

If you’re unsure whether the concern should be treated as a complaint, ask the home buyer. Listen to what they have to say, acknowledge the issues they are raising and ask if they would like the matter to be raised via your complaints process. Take time to understand the root cause of any concerns which will help you provide the right solutions.

At all times you must be mindful of circumstances that may make your customer more vulnerable. This could be as a result of a health condition or disability, a lack of previous experience of buying a home, or a vulnerability caused by outside pressures such as divorce or bereavement. Handle concerns and complaints sensitively and find out whether your customer has any specific needs that should be considered throughout the complaints process. Further guidance is provided in section 1.6 of the Code.

Acknowledge and understand the complaint

Complaints often escalate into more serious disputes due to a lack of communication or information being misunderstood. Acknowledge complaints as quickly as you can and certainly within five working days of receipt. Seek additional information where needed so you are clear about your home buyer’s main concerns.

If the complaint is lengthy or complex, it’s often a good idea to meet or speak to your customer over the phone to understand the main issues of concern, but always follow up verbal conversations in writing (email or letter) to note what was agreed and reduce the risk of misinterpretation. Be prepared to tailor your approach based on the specific needs of the individual or the situation.

Be realistic about timescales for response based on the complexity of the enquiry. If you’re unable to provide answers straightaway, give a holding reply to let customers know that you’re working on their complaint and when they can expect to hear more. The Code sets out that buyers can expect a more detailed response within 20 working days of a complaint being made.

Resolve the complaint

The most important aspect of a successful complaints policy is resolving the issue raised, which means building a clear picture of the problem, explaining how and when you will resolve it, and implementing what you’ve promised. This may include doing an internal investigation, sourcing input from subcontractors, and/or arranging remedial works.

The nature of the complaint will affect your response but it’s important to acknowledge your customer’s frustrations, take responsibility for any failings in service, apologise and set out how you will put things right. Keep your customer informed throughout and follow up once the issue has been resolved to check they are happy with the outcome.

There may be times when you don’t agree with the customer’s point of view, or your investigation shows no evidence of any wrongdoing. In these circumstances, it is particularly important to acknowledge the customer’s frustrations, be clear about the thoroughness of your investigation and explain your conclusions clearly and fairly. You must also include information on options available should your customer wish to take the matter further, including raising the dispute with the home warranty body and the Code’s IDRS. Don’t forget, the Code requires you to make it clear that using your complaints process or the IDRS, does not affect the buyer’s normal legal rights.

Learn from mistakes

All feedback, including complaints, provides opportunities to improve. Track the complaints you receive and share any lessons learned with your wider team to help continuously improve your service.

Keep an eye on the regularly updated resources and blogs on the Code website, including our Right First Time factsheets based on lessons learned from previous complaints and independent site audits across the UK.

How you handle feedback and complaints can help to improve customer satisfaction and build trust. By providing a clear, accessible process, responding promptly, and keeping the customer informed as you resolve issues, you will build more positive customer relationships and strengthen your compliance with the Code.

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