Disputes and Complaints Policy
Disputes and Complaints Group Statement
- The Disputes and Complaints working group exists to provide assistance and support to members in resolving disputes within houses and between members of the Co-operative. The group also facilitates a complaints procedure to investigate, deliberate and recommend appropriate consequences for members who break clauses of their tenancy agreements. The Co-operative always encourages dispute resolution at the smallest scale, between all parties concerned directly. However, in the continued absence of a resolution, the Co-operative is prepared to take action to ensure the community and business remain viable and to ensure the wellbeing of all members.
- In line with the co-operative values of self-help and self-responsibility, and in line with the seventh co-operative principle of Concern for Community, the Disputes and Complaints group aims to encourage members to take responsibility for their actions and the impact of those actions on others. The Co-operative takes a community focused approach in supporting members whose conduct has crossed a line of acceptability to change their behaviour.
- This Policy does not cover Co-operative complaints. If you want to make a complaint against a member/worker acting for the Co-operative please refer to the Co-operative complaints policy. If you need advice on which policy is relevant, ask a member of the Disputes and Complaints Group or an office worker.
- The Disputes and Complaints group is responsible for the following:
- Providing resources and recommend training to assist members to approach and resolve disputes with other members or within their houses amongst housemates without Co-operative or working group involvement where possible.
- Taking incident reports where a member is concerned, and where appropriate supporting any appropriate action
- Facilitating the disputes procedure where a member/s request assistance in resolving a dispute
- Convening complaints panels when a member/s feel that the disputes procedure has not or will not resolve the dispute
- Bringing panel recommendations to meetings for approval.
- Keeping adequate records of all dispute resolutions and complaints so that the Co-operative has a good record of persistent or recurring disputes,
- Reporting quarterly to General Meetings about the activity of the group
- The Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinators will be primarily responsible for ensuring the above tasks are accomplished, though members of the working group and/or staff can assist the co-ordinators in carrying out these tasks
Serious Breaches, Safety and External Agencies
- Where an alleged breach of tenancy constitutes a serious breach involving threats of or actual violence, any criminal behaviour, or any other behaviour that would generally be investigated by the police or other appropriate external agency, the Co-op recommends that members contact appropriate agencies directly. If desired the Disputes and Complaints group and/or staff can provide support in contacting external agencies.
- In the case of an immediate or perceived threat to the safety of members or employees, the Disputes and Complaints group may contact external authorities directly.
- Members wishing to contact external bodies can do so without the Co-operative’s involvement, but are encouraged to report their action to the Co-op so that the Co-operative can provide any necessary support and can add it to our records in case the disputes or complaints procedure are engaged on a similar matter in future.
- Where necessary a Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator can seek legal advice from a solicitor; following working group spending policy guidelines, before proceeding with any aspect of the complaints process.
The ASH Co-operative Approach to Disputes and Complaints
- ASH Co-operative has three stages of resolution, with clear processes to take any issues to the next stage. The three stages are: incidents, disputes, and complaints.
- Incidents are witnessed occasions of behaviour that cause concern or breach tenancy. The person reporting the incident will be the witness, and the Co-operative may take limited action to address it.
- Disputes are where two or more members cannot resolve a situation on their own, and can ask for assistance from the Disputes and Complaints Group to resolve the dispute. Dispute resolution requires the consent of all parties.
- Complaints are initiated when the first two stages fail to resolve an alleged breach of tenancy. This is a formal process of investigation that can, in the most serious or persistent cases, result in a member’s eviction.
- At all stages of the Disputes and Complaints policy, members are encouraged to resolve situations at the earliest point possible. This is an approach that is suitable to the case, and involves only the people needed to resolve the matter.
- Where a member or employee witnesses an incident or behaviour that concerns them, the Co-operative encourages members to take action and report the incident or behaviour so that a record can be kept if an incident re-occurs or escalates at a later date.
- The Co-operative also encourages members to approach resolving the incident directly, seeking advice or support from the Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator or staff where necessary.
- For most first incidents, the Co-operative’s response, if sought, will be limited to sending a letter outlining the incident, relevant clauses of tenancy or membership agreement, and a request for a response acknowledging the incident and a commitment to address the behaviour.
- Members addressing incidents directly and in person, or the Co-operative sending an initial letter can be a very effective method to resolve an issue at first instance.
- If an incident re-occurs, if the incident is disputed or not responded to, then the Co-operative disputes procedure is the next step to take in addressing the matter.
- Where a dispute exists between members, and the members involved feel that a change of behaviour or commitment to work towards that change would resolve the dispute, the Disputes and Complaints Group can assist with or recommend the following options:
- Assisted discussion between parties
- Facilitation, minute taking or other assistance towards meeting with all parties and discussing a resolution
- External Mediation with all parties in a dispute; or
- Use of the City Council’s Neighbourhood Resolution Panel
- All of these options can only be pursued with the agreement and participation of all parties. Nonetheless, the Co-op takes an approach to dispute resolution that always encourages consideration of these options in the first instance.
- Any member wishing to seek to resolve matters via the disputes process should first fill out a Disputes Request Form with an outline of the dispute and the members involved. The Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator or staff can discuss possible courses of action available and work with the member requesting assistance which might be appropriate for the matter at hand. This could include supported house meetings, external mediation or City Council run resolution panels.
- It is important that whichever method is chosen, that all members involved sign the form agreeing to try and resolve the dispute this way. These signatures can either be gathered by the member bringing the matter forward or, with the assistance of the Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator where needed.
- If a resolution is reached, then all members agreeing to take action to resolve the dispute must also sign the form agreeing to the course of action agreed upon.
- Where a course of action has been agreed and the dispute remains unresolved, any member involved in the dispute may request either a different approach, or may address the ongoing concern through the complaints procedure detailed below.
Complaints Overview1. Where there is an alleged breach of tenancy and a member or members seek some action or consequences to be enforced by the Co-operative to resolve the matter, or where the disputes procedure above fails to resolve a dispute, the Disputes and Complaints Group can convene and facilitate a panel of 3 members to interview all parties and recommend a course of action to a GM to address the alleged breach of tenancy. 2. Any member or employee of the Co-operative can bring an allegation of breach of tenancy to the attention of the Co-operative.
Making a Complaint
- A written statement on a Member Complaints Form can be made with the support of a Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator or one of the office staff. The statement shall identify which section of the tenancy is alleged 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 clearly noted on the form. Only evidence that supports this alleged breach can be appended in this way to the Form. At this time the complainant has the opportunity to veto panel members.
- Members are encouraged to be as clear as possible in making their complaint. For example, make sure there are dates, times and specific details (what exactly was said or done, and who was present). Try to be as accurate as possible and avoid general terms. It is in the interests of an effective and fair management of a complaint that it is reported in this way.
- 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-operative. The Co-operative will seek to manage any complaint with full respect for the confidentiality of all individuals affected by it, in accordance with the Co-operative’s current Confidentiality Policy.
- The Co-operative is aware that making a complaint may cause anxiety and stress. The Co-operative is committed to doing all it can to support, reassure and protect members who make complaints.
- Members making a complaint can discuss their concerns and the support services available to them with the Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator that deals with their complaint, or with office staff.
- Members are not generally expected by the Co-operative to go to court as a witness, as most complaints are resolved without legal action. However, where necessary, Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinators or office staff will work with members to help them build up an understanding of the legal process and ensure they have the information necessary to act as a witness in court.
- The person presented with the complaint will see that the matter is brought to the attention of one of the Co-operative’s Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinators and will ensure the complaint is recorded appropriately.
- The Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator shall also ensure that the complainee is sent a letter summarising the complaint against them and giving them the opportunity to veto panel members.
- Complaints shall be investigated by a panel of three Co-operative members. After vetoes are received from all parties it is the responsibility of the Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator to choose a panel appropriate to the complaint.
- The Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator can appoint a panel to investigate more than one complaint, or request 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.
- The Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator shall have an initial meeting with the Panel and brief them on the complaint. None of them shall live in the same house as the complainants or complainees. Close friends, partners or relatives of anyone involved in the case cannot be a panel member.
- Each proposed member of the Panel shall sign an approved confidentiality statement.
The Complaints Panel shall meet and have an initial meeting with a Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator within 2 weeks of the complaint being made, will investigate the complaint and conduct interviews in the following 4 weeks. All parties will be informed in writing and propose a course of action to the next GM. It is intended that the whole complaints process can take up to no more than 12 weeks.
Panel Interview Procedure
- The Panel shall consider any action being taken by another agency, e.g. the police can 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 everyone 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.
- The complainant/s and any witnesses shall be interviewed before the complainee/s. If the complainant/s fails to come to such an interview without giving prior notice, the complaint can be dropped at the discretion of the Panel and the Disputes and Complaints 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.
- 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./li>
- Detailed minutes of all interviews and written summaries of Panel discussions must be taken. Copies of all correspondence shall be made and kept on paper and electronically in the case file, along with the complaint and records of interviews and the Panel’s discussions.
Panel Recommendations and what happens next
The Panel can 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.
- An acceptable behaviour contract (ABC). – If the Panel agrees that the complaint is upheld but does not warrant a recommendation to evict, they can recommend an ABC. The ABC contains two sections, the contents of which need to be agreed by all parties. The first section will specify the behaviour to be refrained from and the related tenancy agreement clauses and the consequences of breaching the tenancy agreement whilst under the ABC. The complainee/s can also outline the steps they intend to take to prevent further breach of their tenancy. The section will outline actions to be taken by all parties to address any general issues which are identified as contributing to the alleged behaviour or beneficial to addressing it. A third section will outline any measures or support offered by the Co-operative in the action outlined in sections one or two. The ABC will be reviewed after 3 months by the Disputes and Complaints Group. If a tenancy agreement is alleged to have been broken within 12 months of the ABC being issued, the Complaints Panel will investigate, and their recommendations would be limited to No Action or a NTQ.
- To serve a Notice to Quit - if the Panel agrees that a complaint has been proved to be correct and is sufficiently serious to warrant such action, the Panel can 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.
All courses of action need to be authorised by a GM. All parties involved shall be informed in writing of the Panel’s recommendation and the meeting at which it will be proposed. The time between the letters and the meeting will be not less than 2 weeks.
In the case of recommending No Action the panels report presented on the agenda must be clear as to the reasoning for recommending no action.
In the case of recommending an ABC the terms of the ABC should be worked out prior to the GM, and the first two sections signed by all parties. The meeting will be presented with the ABC, and deciding to sign the third part on behalf of the co-op.
In the case of recommending a NTQ the Co-operative must have enough evidence, i.e. 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. The panel report to the GM should be clear as to why an NTQ was recommended in this case.
In cases where a GM has decided on this course of action, the Co-operative may seek professional legal advice before commencing legal action.
- If a member is dissatisfied with a panel’s recommended course of action, they may make the case for this at the GM where the recommendation is presented. Any member who wishes to delegate another person to speak for or, be present on their behalf at meetings may do so, but the member concerned must sign a written consent form to this effect addressed to the Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinator. The absence of written consent will result in the meeting proceeding, and any advocate without consent will be refused.
- Any appeal of the decision after it is ratified at GM can be directed to the Independent Housing Ombudsman.
- The Independent Housing Ombudsman: If any member is still not
happy with the outcome of a complaints process, they can
complain to the Independent Housing Ombudsman service at:
PO Box 152
Tel. 0300 111 3000 (lines are open Monday to Friday from 9:15 to 17:15)
- There is a leaflet about the Ombudsman scheme in the Disputes and Complaints file in the office
- Incidents – The details of incidents will only be shared amongst Disputes and Complaints Co-ordinators and staff, and a record of them kept. If the incident includes a request for a Co-operative response such as a letter, the member can elect to remain anonymous.
- Disputes – During the disputes process details and members involved will remain between: Disputes and Complaints co-ordinators, staff, all parties engaging in the dispute resolution process and any outside organisations involved. The outcome of a dispute shall be reported back to a GM, in a Disputes and Complaints report with a summary of the report naming the parties involved. This is intended to allow the community to support any positive measures agreed upon to resolve the dispute.
- Complaints – When a complaint is made the complainant can elect to remain anonymous during the Panel investigation. If it is felt that the complainant is at significant risk of emotional distress or physical harm, and there is known involvement by outside organisations such as the police, they can remain anonymous throughout the process. Otherwise, complainants and complainees will be named in the Panel’s recommendation to a GM and during the discussion of that recommendation.