Nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government is promising to deliver a beefed up regulatory framework for social housing which puts tenants’ voices and interests at the heart of it.
Ongoing reports of poor housing conditions, disrepair and health and safety breaches across the sector over the past 18 months have clearly influenced the final shape and content of the new legislation. Perhaps the most eye-popping feature was the empowerment of the regulator to undertake surveys and order repairs to tenants’ homes at very short notice.
The new Social Housing Regulation Bill means councils and housing associations that fail to deliver homes and services of a decent standard will face unlimited fines, with the Regulator given a stronger set of powers to intervene on tenants behalf and to enforce higher standards.
Tenants are being promised greater transparency in how their landlord is performing with a new set of performance measures that social landlords will be judged on, such as health and safety, repairs and complaint handling.
This should raise the profile and importance of consumer standards, which have played second fiddle to financial and governance standards until now. We need to await sight of the Bill before knowing if the consumer standards will be toughened up significantly and whether the threatened re-introduction of inspections is to delivered.
New powers being given to the regulator mean that it will be able to impose emergency repairs to properties where there is evidence of a systemic failure by the landlord, or where the landlord appears unable or unwilling to act.
Much will depend upon the details written into the Bill during its passage through Parliament, as well as the resources provided to the regulator to carry out its work. At present we know the regulator will only need to give 48 hours notice before carrying out a survey on a tenant’s home, but this is potentially an area fraught with difficulties.
Under the new rules, housing association tenants will be able to request information from and about their landlords under the Freedom of Information Act in a similar way to council tenants. This had been strongly resisted in the past by HAs, who said this could compromise their status as non-public sector bodies.
Responding to the Queen’s Speech, Councillor Darren Rodwell, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Proposals to strengthen both the role of the Housing Ombudsman and the Regulator in the Social Housing Regulation Bill are positive, to increase the rights of tenants and enable tenants to better hold their landlord to account.
“Councils want their tenants to have the security of a safe and well-maintained home with any issues quickly and satisfactorily addressed, and we are keen to continue working with councils, the Regulator and the Ombudsman to support the implementation of the reforms.
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Every person in this country deserves to live in a safe, secure, good quality and affordable home; and to have a voice and clear route to redress if their home isn’t up to standard. We fully support the government’s aim to strengthen tenants’ rights through the Social Housing Regulation Bill and housing associations stand ready to work with their residents and the government to ensure every home delivers on the high standards they expect.
Patrick Mooney, Editor