Social Housing White Paper – Explained
The recently released Social Housing White Paper sets out the actions the government will take to ensure the safety of residents in social housing, ensuring residents are listened to, live in good quality homes and have access to redress if anything goes wrong.
What residents should expect and what landlords need to take into consideration.
1. Residents should expect to be safe in their homes – ensuring every home is safe and secure.
There will be legislation to strengthen the Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) consumer regulation objectives to explicitly include safety, although this is likely to take a couple of years to come into play. However, social landlords will be required to identify a person responsible for complying with their health and safety requirements. There will also be a Memorandum of Understanding between the Social Housing Regulator and the Health and Safety Executive to ensure effective sharing of information with the Building Safety Regulator, as suggested in the Building Safety Bill. The government has also launched a consultation on levelling the playing field with electrical safety requirements.
To get ahead of the curve, landlords should start to:
- Consider who your nominated responsible health and safety person will be, and what development they may need.
- Revisit your electrical safety policy to ensure you are providing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your properties, and that you have been carrying out electrical testing across all properties. If you are not already doing this on a five year cycle, determine what the cost of doing so would be and consider how you would deliver this.
2. Residents should expect to know how their landlord is performing – including details regarding repairs, complaints and safety; and financially, so that residents can hold their landlords to account.
The Regulator of Social Housing will be expected to bring in a set of tenant satisfaction measures for all landlords on areas that matter to tenants, such as, properties being in good repair, building safety, engagement and neighbourhood management, which includes measures on anti-social behaviour. These measures should include both objective quantitative measures and tenant perception measures, as well as informing the Regulator of Social Housing on how landlords are complying with consumer standards. A new access to information scheme will be introduced for social housing tenants so that information relating to landlords is easily accessible. Within this information, landlords will have to provide a clear breakdown on how their income is being spent, including levels of executive remuneration, to be published alongside their tenant satisfaction measures. Landlords will be expected to report to every tenant on such matters at least once a year, if not continuously, and they will also have to nominate a senior member of their organisation who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the consumer standards.
To address these matters, landlords should:
- Consider who your nominated person for consumer compliance will be, and what development they may need.
- Review your current tenant satisfaction measures and look at how you will address any gaps in the data that you currently collect. Consider what your customers are telling you is most important to them, and ensure you are able to report to them on your performance.
- Consider how robust your data is, and whether it can be easily obtained and is of the required breadth and quality to withstand scrutiny.
3. Residents should expect to have their complaints dealt with promptly – by enabling residents to have easy access to a strong ombudsman who will be able to provide prompt and fair redress when needed.
Landlords will be held accountable through stronger actions by the Housing Ombudsman; this will include providing quicker compliant resolutions, effective resolutions and and removing barriers. Awareness campaigns will ensure residents know their rights and how to escalate complaints and concerns, and the Housing Ombudsman will publish reports on complaints and share information with the.
Landlords should ensure that the complaints process is open, transparent, and responsive to the needs and expectations of your customers.
4. Residents should expect to be treated with respect – residents will be backed by a strong consumer regulator and improved consumer standards.
The RSH will proactively monitor and drive landlords’ compliance with its consumer standards, although co-regulation will be retained so boards will still be responsible for assuring that they comply with the standards. The ‘serious detriment test’ will be removed so the RSH can intervene more easily, and routine inspections are to be introduced for large landlords (with over 1,000 homes) every four years. The RSH will get the power to publish a Code of Practice on the consumer standards to be clearer on what landlords are required to deliver, and it will have a range of enhanced enforcement powers where this is not achieved. Landlords will be expected to self-refer breaches with the regulatory standards.
Landlords should undertake a robust appraisal of their compliance with the existing consumer standards and what is expected to be introduced; consider involving your customers in this to get their view on how well you perform.
5. Residents should expect to have their voices heard by landlords – The government can provide tenants with access to help, if needed, to learn new skills to ensure their landlords are listening, for example, through regular meetings, scrutiny panels or participating on its board.
Landlords will be required to seek out best practise and consider how they can continually improve the way they engage with their tenants. There will be new opportunities and empowerment programmes for social housing residents, to support more effective communications between landlords and residents; this will give residents the tools to influence their landlords and hold them to account. Landlords will also be required to have senior leaders with the skills to manage their organisations and drive forward cultural change to ensure residents receive a high standard of customer service and are treated with courtesy and respect.
To get ready for the changes, landlords should:
- Review how well you engage and empower your residents, and get feedback from them on how they think you are doing and what would work for them. Consider how you can work with national tenant bodies to develop your relationship with them in order to support them in making their voices heard.
- Consider the culture within your organisation and the skills mix within your senior team, and whether this will enable you to embed the principles of customer care, courtesy and respect amongst every area of your service delivery.
6. Residents should expect to have good quality homes and neighbourhoods to live in – landlords keeping homes in good repair.
The Decent Homes Standard will be reviewed to consider if it should be updated, including how it can better support the decarbonisation and energy efficiency of social homes and improve communal and green spaces; the case for change is to be considered by Autumn 2021. The Government also intends to engage with evidence on the link between housing and health.
To get ahead of the curve, landlords should:
- Review your stock condition data and investment requirements and appraise the potential impact of increased condition standards.
- Develop an understanding of the costs of improving your assets to achieve higher energy performance and carbon reduction, and consider how this will impact on the sustainability of your assets and their performance, and how it can be funded.
7. Residents should expect to be supported to take their first steps to ownership – Should residents’ circumstances allow, it is a ladder to other opportunities.
The white paper gives a recap of previously announced measures to increase the supply of social homes and highlights the new Shared Ownership model and Right to Shared Ownership.
Landlords should ensure that your corporate objectives include increasing the supply of affordable housing and that your delivery plan includes all appropriate tools and models to maximise this and meet local needs.
The Social Housing White Paper reinforces the need for landlords to have strong and effective arrangements to manage building safety, as the RSH will have a strengthened role and specific obligations in that area. There will be a need for the right skills, effective systems and processes underpinned by good quality data, across all areas of landlord services including property condition and housing management. Landlords will also need to critically evaluate whether they have effective customer engagement mechanisms in place which really empower residents, and whether their culture is truly responsive to the needs, expectations and concerns of customers.
How Pennington Choices can help…
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Having worked within property services for over 20 years, delivering projects to property providers and landlords nationally, we have significant consulting experience. For more information on how we can help your organisation, or to have a chat about the new social housing regulations, get in touch with our Head of Consultancy, Sarah Davies, by clicking here.