Government to beef up social housing regulation with new white paper

Boris Johnson (Image: Dreamstime/Frederic Legrand)

The government has unveiled plans to strengthen the powers of the Regulator of Social Housing as part of a raft of proposed new measures published in its social housing white paper.

The paper, launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and housing secretary Robert Jenrick, comes in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 in which 72 people lost their lives, and aims to address concerns that resident voices are often not heard when they raise concerns about building and fire safety.

In the white paper, the government has set out that it will:

  • Legislate to strengthen the Regulator of Social Housing’s consumer regulation objectives to explicitly include safety.
  • Legislate to require social landlords to identify a nominated person responsible for complying with their health and safety requirements.
  • Expect the Regulator of Social Housing to prepare a memorandum of understanding with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure effective sharing of information with the Building Safety Regulator.
  • Launch a consultation on requiring smoke alarms in social housing and introducing new expectations for carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Consult on measures to ensure that social housing residents are protected from harm caused by poor electrical safety.
  • Continue to work with the Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group and the Building Safety Regulator to ensure resident voices are heard.

The government has also published a new charter that sets out what every social housing resident should expect. The charter promises that residents should expect:

To be safe in their home:

  • To know how their landlord is performing on repairs, complaints, safety, and how money is spent
  • To have complaints dealt with promptly and fairly
  • To be treated with respect
  • To have their voice heard by their landlord
  • To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in
  • To be supported to take their first step towards home ownership

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “The proposals in this white paper will make clear the standards that every social tenant in England is entitled to expect from their landlords. They will ensure that people feel safe and secure in their homes, can get problems fixed before they spiral out of control, and see exactly how good their landlord is at dealing with complaints. Above all, it will give social housing tenants a voice, and ensure that it is listened to.”

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick added: “No one should accept poor service, nor show deference to those that provide it. Landlords should welcome the views of their tenants as a route to better management. I want tenants to feel protected and empowered by a regulatory regime and a culture of transparency, accountability, decency and service befitting of the best intentions and traditions of social housing in this country.”

Commenting on the launch of the white paper, Trowers & Hamlins partner and head of our affordable housing Tonia Secker said: “In the light of the challenges for social housing highlighted by Grenfell and covid-19, nothing in the substance of the Social Housing White Paper should come as a surprise. Residents need to be protected, heard and respected; social housing landlords need to be accountable – but they also need to be supported to do their job in challenging circumstances. The introduction of beefed-up powers for the Social Housing Regulator – inspections, metrics, balancing consumer regulation with economic regulation – has addressed some of the previous gaps in the system that impeded its operations and will provide greater clarity.

“If this more rigorous system is to work, a new compact between residents, social housing landlords and the Regulator is required with all three contributing to its design. The need for primary legislation will – given competing political agenda – mean implementation will take time. The temptation to view that negatively should be resisted – this is a significant change in the approach to social housing and time will be vital in creating a sustainable system which is fit for purpose and in which all stakeholders have confidence.”

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