In summary, the paper identifies seven key aims to meet in order to support social housing tenants in their homes.
There is a keen focus on ensuring people are safe in their homes, that complaints are dealt with effectively and that landlords be held to account when things go wrong.
We highlight below the key proposals intended to achieve these aims.
To be safe in your home
This aim is linked to the recent reform proposals on building safety that we have recently reported on here.
The White Paper seeks to build on regulatory reform by ensuring that the Regulator of Social Housing ('the Regulator') explicitly includes safety in their consumer regulation objectives. The Regulator will also be expected to work with the Health and Safety Executive to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding that will ensure that they are actively sharing information with the Building Safety Regulator. In essence, landlords will have to ensure that building safety really matters and to demonstrate this, must nominate a responsible compliance officer to ensure health and safety requirements are being met.
In addition to these changes, the White Paper sets out two new consultations that the Government intends to launch. The first being a consultation on the fitting of mandating smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and the second is on preventing harm arising from poor electrical safety.
To know how your landlord is performing
The Regulator is set to introduce a new set of Tenant Satisfaction Measures, a draft set of measurements have been published and are available on page 23 of the White Paper, but are still subject to further review.
An Access to Information Scheme is to be introduced ensuring that information about a landlord is easily accessible to their tenants. Under this scheme, landlords will be required to publish their CEO and senior executive salaries and management costs (subject to the size of the organisation).
To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly
Landlords will have to carry out a self-assessment of their compliance with the Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code and publish the results.
Landlords are not the only ones who have been delegated new duties under the White Paper.
The Housing Ombudsman will also have a key role to play as they will be required to co-operate with the Regulator when undertaking their responsibility to hold landlords to account. Both parties will become statutory consultees of the other, meaning that any changes to Ombudsman’s complaints code or to the Regulator’s consumer standards, will have to be given the green light by the other.
The Ombudsman will also be required to start publishing reports on how they have handled complaints and appoint an independent reviewer by March 2021 to deal with any complaints about their own services.
To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator for tenants
There will be a new consumer regulation function set up within Regulator’s existing organisation. This function will be responsible for making changes to the Regulator’s objectives so that they explicitly include reference to safety and transparency.
An Advisory Committee will also be created to provide independent advice on how the Regulator discharges its function.
In addition to this internal re-organisation, the Regulator will be encouraged to adopt a proactive approach to consumer regulation, particularly when it comes to investigating landlord breaches. To facilitate this approach, the Regulator will be under an obligation to carry out routine inspections of landlords with over 1,000 properties every four years. They will also be given increased enforcement powers, such as unlimited regulatory fines and reducing the notice period (down from 28 days to 2 days) that they are required to give landlords to inspect their properties.
To have your voice heard by your landlord and have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in
To encourage tenants to speak out, the Regulator will require landlords to evidence how they have tried to improve tenant engagement.
There will also be a review of the Decent Homes Standard to ensure that present day issues such as energy efficiency, safety concerns and the need for green space, are being adequately provided for.
To be supported to take your first step to ownership
The White Paper includes a nod to a revised model of Shared Ownership, a new Right to Shared Ownership and the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme which is already being piloted in the Midlands.
For more information on the above matters, please contact Molly Reeves or another member of our Social Housing Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at November 2020.