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Social Housing Update

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

I am today announcing the publication of the social housing White Paper. This White Paper will bring transformational change for social housing residents and the new approach and regulatory changes we set out will make a measurable difference to their lived experiences.

A home should always be more than just four walls and a roof. This country has a long tradition of providing homes for those most in need, going back many centuries. Today, the social housing sector provides homes to 4 million households. Many landlords provide a good service to their residents. They provide a decent, safe home. They support thriving neighbourhoods and communities. They are open with their residents, listen to them and treat them with respect. But this is not true of all landlords.

The tragedy at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 raised critical questions for everyone involved in social housing. The chair of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, identified broader questions on social housing policy raised through the consultation on the inquiry terms of reference. It was agreed that these broader questions should not be within the scope of the inquiry itself.

Through the 2018 social housing Green Paper we sought views on a wide range of potential changes by talking to residents across the country as well as launching a call for evidence about how social housing is regulated. Many residents reported positive experiences, but others did not. We heard concerns about safety, and about complaints being handled slowly or poorly: that residents were not listened to or not treated with basic courtesy and respect. This is why today I am delivering on our manifesto commitment and publishing the social housing White Paper: “The Charter for Social Housing Residents”.

Alongside the changes we are making to improve building safety, our package of measures will make a real change to residents. It will ensure that there will be action for those landlords whose services fall below expectations so that they can be brought up to the level of those that we know already deliver a good service.

Summary of proposals

The White Paper establishes a new charter for social housing residents, setting out what every social resident should be able to expect of their landlord:

1. To be safe in their home

We will reinforce the regulator of social housing’s consumer regulation objective to include safety explicitly. We will legislate to place an obligation on landlords to identify a nominated person responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety requirements. We will consult on how we apply the stronger legal requirements on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the private rented sector to the social rented sector, followed by a consultation on how to ensure social tenants are protected from poor electrical safety. We will support residents to have a stronger voice on safety matters and promote best practice on safety engagement with landlords.

2. To know how their landlord is performing

We will establish tenant satisfaction measures for social landlords to report against on issues that matter to tenants. We will make sure landlords are reporting clearly on how they spend their income and introduce a new access to information scheme for housing association tenants. And, we will require landlords to identify a senior person in their organisation who is clearly identified as responsible for ensuring they comply with consumer standards.

3. To have their complaints dealt with promptly and fairly

We will build on the changes we have already implemented with the Housing Ombudsman Service to improve its performance and reduce its decision times, ensuring swift and effective resolution of complaints. We will raise awareness of how residents can make and escalate complaints. We will expect social landlords to take greater responsibility for upskilling their staff to serve residents better when they make a complaint or raise an issue.

4. To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator for tenants

We will transform social housing regulation by creating a new, proactive consumer regulation regime for social housing, delivering robust oversight of all social landlords. This means establishing a new arm of the regulator of social housing to regulate proactively on consumer standards including quality of homes, repairs, engagement with tenants and complaints handling. The new approach will raise standards and include routine inspections of the largest landlords every four years, alongside risk-based reactive inspections to deliver scrutiny and investigation of landlords most at risk of failing residents. We will ensure residents can access information about their home and the services they receive, and can raise concerns about systemic failure to the regulator of social housing. We will maintain the robust economic regulation that is already working effectively to support a well-governed and financially viable sector, and make sure the whole system is cohesive and balanced.

5. To have their voice heard by their landlord.

We will empower residents by requiring landlords to improve tenant engagement. We will deliver a new opportunities and empowerment programme for social housing residents, to support them in engaging with landlords and holding them to account. We will review professional training and development to ensure residents are treated with courtesy and respect.

6. To have a good-quality home and neighbourhood to live in.

We will encourage investment in neighbourhood, place and decency. We will review the decent homes standard and boost the quality of, and access to, green spaces. We will tackle anti-social behaviour by enabling tenants to know who is responsible for action and who can support and assist them.

7. To be supported to take their first step to ownership.

We will enable delivery of good-quality, affordable homes including the investment of £11.5 billion in the new affordable homes programme to deliver up to 180,000 homes. The programme will unlock a further £38 billion in public and private investment in affordable housing. We are also introducing a new affordable homes guarantee scheme and implementing a new, fairer and more accessible model for shared ownership.

Alongside the social housing White Paper, I am publishing the analysis of the consultation responses to the social housing Green Paper 2018 and to the call for evidence on the Government’s review of regulation 2018. I am also publishing a consultation on mandating smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in social rented homes with the aim of ensuring the same legal protections for social housing tenants as for those in private rented homes.

This new charter with its focus on transforming social housing regulation, ensuring homes are decent and safe, offering residents swift and effective resolution of complaints and empowering residents will rebalance the relationship between landlords and tenants. This is a strong, coherent package that is going to make a real difference in people’s lives.