[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, The Regulation of Social Housing, HC 18; First Special Report of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, The Regulation of Social Housing: Regulators’ responses to the Committee’s First Report, HC 824.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, which was, of course, first introduced in the other place, is one of a number of steps that the Government have taken in the aftermath of the dreadful tragedy that occurred at Grenfell in 2017. Everyone in the House was shocked by what happened on that night, when 72 people lost their lives in one of the most horrific civilian tragedies that has ever occurred in these islands. The suffering of the victims of that tragedy is almost impossible to relate, and the testimony, forbearance and endurance of the survivors and the bereaved, of relatives and residents, is very much in all our minds as we consider how we can appropriately learn lessons from the tragedy, put right what went wrong and ensure at last that those who suffered receive justice.
I welcome the Secretary of State back to his position. I say that because I think he did make some progress on the cladding issue when he was Secretary of State previously. He will be aware that there are still no personal evacuation plans for disabled people, although the former-former Prime Minister confirmed that the Government would take up all the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry. Will the Secretary of State please look at that?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who, as well as doing fantastic work on the Select Committee in trying to ensure that appropriate progress has been made on matters such as building safety, has been a very effective advocate for her constituents in this regard. Let me emphasise that in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy the Government have to undertake a significant body of work, and the hon. Lady is right to hold us to account for the speed with which we do it. There is work that needs to be done on building safety overall. We have introduced legislation—the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022—in order to take forward some of the recommendations that were already being generated by the inquiry, and indeed in some cases we did not have to wait for those recommendations to know that we needed to act.
The hon. Lady mentioned a very important factor: the personal evacuation plans. Again, this is a difficult and sensitive question. A number of those affected by the Grenfell tragedy were individuals living with disabilities. It is critical to ensure that the correct regime is in place for those individuals so that they are safe in the homes in which they live—and they deserve to be safe—and also to ensure that were disaster to strike, the fire and rescue services would be able to ensure they could be evacuated safely.
I have heard some of the concerns expressed by residents and others about the Home Office’s response to recommendations on personal evacuation plans. I think it important for me to work with the new Home Office Minister dealing with this issue—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines)—in order to ensure that we listen to what residents have said and, I hope, do better. Listening to what residents have said is critical to our whole approach to what happened in Grenfell, and to broader concerns about the quality of social housing and the safety of those in social housing that that tragedy underlined our need to act on.
It was an absolute privilege to work with the Secretary of State and to be tasked with converting the Social Housing White Paper into the robust legislation that we see before us today. Having listened to the podcast on the Grenfell Tower inquiry, may I ask whether the Secretary of State agrees that one of the overriding ambitions of the Bill is to ensure that social housing tenants are treated with respect at all times, and that we remove any stigma that is associated with such tenure?
As ever, my hon. Friend is 100% spot-on. Even before the Grenfell tragedy, it was clear that the way in which tenants were being treated in social housing in far too many cases, and—it pains me to say this—particularly in Kensington, was simply not good enough. We have vivid documentary evidence of the fact that the tenant management organisation that was responsible for the refurbishment of Grenfell simply did not listen to tenants and behaved in a high-handed fashion. Their safety was not given the importance it deserved. A number of residents, including Ed Daffarn of Grenfell United, a survivor of that night, were very clear about the risks that were being run, but they were not listened to. One of the most powerful lessons of the tragedy is the need for us to ensure that social housing tenants feel that their voice is being heard. As my hon. Friend for Walsall North said, any high-handed and aloof behaviour exhibited by some towards people who are the most deserving of our protection should end, and I hope that it will.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State back to his position. May I return briefly to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) about personal evacuation plans for disabled people? As the Secretary of State knows, the Home Office did not expect that recommendation. Is it his view that those plans should be in place for disabled people living in high-rise blocks?
We do need to look again at the position. I have to be careful because the Home Office is a separate Department and I am not the Secretary of State there, but I do know that the new Home Secretary and the new Minister responsible for fire safety appreciate and understand the need to look closely at the concerns that tenants expressed on the previous position. I have to say that the previous position was taken in good faith, but we need to pay attention to the concerns expressed.
I am sure that we all want social landlords, and indeed all landlords, to be held to account when they fall short. Does the Secretary of State accept that there may be a problem with some financial penalties? We may end up punishing tenants twice: once for having a bad landlord and again by having funds withheld. I can give a specific example from my constituency. A social landlord is failing financially so is penalised by not being able to bid for the building safety fund, with the consequence either that fire safety works do not get done, or that properties are not sold or developed and new properties are not built. Will he look at that specific instance and see whether we can avoid penalising tenants in that way?
The hon. Gentleman makes the fair point that there are lots of pressures on registered social landlords and housing associations. The Bill is there to ensure that all emulate the best, but I appreciate that with pressures to increase supply, pressures on building safety and pressures to deal with the poor-quality stock that many have inherited, we need to be sensitive. I am sure that the regulator will be, in the application of any fines, if the correct action is not being taken.
I thank the Secretary of State and welcome him back to his position; I look forward to his significant contribution to this issue. Obviously it is good for lessons to be learned, but it is also good to share them. Northern Ireland does not have the same number of high-rise apartment blocks as London or elsewhere across the United Kingdom, but we have some—Housing Executive, housing association and some private. Has the Secretary of State on his return been able to share the information about better safety with all the regions, particularly Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. This legislation applies to housing associations and social landlords in England, of course, but in my other role as Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, I have talked to Ministers and officials in the devolved Administrations about some of these building safety questions. We all have a shared interest in getting those right. Of course we respect the nature of devolved competence, but we also want to make sure that some of the insights, particularly about how we deal with developers, can be operationalised UK-wide.
Post what the Secretary of State rightly described as the absolute tragedy of Grenfell, if he were to be presented in this debate this evening with evidence that a housing association continues to take a complacent attitude to the fire safety of its tenants, would he regard that as a very serious matter indeed?
I certainly would. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that housing associations and other social landlords have to take safety incredibly seriously. This legislation is intended to ensure that they do. If housing associations or other social landlords are not taking safety, and particularly fire safety, seriously, I would be most grateful if he and others would share such information with me. He has been a uniquely assiduous constituency MP and his concern for the vulnerable and voiceless is such that he will raise his voice on their behalf. We will do everything we can to act.
Before going on to the meat of the Bill, I should say that, as a number of Members have rightly pointed out, a range of issues need to be tackled in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy. As well as legislating on building safety, we need to make sure that there is action, particularly from some of those with direct responsibility for fixing the problems that they helped to create. I am grateful to the two Secretaries of State who succeeded and preceded me here, my right hon. Friends the Members for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke). In office, both accelerated the efforts we were undertaking to ensure that developers who were responsible for buildings that were not safe accept the responsibility for remediating those buildings.
There have been some indications from some speaking apparently on behalf of developers that, because of the global economic headwinds we are all facing—there may be an impact on supply; there may be an impact on their bottom line—they feel that the weight of obligation that has been placed on their shoulders should perhaps be lessened somewhat. Let me make clear from the Dispatch Box that it cannot be the case that economic conditions, which affect us all, are being used by developers, or anyone else, to shuffle off their obligations.
Similarly, there are freeholders who have direct responsibility to the leaseholders in the buildings they ultimately own to remediate those buildings—that is their legal obligation. This Parliament passed laws to ensure that they fulfil that obligation. There are some freeholders—organisations of significant means—that are, again, trying to delay or dilute their responsibilities. That is simply not acceptable. I hope that across the House we make it clear that, yes, these are tough economic times, but they are very tough economic times for the most vulnerable in our society, and there is no way that plcs and other organisations with healthy balance sheets and surpluses, and CEOs who are earning handsome remuneration, can somehow use global economic conditions as an excuse for shuffling off their responsibility. That just will not do. All of us across the House will work to ensure that the work of remediation is done and that there will be no hiding place for those responsible.
In bringing forward the Bill, I want to thank, first of all, all colleagues in the other place who contributed to improving it while it was there. I am sure that in Committee there may well be amendments from Back-Bench colleagues across the House that can contribute to improving it. My colleagues in the other place were grateful to those noble colleagues who contributed to the enhancement of the Bill. In particular, I want to thank Lord Greenhalgh, who, as building safety and fire safety Minister, introduced the Bill and served with such distinction in the Department.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North for all the work he did, and not just on this Bill but on legislation on the private rented sector and on homelessness. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) for his work, when Secretary of State, on the White Paper that preceded the Bill. In particular, I also want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Her actions in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, along with the moral leadership she has shown, set in train a programme of reform to ensure that those in social housing got the full attention of the Government. That has ensured the Bill is before us today.
I also want to thank two campaigners who, in the course of the last year, have shone a light on some of the worst conditions in social housing, and have reminded us all how important it is to ensure that our regulator has teeth. First, Kwajo Tweneboa is a young man who I think all of us in this House have seen campaigning with eloquence and passion. Having grown up in social housing, he has acted as a voice for those who may have been overlooked and underserved in the past. Secondly, Daniel Hewitt for ITV News has worked with Kwajo and others to ensure that registered social landlords who have not been performing their duties adequately are held up to proper scrutiny.
It is of course important to acknowledge that there are a number of different aspects of the social housing debate that the Bill does not cover. It does not cover the whole question of future supply. We will have an opportunity to debate that in this House in the weeks and months to come. It is also important to stress that the overwhelming majority of those who work in social housing are doing a fantastic job. The overwhelming majority of those who work in housing associations and in all the arm’s length management organisations that help to provide social housing are dedicated professionals. They have nothing to fear from the Bill and, indeed, everything to gain. It is the case, however, that some 13% of homes in the social rented sector do not meet the decent homes standard, and that is simply too high a figure. We need to make sure action is taken to deal with that. I should say, by contrast, that the proportion of homes in the private rented sector estimated not to meet that standard is 21%, which is why legislation to improve conditions in the private sector is so important and, again, the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North and others has been so critical.
A series of steps are taken in the Bill to ensure that we can more effectively regulate the sector. First, the Bill makes sure that what has been called the serious detriment test no longer applies. In the past, a very high bar had to be met before the regulator could investigate complaints. We are removing that test, lowering the bar and making it easier for tenants to feel that their concerns are being investigated.
The second significant measure is that we are ensuring that the cap on fines under which the regulator hitherto operated—just £5,000—is lifted so that unlimited fines can be levied. I know that the regulator will take account of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and others to ensure that fines are targeted and proportionate, but the potential for the regulator to levy unlimited fines will concentrate minds as few other things will for some of the significant players in the sector that need to up their game.
We will also shorten to two days the period of time for inspections, which was hitherto four weeks, to ensure that tenants who have concerns can feel that they are being addressed more quickly. We will require performance improvement plans from housing associations and others that are found wanting. Critically, safety will become a fundamental objective for registered social landlords and a named individual in each RSL will be responsible for health and safety, thereby making sure there is clearer accountability where it has been fudged in the past.
Thanks to amendments tabled in the House of Lords, we are introducing a new standard for competence for people who work in the field. There has been a lively and important debate about the need for higher professional standards in housing. I completely agree; evidence from what happened in the run-up to Grenfell showed that some of those who were responsible for safeguarding and improving social housing did not have the basic standards of professionalism that are required.
We need to proceed with sensitivity, because the standard of qualification and degree of professional training required for someone at the heart of a major registered social landlord may of course be different from that for someone who is operating a small alms house or other charity provider, but there is a clear need for greater professionalisation. We will work with colleagues to ensure that we have fit-for-purpose legislation.
I thank the Secretary of State for his comprehensive speech. It has become apparent from things we read in the paper and from television programmes that some of the councils responsible for enforcement in respect of safety in properties are finding themselves financially stretched to deal with the massive issues that come their way. Does the Bill provide some help, whether by financial or other means, to ensure that councils can deal with the enormous issues that they have to deal with? I can understand why they are sometimes overwhelmed.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Indeed, local authorities have in the past been found wanting when it comes to building control. The most recent spending review included significant additional sums for local government, but we are all aware that inflation and other pressures are putting considerable strain on local government finances. It is my commitment to work with local government, particularly in England but, of course, throughout the United Kingdom, to make sure that the most vital statutory functions can be well funded. I will of course work with the Northern Ireland Local Government Association and others to make sure that we can provide the support that is required.
The legislation will make sure that the voice of tenants is more effectively placed at the heart of regulation and policy making overall. The establishment of an advisory panel will draw widely to ensure that the regulator and the Department understand the concerns of social tenants. Indeed, the regulator will be in the vanguard of a greater level of transparency in respect of the level of service provided by individual social landlords.
Legislation on its own can achieve a lot but not everything, and I am conscious that my Department has a responsibility, as Grenfell United and others have pointed out, to make sure that there is wider awareness of the power, and path, for complaints. I am glad that there has been greater awareness of the way in which complaints can be made, that those complaints are being acted on more quickly, and that registered social landlords such as Clarion, which have been on the receiving end of complaints, have responded more quickly. My Department has been responsible for making sure that there is a wider awareness of how to deal sensitively with examples of anti-social behaviour. It continues to work with local government and with registered social landlords—alongside the work of the ombudsman—to ensure that there is a better appreciation of what tenants require.
The legislation was originally conceived of, generated and brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead as one of a number of measures to ensure that we do right by the bereaved, the survivors and the relatives of those in the Grenfell tragedy, but there is still much to do. I am very conscious that more than five years on from that tragedy, work is still in progress and we need to expedite it, but I know that the inquiry, which formally concludes this week, will be in a position—thanks to the testimony of so many brave people—to hold us and future Governments to account.
Across the House, the spirit in which we will take the legislation forward and examine it in Committee will be one of commitment to honour the memory of those who lost their lives and of a determination to ensure, “Never again”.
May I be the first to welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to his place. I very much enjoyed sparring with him over the Dispatch Box last time. I also particularly enjoy these very rare moments when the House can come together in political consensus to deliver on something of enormous importance to people outside this place. I look forward to working with him and the team to make good on the promises that we made to people all those years ago.
Apparently, when the right hon. Gentleman arrived back in the Department, he told civil servants that he was getting the band back together. The Department has now had seven line-ups since the Bill was first promised—amazingly, that is officially more reinventions than the Sugababes. I look forward to us going “Round Round” again. The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), is shaking her head. I gather that she is a Taylor Swift fan, so I promise her that I will try to get some Taylor Swift references in next time.
The Secretary of State will know that since he last held office, the job has got much harder, but the Bill, which the Labour party strongly supports, has got much better, in large part thanks to Baroness Hayman and our colleagues in the other place, who have worked together in genuine cross-party spirit to strengthen the hand of social housing tenants.
For 120 years, social housing has provided the foundations of a decent, secure life for millions of people across Britain—a home for life, handed back into common ownership to be passed down through the generations. Labour believes that that is part of our inheritance and an ideal—one that empowers people to live the richer, larger and more dignified lives that they deserve—worth fighting for.
It should, then, shame a nation that in 2020 one in seven social homes in London, along with many others across the country, do not even meet the Government’s decent homes standard. As the Secretary of State knows —he paid tribute to the incredible work of Dan Hewitt at ITV—the reality is one of children growing up in squalid, damp and overcrowded homes that would not be out of place in the Victorian era.
When people in social housing have tried to sound the alarm, they have too often been completely ignored. Nothing has brought that into sharper relief than the appalling tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the treatment of the residents who—along with many others—tried to sound the alarm over many, many years. Today, we remember the 72 people who lost their lives on that day, and those whose lives were changed for ever and who live with those memories. We pay tribute to the work that they have done to get us this far. But they want more than remembrance; they want justice and a lasting legacy. That includes setting right a system that has failed them and failed many, many others. It is a system where concerns were repeatedly ignored, where the value of lives was weighed against the value of profits on a balance sheet and could come out the poorer, and where, in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, just a few miles from the centre of power, those concerns could be rendered completely invisible by decisionmakers just a few miles away.
For far too many people in this country and for social housing tenants, the reality is that they too often hold none of the cards. That is simply wrong. When they challenge bad practices, they should not have to fight the system. They should feel the whole system pulling in behind them.
That is why we welcome and support the Bill. It is also why we believe that tenants deserve the strongest legislation that this House can provide. Let me take three areas where we know the Bill can be improved and strengthened. We welcome the establishment of an advisory panel, but tenants should be at the centre of that, setting the agenda, not just responding to it, and we will bring forward measures in Committee to seek to ensure that that is the case. We welcome, too, the progress that the Secretary of State referred to that was made in the other place on the professionalisation of standards in the social housing workforce, but we know that that could be further improved and further strengthened. I was genuinely interested to hear the Secretary of State raise concerns about the impact that that might have on smaller providers. It is a very different reason than the one given in the other place for why the Government felt that it was not possible to strengthen those provisions. Perhaps that is something that we can work together on to resolve. Finally, rights are no good without the means to enforce them. The regulator must have the resources necessary to do the job, and we will be bringing forward measures in Committee, which we hope the Government will support, in order to ensure that that is the case.
Most of all, we want to see the Government get on with the job. It has been five years since Grenfell, four years since the Green Paper, and three years since promises were made in the Conservative party’s election manifesto. How can it possibly be the case that we are approaching the end of 2022 and we still do not know when the measures in the Bill will come into force? This is a short Bill addressing an area of clear political consensus. We have a Secretary of State in post again who has a reputation for getting things done when he sets his mind to it. It took him seven months to scrap court fees, six months to ban microplastics, and three months to pass the entire Academies Act 2010, using powers normally reserved for passing anti-terrorist legislation. It has been well over a year since he was first appointed to this post. Why is this less of a priority?
The Bill is an important part of solving the housing crisis, and we need to get on with it, but it is only one piece. It seeks to address the imbalance of power in social housing and the appalling conditions in social housing that too many people have to endure, but there are 1 million people languishing on the social homes waiting list, struggling with those same power imbalances and squalid housing conditions in the private rented sector and watching their rents soar completely out of control. The only way to deal with that is to build more social homes, but the record has been indefensible. Every year since this Conservative Government took office, an average of 12,000 social homes have been lost from our housing stock. The Secretary of State knows it, and, to give credit to him, he has acknowledged that we need more social homes.
“The availability of social housing is simply inadequate for any notion of social justice or economic efficiency.”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. As she has correctly said, the biggest problem with social housing is that there is not enough of it. The past 12 years have seen under-investment in the social housing grant and many properties being lost to the system—many associations are selling off properties because of the multiple demands of having a development programme that they cannot fulfil, of having poor conditions of properties and of having overcrowding in their stock. That means that, increasingly, they are looking at more and more desperate measures. Although the measures in the Bill are welcome, what we really need is to see social housing restored to its pre-eminence as the first port of call, rather than the last port of call, for people in housing need.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and for the work that he has done over many years to highlight the housing crisis in this country. He is absolutely right; it is not just that we are not building enough, but that far more social homes are being lost from the social housing stock. I pay tribute to the many Labour councils that are seeking to do something about that, even in very tough times. In Salford, Ipswich, Southwark and Doncaster, house building has continued and the social housing stock continues to grow. When Labour was in Government we built double the amount of social homes than are currently being built. When we come back into Government, whether in a few months’ or a few years’ time, we will finish that job and restore social housing to the second largest form of housing tenure, where it belongs.
The Secretary of State acknowledged the problem in his speech. I agree with him, but that was back in February and still very little has been done. That is why I press him on the urgency of passing the Bill and getting this done. There is much more to turn our attention to. He sat in the Cabinet in 2010 that cut the budget of the affordable homes programme by 60%. He has served multiple Prime Ministers who cut local authorities’ budgets to the bone and imposed social rent cuts that have hampered their ability to build and invest. It is time to finally get this legislation on the statute book so that we can turn our attention to tackling the housing crisis.
Nothing matters more than a home. Security in your own home, the right to make it your own and the right to live somewhere fit for human habitation are non-negotiable. Housing is not just the market—it is a fundamental human right. Any Government worthy of the office would take action right now to mend that deliberate vandalism of our social housing stock, restore it to the second largest form of tenure and finally get developers to sign fire safety pledge contracts. The deadline for that passed months ago.
We must get on with this and release people from the misery of not knowing whether they live in a safe home. Leaseholders face appalling charges and uncertainty, trapped in homes that they thought were forever homes but have become a prison. We must abolish the feudal, archaic leasehold system and replace it with a commonhold system fit for modern Britain. We must make good on the promises to hand power back to private rented tenants, starting with abolishing section 21 no-fault evictions and proper, decent home standards fit for the 21st century.
Families across this country are desperate to escape their housing conditions. Many are desperate to get on to the housing ladder, but a few weeks ago their Government crashed the economy and mortgage payments were sent through the roof. For hundreds of thousands of people, the dream of home ownership has gone up in smoke.
Surely, the absolute bare minimum that any Government worth their salt ought to deliver is for every single person in this country to have a decent, safe, warm home and the power to drive and shape the decisions that affect their lives—and nowhere more so than in respect of the housing that they inhabit. The Government have recognised the need to empower social housing tenants and to improve safety and standards in social housing, and they will get no complaints from us about that.
There is, finally, political consensus that the scandalous conditions in which far too many families are forced to live are not just unacceptable but a stain on modern Britain. We welcome that recognition, even though it has taken too long to get here. There is so much more to do. We need to now get on with the job.
I join others in welcoming the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities back to his role. I thank him for the understanding that he previously showed and continues to show of the importance of social housing issues, and for the kind remarks he made about me.
I welcome the Bill, which has been a long time in the making, but which, critically, responds to the concerns about social housing, the attitude of some social housing landlords and the interaction between social housing tenants and landlords. Those concerns have existed for too long, but they were brought into sharp focus by the terrible tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire at Grenfell Tower, one of the things that became very clear to me in talking to people from the estate, survivors and others was that the people responsible for managing the homes in Grenfell Tower—not just the council, but the tenant management organisation—simply failed to listen to the comments, remarks and concerns that tenants were raising about safety issues. It was not just a one-off comment that a tenant might have made; it was comments, remarks and concerns being raised time and again by the tenants, and no action was taken.
Of course, that was not confined to Grenfell, or even the wider North Kensington estate. Particularly when Housing Ministers were listening to tenants across the country, we saw and heard that that experience was mirrored up and down the country. As has been referred to, my Government published the social housing Green Paper in 2018 and launched a call for evidence as part of a review of social housing regulation. That led to the social housing White Paper in late 2020 and now, at last, we have the Bill.
What was clear throughout that process was that, while many tenants had a positive experience to report, there was a problem at the heart of our social housing system. That is why I welcome the Bill as a means of strengthening the regime of social housing regulation. By the introduction of the new consumer regulatory regime, which will be more proactive, and in enhancing the economic regulatory role and providing new enforcement powers to strengthen the regulator’s role, it aims to ensure that landlords do not just listen but, critically, act when problems are raised. Crucially, the Bill puts the emphasis on making the tenants the focus of landlords’ work, with a particular priority rightly given to safety issues. By enhancing transparency and accountability, the Bill will help to set a different balance between the interests of the tenants and those of landlords, and emphasise the delivery of services to the tenants.
So far, all well and good, but there is an area where I hope the Government will accept there is a desire from many that they should go further. It is an area that the Secretary of State has already referred to: the question of the professionalisation of the sector. I am aware that the Government introduced amendments to address this issue in the other place, and that an amendment from Baroness Hayman of Ullock to go further was narrowly defeated, but I am not convinced that the Government’s proposals fully address the issue.
The Government have introduced requirements for the social housing regulator to set regulatory standards on staff competence and conduct. Once in force, the regulator, in the words of the Minister in the other place, would
“proactively seek assurance that providers are meeting them.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 October 2022; Vol. 824, c. 1029.]
That was an alternative to the other approach, which has been supported by Grenfell United and others, of the Government mandating professional qualifications.
I have looked at the Government’s arguments. The Government have said that the sector is so diverse that mandating a set of qualifications or a single qualification would be too restrictive, that there is no single qualification that would meet the diverse needs of the sector—the Secretary of State referred to that—and that landlords need to have the flexibility to determine what qualifications their staff need. It was also argued that this would make it harder to recruit staff and that there was a risk that it would lead to staff who did not have the right attitudes and behaviours. I find all those arguments extraordinary. Social housing is provided for those in need. Why is it that in other social professions staff are required to be suitably qualified and to be prepared to accept an ethos, a code of ethics or values, yet we are not willing to require that of those employed to manage the homes, particularly the safety of homes, that social housing tenants are living in?
What is more, it is all very well saying that professionalisation would lead to the wrong attitudes and behaviours, but the very reason that we have the Bill today and that we are discussing it is that there are too many people managing social housing with the wrong attitudes and behaviours. I fail to see how making the management of social housing professional—requiring people to have qualifications, saying it is a valuable and worthwhile career, ensuring people have the knowledge and skills needed to do the job—leads to worse outcomes. Professionalising social housing management would, over time, mean that the perception of the role would change. It would come to be seen as a worthwhile career, and would attract more dedicated people interested in what would be seen as a valued profession.
As for the argument that one qualification could not cover all the roles, I am sure the Secretary of State, with his intellect, will soon be able to destroy that argument. There are many ways that that can be approached. We can limit the role that we initially set the qualifications for—to, say, senior management—and allow further qualifications to be developed. We could set up a range of qualifications. They are many ways in which that issue can be addressed; it is not insoluble.
Behind these arguments lies something critical to providing a better future for social housing and social housing tenants, and it has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes): we need to remove the stigma of living in social housing. Those who live in social housing should be able to feel proud of where they live, and not feel that people are judging them because they live in social housing. Ensuring the professionalisation of the management of social housing would send a clear message of the value that Government attach to social housing, and the importance of ensuring that those charged with looking after the homes of others have the skills necessary to do that. If we do not care who manages social housing, it is easy to think that we do not care about those who are living in social housing. If we care about those who manage social housing, we show that we care about those who are living in social housing.
I pay tribute to all the work that my right hon. Friend has done in relation to Grenfell, which has been of great importance. I declare an interest as someone who grew up in a council house. I have great sympathy with the argument she makes. Does she agree that as well as qualifications a key thing is attitude, and that people who run housing associations need to have a positive attitude to their tenants and not, as is sometimes the case, a negative one?
I absolutely agree. The problem we have seen, and that we saw at Grenfell, was that the attitude was that negative one of just ignoring tenants and not listening to what they were saying. It is essential that people have the right attitude, and see social housing tenants as people who are living in those homes. If people have concerns about their homes and their safety, those concerns should be listened to.
Another objection has been raised about the possibility of professionalisation requiring qualifications for those managing social housing: it would lead to the reclassification by the Office for National Statistics of all social housing providers as public bodies. None of us wants that to happen, and I know the angst that the issue causes in Government, having been there when the last change in the classification of social housing took place. However, no one knows definitely that the ONS would reclassify it in that way, and no one seems to know where the tipping point is regarding how much extra regulation would move such providers into the category of public bodies. Can the Government achieve professionalisation in a way that does not lead to reclassification? Can the regulations be rebalanced to ensure that professionalisation can be brought in and that tipping point is not reached? I welcome the commitment that the Secretary of State made in his speech to work across the House to find solutions and see whether we can find a way through this. I hope that, during the remaining stages of the Bill, the Government will have that conversation with the ONS and will actively seek to table amendments that allow for proper professionalisation of the sector without reclassification.
This important Bill aims to deal with inequities that have been there for too long. It should lead to deeper concern for the needs of social housing tenants, and a greater willingness of all those who are managing social housing to listen to their tenants. However, we should also all aim to remove the stigma that is attached to social housing. That would be of real benefit to all involved. I believe that the professionalisation of social housing management would be a real legacy for the 72 who sadly lost their lives on that fateful night in June 2017.
The need for secure, genuinely affordable social housing is one of the biggest issues facing my constituents. It forces too many of them into the instability of temporary accommodation, it blights the health of constituents forced to live in damp, overcrowded accommodation and it holds back children and young people who are unable to fulfil their potential at school because of the conditions at home. So I support the principles of this Bill, the strengthening of regulations that it will deliver and its potential to improve the quality of existing homes, but it is not a solution to the whole of the housing crisis that we face—a housing crisis that deepens and worsens with every passing year. Without central Government investment in new, genuinely affordable social housing and the proper regulation of the private rented sector, my constituents will continue to suffer.
I want to speak today about an amendment that I will be tabling to the Bill, which I hope the Government will support. The amendment, which is supported by Shelter and the National Housing Federation, seeks to ensure additional protection for secure social housing tenants who are forced to move home due to a threat of violence. My constituent Georgia found herself in those circumstances. Georgia and her children were happy in their housing association home, where they had lived for nine years, when her oldest son was threatened by gang members who came to the flat one Saturday afternoon while Georgia was at work. She worked for the NHS. Georgia went to the police, who told her that her son’s life was at risk and she had to move immediately for his safety. Her whole life and those of her children were turned upside down in that instant.
Georgia’s local council provided temporary accommodation in another borough, but it was really poor quality and without enough space for her sons to study properly. She had been there for a year when her case came to my attention. The move and the place that they were forced to live in took a terrible toll on Georgia and her children. Having referred her to the council for temporary accommodation, Georgia’s housing association began steps to end her secure tenancy, essentially sending her to the bottom of the housing list, facing a wait of many years before there would be any chance at all of being offered another secure tenancy.
My amendment would create a new obligation on social landlords, whether councils or housing associations, to protect the tenancy rights of secure tenants who have had to move due to a risk of violence, and create a new duty on them to co-operate with each other when a tenant needs to move area for their own safety. These simple measures will mitigate the already serious and traumatising effects of serious violence, particularly gang- related violence, on families. It will help to prevent one moment in a young person’s life from destabilising their whole family and help them to focus on getting the support they need. It will stop families needlessly entering an already overwhelmed social housing waiting list and minimise the time spent in temporary accommodation.
In the end, after more than a year in temporary accommodation and following my intervention, Georgia and her children were rehoused by their housing association within a week, but not before they had suffered horrific consequences. There are some details of this case that it is not appropriate for me to share in this Chamber. I hope that colleagues will believe me when I say that Georgia and her family suffered consequences that no family should ever have to bear as a result of the destabilisation that they faced.
I have encountered similar cases in which families know that their secure tenancy will be at risk if they move due to a risk of violence, so they avoid that by sending the young person who is at risk of violence away to live with family or friends. Again, the amendment would give security to those residents: there would be a limit to the instability they face and help to prevent a crisis from turning into a tragedy. There are too many families in my constituency who are suffering the trauma of serious violence in our communities, and it is the responsibility of all of us to do everything possible to mitigate its impacts. This amendment would do that. Georgia’s law would help to ensure that other families did not suffer as Georgia’s family have, and I commend it to the House.
I welcome the Secretary of State back to his position. He was once described as a member of the Notting Hill set. I will be saying a lot about Notting Hill Genesis housing association this evening, but—to paraphrase Emperor Hirohito—not necessarily to its advantage.
I am grateful to have been called to speak on this new Bill to improve the regulation and safety of social housing, not least because I have raised concerns about the issue before. In reiterating them, I declare an interest of sorts as someone who grew up in a Basildon council house in the 1970s and 1980s.
In my experience, registered social landlords such as housing associations vary greatly in quality. Some are really rather good, with sound management, attention to detail and a commitment to pay close attention to the welfare of their tenants. Others are very different. As a constituency MP, I have had some very poor experiences—like my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), it would appear—of how they have treated my constituents, their tenants.
In fairness, regulators vary in quality, too. Some of them—such as Ofsted, which inspects schools, and the Care Quality Commission, which inspects hospitals, other medical facilities and care homes—are clearly taken seriously and even respected by those whom they seek to regulate. I believe that we need an organisation that displays equal rigour in the regulation of social housing. It must be a good thing to have a tougher regulator with greater powers to hold to account housing associations and the people who run them, some of whom are extremely well paid, for the service that they provide. That is why I am happy to support the Bill tonight.
The military have a concept called ground truth. In simple English, the term describes what goes on in reality—on the ground—rather than on a general’s PowerPoint presentation, perhaps thousands of miles away. In other words, it is what really goes on in practice, rather than in abstract policy or theory. I will illustrate my argument by sharing with the House three examples of ground truth from my constituency that relate to social housing.
The first example concerns the quality of housing maintenance, or rather the lack of quality. Basildon Borough Council, including the town of Wickford in my constituency, has a relatively large social housing stock, including several thousand properties that were transferred across when the Commission for the New Towns was dissolved in the 1990s. In 2016, the council signed a highly valuable contract with Morgan Sindall, a major corporation, for the maintenance of its social housing stock. According to its latest annual report, the group chief executive of Morgan Sindall, Mr John Morgan, received a total remuneration package last year, including a bonus, of some £2.7 million.
Morgan Sindall’s housing maintenance arm, Morgan Sindall Property Services, has been maintaining the properties for about six years with relatively few complaints. A year or so ago, however, I suddenly started to receive a torrent of complaints from Wickford constituents about the timeliness and quality of their repairs. In some cases, it has taken Morgan Sindall many months and multiple visits from numerous employees to carry out even basic repairs for social housing tenants.
The situation is clearly completely unacceptable. I have received complaint after complaint from constituents over the past year or so, particularly about the poor response from Morgan Sindall to requests for assistance. The principal reason appears to be that Morgan Sindall restricted its visits to undertake repairs during the covid-19 pandemic to emergency or highly urgent cases. That has allowed a considerable maintenance backlog to accumulate, totalling thousands of cases, which it is obviously now struggling to clear—hence the massive increase in tenants’ complaints.
In fairness, last week I met Mr Alan Hayward, the managing director of Morgan Sindall Property Services, who personally assured me that the company is negotiating an improvement plan with Basildon Council to return its service to something more akin to its pre-covid performance. We agreed that in future I would report all complaints directly to him and copy in the council to seek much swifter redress for aggrieved tenants. We will have to wait and see how the situation pans out, but clearly things cannot continue as they are. My rent-paying constituents deserve a much better service from Morgan Sindall; I am seeking to ensure that they receive one, including by raising the matter this evening.
Secondly, on competence, I have raised in the House the very poor management provided by Notting Hill Genesis—a housing association that needs much tighter regulation or, ideally, to be taken over by someone else who knows what they are doing. Notting Hill Genesis is run by a chief executive who, according to its annual report, earns total remuneration, including pension emoluments, of more than £300,000 per annum, which is almost twice that of the Prime Minister. Some housing association chief executives earn considerably more than that.
In particular, I have highlighted the poor management of a sheltered housing unit in Rayleigh named Sangster Court, which has been nicknamed “Gangster Court” by locals because of the way in which Notting Hill Genesis extorts money from its tenants for what they believe—as residents have told me—is a very poor service in return. On my last visit, I was especially concerned to hear complaints from the residents about fire safety—so much so that I wrote to our very proactive police, fire and crime commissioner, Mr Roger Hirst, to urgently request a fire inspection by Essex County Council Fire and Rescue Service. The results of the subsequent inspection, which I will send to the Secretary of State, were damning, with multiple serious deficiencies identified that Notting Hill Genesis has had to rectify and comply with.
One of those deficiencies included having to replace inadequate fire doors in the building. The company has just written to me to confirm that that will take some 16 weeks. Post the Grenfell tragedy and with the subsequent Grenfell inquiry drawing to a close, I would much rather that those vital safety improvements were undertaken in 16 days. That illustrates the tin-eared approach that, in my experience, is characteristic of Notting Hill Genesis and its senior management. I wonder whether the non-executive directors of that organisation are content with the lacklustre and complacent reply that I received, especially concerning the fire safety of their residents. I am intrigued to know what, if anything, they intend to do about it and what the Secretary of State is minded to do about it.
I hope that the tougher social housing regulator that is envisioned in the Bill will prove much better at holding failing housing associations such as Notting Hill Genesis more firmly to account; or, even better, will help to encourage someone more competent within the sector to take them over and materially up their game as a result.
Thirdly, again on safety, the Secretary of State will appreciate that a facet of substantial modern housing developments is that they now often include a sizeable portion of social housing, usually administered by housing associations. One such development is the new Bloor Homes development, off Ashingdon Road in my constituency. That has a highly complex and controversial history, which I shall not attempt to recount here in detail, as it could take literally all evening. Suffice it to say, Bloor won on appeal despite intense local opposition, including from me as the local MP. Although it has planning permission, it is seeking to fell a 100-year-old oak tree to create an entrance to the new estate directly opposite both an infant and a junior school, which between them, accommodate more than 500 staff and pupils.
As clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill relate directly to safety, including, presumably, that of the tenants in the new development whose children would be likely to use the schools that are just opposite, the House should know that the headteachers of both schools issued a joint letter last Thursday that included the following statement:
“We experienced a frightening glimpse into the future, when on Friday 21st October the pavement access was reduced in readiness for the tree removal. The situation was carnage, and it was only through our dedicated teaching staff actively marshalling pedestrians and on-coming traffic that there was not a serious accident.”
Safety must be paramount. With the tree occupied by protesters and the local community up in arms, the whole sorry episode is rapidly degenerating into a public relations disaster for Bloor Homes, which is repeatedly described by my constituents as “arrogant”, or often far worse, and which appears to have desperately little regard for the feelings of the local community, its locally elected councillors or, indeed, its local MP.
Despite its uncompromising attitude, I genuinely appeal to Bloor in the House of Commons tonight, even at this 11th hour, to reconsider its approach and facilitate a redesign of the junction to save the tree and, even more importantly, to ensure the safety of the pupils—some of whom are as young as five—at both the schools. A company with even the slightest regard for its public reputation would surely attempt to do so, but this is Bloor Homes, so we shall have to wait and see.
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill because it seeks to create a tougher and more effective regulator for the social housing sector, in which many of my constituents, as well as the constituents of colleagues across the House, continue to live. In my experience, some housing associations, such as Sanctuary, which is under new leadership and is actively considering requiring tenants to sign off repair work so that the contractor is not paid unless and until the repair is completed satisfactorily, are gradually getting better, while others such as Notting Hill Genesis appear to be getting worse.
Having spoken to headteachers post Ofsted inspection, or hospital managers after a visit from the Care Quality Commission, I have no doubt that when their regulator turns up they take the visit extremely seriously indeed. I would like to see a similarly powerful social housing regulator whose objective is to ensure a better and safer service for tenants, and which housing associations and the like dare not ignore. I wish this important Bill and the Ministers in charge of it Godspeed and good luck.
The issue that we are discussing is quite personal for me. I think back to when we lived in temporary accommodation. We were placed, from Brixton, in a B&B in King’s Cross. My late mother was one of those women who made sure that you never missed school. We always had to take the tube from King’s Cross to Brixton to go to school. When we were finally rehoused—my mum, my two sisters and me—it felt like the fairy tale, with the security of our own home, somewhere that was safe, somewhere that was warm, somewhere where we could push the key into the lock and know that this was our home, which was vital for the stability that we had growing up.
It saddens me that many of the constituents I now represent in Vauxhall do not have that. It saddens me that, as the MP for Vauxhall, the majority of my casework relates to housing. It saddens me that, many years after I grew up on a council estate in Brixton, the conditions and state of some of the properties in which my constituents live has not improved. It saddens me, because I know that as a country we should and can be doing better for those tenants living in social housing. It saddens me that there is still such a big stigma for people who live in council housing. When I visit them, I see them taking so much pride in their home: they are people who decorate their home, and they lay out their pictures so I can see their children and families. They are people who have so much pride in their home, but the way in which they are discussed by some councils and housing associations shows that they are treated with disregard. They are treated as the lowest form of people because they live in social housing. That should not be happening, and the tone in which we debate and talk about social housing tenants really matters.
A number of people living in social housing continue to pay their rent and service charges on time. A number of those people are always in credit, as my late mother was, yet when they contact their landlord or housing association they are sometimes met with a barrage of abuse. They are told, “Why are you complaining?”, and meet a barrage of annoyance. We need to change that, and one way in which we can do so is by introducing regulation. The Bill is long overdue, and it contains really good measures, which I welcome, but the reality is that this long-awaited regulation will not happen if we do not have the right funding.
Another area that we need to look at is safety across the social housing sector. Tenants living in social housing raise these issues time and time again, but they are often dismissed until there is a fatality—we know that that has happened in some cases. We have seen what happened when residents living in Grenfell Tower complained about fire safety. I have consistently raised issues relating to fire and the evacuation of disabled people. My inbox is filled with messages from so many people in my constituency who to this day have unsafe cladding and fire defects in their property. Imagine the mental toll it takes on someone’s mindset when they go to sleep every night with their young child or elderly family member that they care for, knowing that there are safety defects in their property.
There is also the mental stress that people are facing. A number of my constituents are unable to remortgage. Every time the Bank of England base rate goes up, their mortgages go up. They are stuck, prisoners in their own homes that they have saved for and worked two or three jobs in some cases to buy. They dreamed of owning their own home, only to see it all shattered, because that dream has now turned into a nightmare, whether it is leasehold legislation, service charges or bills for unsafe cladding—all things that it is within our power to tackle.
Coming back to the key issue of the state of some of our social housing, it is important to say that over the past 12 years, sadly, we have not seen that investment going into social housing. The repairs and maintenance contracts have been divvied up by different landlords. With some of those repairs and maintenance contracts, they even have the audacity to charge my local council, Lambeth, and not actually carry out the work. We hear stories of tenants waiting two or three hours on the phone trying to get people to come out and do repairs. We hear stories of tenants missing a day’s work, only for the people not to turn up to carry out those repairs. When tenants complain, they are met with the same disdain. This cannot go on.
I hope that we can move forward on this and make sure that we recognise that tenants living in social housing deserve the best standards of living, deserve to be listened to, deserve to be able to challenge their housing associations and landlords, and deserve the compensation that, in some cases, they should have received long ago, if we look at the state of their housing.
My only question to the Minister in discussing this matter is this: can she commit to allocate those urgent resources to the regulator to allow it to perform effectively its inspections and any other new duties that arise from the Bill? If not, I know that many tenants I represent will continue to write to me, because all of this discussion will be in vain. Many tenants will be watching this debate today, hoping that the Minister will give them that reassurance, and I hope that we do not have to come back here in a year’s time to discuss and debate the same thing.
In welcoming this Bill on behalf of all my social housing tenants in Dudley, I wish to acknowledge and place on record the hard work of my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) while he was a housing Minister. I know that he approached that work with a great deal of passion and dedication. I also note the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—and, indeed, her contributions today—with whom I very much agree.
If there is one thing that I know will unite this House, it is the desire of all our constituents to have a safe home, receive high-quality services and be treated with dignity and respect, but for too long I have received many emails and letters from social tenant constituents complaining of long delays for repairs, poor communication with their landlords and housing officers who are seemingly not interested. I think of a recent communication with one of my constituents in Dudley whose internal wall plastering collapsed on her child in April. We are now in November and still no repair has been made.
I am not here to criticise all social landlords or housing officers, as many do exemplary work to ensure their tenants are treated with dignity and respect and are assisted in a timely manner. I know that officers in the Dudley homelessness team work extremely hard to ensure constituents have a roof over their heads and they do not find themselves on the streets.
While the House would usually see me standing here arguing for less state intervention, I believe this Bill is in fact necessary. It goes a long way to driving up standards and ensuring that social landlords fulfil their obligation to a high standard and in a timely fashion. The Bill grants the regulator power to issue social landlords with performance improvement plan notices if they fail to meet standards or if there is a risk they will fail to meet standards—much like Ofsted does in schools. Tenants will be able to request to see copies of their landlord’s improvement plan, and if the landlord fails to comply with improvement plan notices, they could be issued with enforcement action or a fine, or have to pay compensation. In any other situation, this process would be commonplace, so it is right for that to be introduced for social housing.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi). I think all hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that everybody should have a home that is safe, warm, of a decent standard and genuinely affordable, yet we know that many people live in homes that are not safe and certainly fall way short of even the Government’s decent homes standard.
Years of funding cuts to local authority budgets, as well as the four years during which the Government imposed a 1% social rent cut on local authorities, have inevitably taken their toll. The pandemic also hit housing revenue accounts hard, which has led to a huge issue in relation to the standard of social housing, but it is fair to say that the standard of most social homes was falling long before the pandemic—it has been going on for years.
In my constituency, housing and housing repair make up my biggest casework issue—every month, when I do my reports, it is always housing repair—and the same housing associations are always in question. More than 5,000 properties in my constituency are managed by housing associations. Many constituents raise issues about the standard of housing and about the poor customer service. Tenants are being made to feel that they should be grateful to have a home, and that the poor, substandard conditions and the management of those homes are not things that they have any right to question or even complain about. If this Bill goes some way to alleviate the challenges that they face, that can only be a good thing, because those challenges have had a devastating effect on tenants’ mental health and wellbeing.
One constituent has spent more than two years trying to get repairs to his home. He has been making complaints, but there has been no resolution, so he has had to live with a hole in his kitchen ceiling since January 2020. It really should not have taken an intervention from me to have that rectified. It should never be down to our offices, which can make things happen, to ensure that social housing providers fix the problems that their tenants face. Providers have a duty to ensure that the housing that they provide is of a decent standard because, as all hon. Members would agree, people do not live in those homes rent free; they pay rent and, in many cases, service charges.
The Grenfell fire made us all aware of the consequences of inaction when people living in social housing are disregarded and their complaints are consistently ignored. Such a tragedy should never have happened in our country in 2017—the year that I was elected. I pay tribute to Grenfell United and all the bereaved families and survivors of that tragic event. The Government promised justice and committed to ensuring that Grenfell would never happen again, but more than five years on from that tragedy, they have still not secured justice and no one has really been held responsible for what happened.
Many people, including my constituents, still live in unsafe homes that are not fit for habitation. It is right that we are debating the Bill, but it is long overdue, because the Government have failed in that. The Government’s Green Paper on a new deal was published in 2018—four years ago—so we are still going very slowly, at a snail’s pace.
The Bill is very important and should have been introduced earlier. If we want to deliver transformational change for social housing tenants, improve the quality of housing and ensure better regulation of the sector, the Bill needs to be improved. I am pleased that will happen in Committee, but I want to make a few points about the Bill as it stands.
There is nothing in the Bill to address the low levels of supply of social homes. There are thousands of people on the waiting list in Battersea. The reality is that for 12 years the Tories have not only failed to build social homes, but overseen the loss of homes at an unprecedented scale. Between 2010 and 2021, more than 134,000 homes for social rent were either sold or demolished, without any direct replacement. On average, that is a net loss of over 12,000 genuinely affordable homes every year, which is scandalous.
As has been said, it is over five years since the Grenfell fire. The Bill is too late for those people, and that is why I want the Minister to provide commitments on the timings for introducing the necessary regulations to ensure that the measures are enforced. Although the sector could act in response to the Bill’s changes, the Government should not and cannot rely on good will alone.
I mentioned earlier the issue of customer service, which many of my constituents continue to raise with me. Baroness Hayman was right when she said in the other place that
“housing management is no more complex than other professions that have legal requirements for training and development”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 October 2022; Vol. 824, c. 1032.]
The Bill as amended in the other place still does not guarantee that staff will be appropriately qualified or engaged in training and development so that they can provide the best level of service. Why will the Government not commit to ensuring that all staff are properly trained?
The regulator’s inspections, which we all welcome, are a vital part of the Bill, and they must deliver the change that tenants so desperately need. They are the main way to check that providers are abiding by the law and responding to concerns. Although I welcome the amendment agreed in the other place, I believe that more information is needed on how the regulator will conduct routine inspections on all its landlords to ensure that consumer standards are always met. Will the Minister give more detail on how the new inspections regime will actually work and be delivered? I would also like her to commit to sufficient new resources, because this will only work if investment is made and resources allocated to allow the regulator to effectively perform its inspector role and any other new duties that may arise as a result of this Bill. The Secretary of State talked about fire safety. I would like the regulator’s remit to be expanded to make sure that it will monitor building and fire safety.
As I have said, there are a lot of good things in the Bill and it is welcome, but it needs to be improved. It is a shame that it has taken so long, but we are where we are and I hope that, as the Bill continues its passage through the House, it can be improved in many ways to ensure that tenants, regardless of whether they are in social housing or the private rented sector, are at the heart of it, because they are the ones who really matter.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I too welcome the Secretary of State back to his position. I also broadly welcome the Bill. Above all, I congratulate everyone who has campaigned so effectively for these improvements following the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell fire, more than five years ago now, on their tenacity and tirelessness. However, I must repeat the question asked by Members on both sides of the House: what has taken the Government so long? Providing fairness and accountability for people living in social housing should have been a much higher priority, and we would have liked to see the Bill much, much sooner.
I want to say something about local government funding. The pandemic has significantly increased the financial pressure on local authorities, and that is being exacerbated by rampant inflation and high interest rates. While everyone is committed to improvements in the rights of tenants in social housing and their ability to hold their landlords to account, there is an urgent need for clarity on how that will be delivered and funded, given the stressed state of many council budgets. It is essential for the Government to find ways of filling the funding gap for local authorities to ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Conservative Government promised that no one would lose their home as a result of it, but now there are nearly 1.2 million people on council housing waiting lists. According to research carried out for the Local Government Association and its partners, every pound invested in a new social home generates £2.84 in the wider economy, with every new social home generating a saving of £780 a year in housing benefit. It makes sense to allow councils freedom to deal with the social housing need in their communities, and I urge the Minister to consider this as a matter of urgency.
A study published last December by the National Housing Federation found that one in five—about 2 million—children in England were living in homes that were cramped, unaffordable or unsuitable, and that 8.5 million people in England were facing some sort of housing need. However, that urgent need is not being met by the provision of new social housing in England, not least because local authorities do not retain 100% of the proceeds of houses sold under the right to buy.
As a brand-new MP at the beginning of this year—and with an inbox full of emails about social housing issues—I was astonished to learn, on meeting members of my local housing association, that homes bought by tenants under the right to buy were often immediately let by their owners into the private rented sector. When there are nearly 12 million households on social housing waiting lists, that is, in my view, a failure of policy. Measures to support home ownership should not lead to a reduction in the overall number of affordable social rented homes. Any loss of social rented housing risks pushing more families into the private rented sector, as well as driving up housing benefit rents and spending, and compounding the homelessness crisis. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to allow local authorities and housing associations to retain 100% of the proceeds of houses sold under the right to buy, in order to maintain and build the stock of social housing as appropriate for the needs of their communities.
We have discussed the urgent and pressing issue of the cost of living crisis on many occasions recently in this place. It seems that the Government have missed an opportunity to ensure that homes provided in the social housing sector are not unnecessarily expensive to heat or unnecessarily cold to live in. Moreover, about 21% of our carbon emissions come from our inefficient homes, of which social housing is often the worst offender. On the basis of personal experience, I can testify that the windows are easily the most problematic element.
In 2015, the Conservatives abandoned the Liberal Democrats’ zero- carbon homes policy, as a result of which 1 million homes have been built that cost more to heat and emit more carbon dioxide than they need to. So where are the provisions in the Bill to retrofit our social housing with insulation, and ensure that newly built social housing is warm and affordable? While including energy efficiency in the regulator’s objectives is a welcome step, it is clear that more could be done to reduce fuel poverty and help us achieve our net zero objectives.
There are some other items on my wish list—they may be for future legislation, but I would like to mention them. Along with colleagues on both sides of the House, I want to hear a firm commitment to ending no-fault evictions of those in both private rented accommodation and social housing. I also want the dangerous cladding that still affects much of the social housing stock to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, and I want to see an extension of the safeguards applying to faulty electrical appliances to online marketplaces, so that we can ensure that a terrible tragedy like Grenfell does not happen again because of unsafe appliances in people’s home.
In conclusion, the direction of travel in the Bill is certainly welcome, albeit a little overdue, and I urge the Secretary of State to work with parties across the House to improve it further.
I broadly support the Bill, but as it stands its scope is clearly too narrow to address the crisis in social housing, as I think the Secretary of State accepts.
I would like to focus briefly on one issue. The Bill proposes a new access to information scheme, which would make social housing providers more accountable to their tenants and regulator. However, it appears that the scheme falls short of making social housing providers truly accountable as council providers have to be, as it does not bring social housing providers under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Without being subject to that Act, social housing providers can refuse and have refused to be transparent about important elements of their business practices, even though they are receiving public money through rent and support.
Indeed, in 2021 Greater Manchester Law Centre ran an investigation into covid evictions in which it sent freedom of information requests to 23 social housing providers across Greater Manchester. It found that six social housing providers claimed not to be classified as public authorities and that they were therefore not subject to freedom of information requests—they refused to answer. Some 13 failed to reply at all. It is clear that the Bill must be amended to make social housing providers subject to the 2000 Act. I hope that the Secretary of State and Minister will make that simple yet necessary amendment as the Bill proceeds to Committee.
More widely, I have serious concerns that the Bill fails to address the crisis. When the news broke of the shocking and tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in Rochdale, I am sure that, like me, many Members were shocked to their core. Little Awaab’s lungs had been exposed to damp and mould in the flat where he lived with his family, and it was found that his death was directly linked to those poor living conditions. The court recently heard that Awaab’s family battled the problems at their home for a number of years, even before Awaab was born. Indeed, they had filed a disrepair claim against the housing association.
What is clear is that Awaab’s death should have brought great anger to this country—one of the richest economies in the world. It should have been a moment of reckoning: the instigation of a national mission for decent homes that would have seen the rapid deployment of Government funding to build new homes and bring existing ones to a decent standard. But sadly, I do not think we have yet seen such promises from the Government—indeed, we face threats of further austerity over the coming weeks. Although the Bill suggests a regime of routine inspections of social housing, we have yet to see any detail about how that will actually be delivered and funded.
Along with other Salford MPs and our city Mayor, I wrote to all our housing providers because we were extremely worried. We asked for urgent reports detailing the quality and condition of each of the properties that our housing associations manage, evaluated against the decent homes standard. But the fact is that years of effective cuts and freezes on rents without Government funding to match have meant that housing associations often do not have the resources to inspect properties routinely, let alone upgrade them regularly to the standard required.
Let us also remember that in 2010 funding for new social rented housing stopped completely and that an affordable rent tenure was introduced, in which homes are rented at up to 80% of their market rent. As Inside Housing has reported, although many housing associations tried to use their own funds to keep building some social rented homes, in 2010 nearly 36,000 social rented homes were started; the next year, after funding cuts, that number reduced to just over 3,000. The National Housing Federation and Crisis have shown recently in their research that 90,000 new social rented homes need to be built every year, but a lack of funding has meant that only about 5,000 are being built.
In the meantime, how can any of us in this House be sure that our local residents are not living in the same conditions as little Awaab’s family, stuck in old, unsuitable properties that are riddled with issues? The fact is that at the moment we cannot be sure, because unless our residents come to us directly we do not know. When that occurs, it is usually because they feel they have not been listened to. They have tried everybody else first and felt that every single door has been shut firmly in their face.
Although we of course all have positive success stories of issues being addressed quickly by housing associations—I have worked with some brilliant housing association personnel in Salford—we also have myriad cases in which they have not been dealt with, there is not enough funding to deal with the issues, or the resident needs to be rehoused and there is simply nothing suitable available for them.
It would take me many hours to go through my list of cases, but let me give a few examples. I have cases of young families living in high-storey tower blocks without baths for their children because there are no suitable properties for their needs and they have been put in properties that are suitable for those with medical needs and given wet rooms instead. I have residents who have been told that they cannot open the windows at their properties properly because the window is too heavy and might fall out.
I have residents living in freezing buildings this winter where all the cladding has been removed but not yet replaced because the Government at first refused to fund its replacement. The local housing association had to secure a loan to carry out the works, and now structural issues have been identified that need urgent repair. Not only were the residents refused Government help during the fire safety crisis in the first instance, but there is now no additional Government support for them as they face a winter of sky-high energy costs because their buildings have no cladding. Many report to me that they are now just not putting the heating on, which is quite frightening.
I also have reports of people battling mice and rats. They should be moved out of their properties but there are no other houses available to put them in. I have elderly people with mobility issues who have been placed in upstairs flats when they need a ground-floor property to have any semblance of quality of life. Again, no suitable properties are available.
The list is endless. Social housing has been fundamentally crushed by this Government over the past 10 years. In the city of Salford alone we have almost 6,000 households on our housing register and there are 108 bids per property advertised. What does that mean? It means that families are crammed into unsuitable accommodation because there is simply nothing else available. Those who do get properties are supposedly the lucky ones who should be grateful for what they have received, while the housing team creaks under the volume of people who have not been so lucky and are desperate to find a decent home to live in.
As the cost of living crisis bites, a crisis is coming down the tracks this winter in the shape of social housing rent affordability. The Salford City Mayor and deputy mayor, along with Salford MPs, recently wrote to the Government to request a social rents freeze across the board and that they make available the funding to deliver this locally. We have yet to receive any semblance of a response from the Government.
Yes, I support the Bill. It goes some way towards regulating the sector, but it does not tackle the root causes of the problems that my local residents face, it will not provide the homes and repairs that they need now, and it will not ensure that a decent, warm, safe and secure home should be a right for all. Only a change in Government will do that.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey).
I should say at the outset that I welcome this Bill—but my goodness, it is long overdue. As always, context is key. Here we are reinventing the wheel after the coalition Government battered our social housing system from pillar to post. They abolished the Audit Commission and the housing inspectorate in the bonfire of the quangos and slashed the social housing budget by 50% overnight. The idea that the former right hon. Member for Tatton has been seen in Downing Street fills me with fear.
But reinvent the wheel we must. I have said many times in this House that my inbox is filled with social housing and disrepair cases, but now it is bursting. There is even a weekly meeting of my office staff and Clarion Housing Association to monitor disrepair cases one by one. I sometimes feel as if I work for Clarion Housing Association.
The spark was the appalling disrepair of the Eastfields estate in Mitcham, which made national news last year thanks to the tireless campaigning of my constituent Kwajo Tweneboa. He lived in a property overtaken by mice, cockroaches, damp and mould. Tragically, his father passed away of cancer while still in that house. Kwajo says that he asked for help before he died, but nobody listened.
Before focusing on the measures in the Bill, it is important to put them in context. Let us take the example of a tenant living in a home in disrepair, with a leak in the roof. The tenant starts by raising a case of disrepair with their landlord. They take a day off work to wait for a knock on the door that does not come. Frustrated, they follow up with a call centre, but no one there knows their name, their case or their home. Meanwhile, their roof continues to leak. They enter a multi-stage written complaints process in which they are careful not to mention the threat of legal action, which would shut their case down immediately. Throughout each stage, the roof continues to leak.
Still no joy? The tenant could turn to the ombudsman, but it will look at the process, not the disrepair. The next obstacle block is the need for a signed form from a designated person such as an MP or a councillor, or an eight-week wait if such a form is not secured. More hurdles, more bureaucracy, more leaking from the roof. Eight weeks on, the ombudsman is not looking at whether the leak has been fixed, but at whether the process has been correctly followed. Can the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) honestly say that she would have the patience to follow that process if she had water dripping through her ceiling electrics? I certainly cannot.
The tenant instead takes their complaint to the housing regulator. As it stands, however, the regulator states that it
“can only take action against a landlord when it has made significant, systemic failure that breaches the standards we have set”
“Although our role is not to resolve individual disputes between tenants and landlords we signpost tenants, or their representatives, who have individual complaints, to the Housing Ombudsman Service.”
That is the same ombudsman that is checking whether the process has been followed.
Can the Minister imagine how frustrated tenants must be by this point, and how bad the leak has become? The whole process requires the patience of a saint, the tenacity of a five-star general, an endless amount of mobile phone data, a laptop to email, and a postgraduate degree in bureaucracy. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill because a strengthened regulator could not be more urgently needed.
Will the Minister commit to allocating sufficient new resources to the regulator to allow it to perform its inspection role effectively as a result of the Bill? Can she give any more details on how the new inspections regime will be delivered and funded? Let us be under no illusion: the measures in the Bill do not build a single new socially rented home. We now have 1.15 million households on social housing waiting lists across the country, but just 6,566 new social homes were built last year—one of the lowest numbers on record—and at that rate, it will take 175 years to give everyone on the waiting list a socially rented home.
I welcome the Bill, which I will follow closely as it passes through the House. I hope we pass it quickly, because the roof is still leaking.
May I say what a joy it is to sew into this debate? Any Member who runs a very busy constituency office will know what a huge chunk of their appointments and casework is taken up by social housing. I fully support the Bill that we have before us tonight. I thank both the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for her contribution in pushing the Bill forward, and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), who is not in his place, for playing such an instrumental role. I also thank all the Members who have contributed to the Bill as they have played a significant and helpful role in taking it forward.
What we have before us tonight is a consensus of opinion. The tragedy at Grenfell, which so blighted the United Kingdom, brought this matter to a head. The fact that the Bill is in front of us tonight indicates just how important it is to deal with what happened.
I declare an interest as chair of the healthy homes and buildings all-party parliamentary group. I have a deep interest in this issue and in how we can do things better not just because it is a constituency matter for me back home, but because it is important in this place, too. I understand that the Bill is for England and Wales and not for us in Northern Ireland, but I seek from the Minister an assurance that whenever the Bill is completed it will be shared with all the regional Administrations, especially the Northern Ireland Assembly, where it could be instrumental in making things better. The same is true for Scotland as well. Making things better is the purpose of the Bill and it is what I would love to see happening.
I wish to give a Northern Ireland perspective on the matter, although I am ever mindful that the Minister has no responsibility for that. Let me explain what the Bill is about, how it can be replicated in Northern Ireland and why it is important. The facts are clear. There is a social housing crisis before our very eyes. We do not have enough housing—enough suitable housing for families, for vulnerable children with special needs who cannot share a bedroom with a sibling. We do not have enough warm well-built housing in areas with schools, shops and all the necessary parts of life within walking distance, or with good infrastructure links for those who do not drive or cannot drive and for those who cannot afford to keep a house. We do not have enough affordable apartments for young people needing to move for a job or for their mental health—this in a society that is coming down with mental health issues. That applies to my constituency anyway. We simply do not have enough housing stock, and what we do have unfortunately does not cut it.
Let me give a snapshot of Northern Ireland and of social housing in my own local council area. I recognise very clearly, as others have said, the importance of social housing. For many people, it is probably the only option they have, so it has to be a good option.
The snapshot of social housing in my area shows that approximately 650 units of temporary accommodation were acquired to meet the significant increase in demand, and that 150 void properties were brought back into use as furnished hostel accommodation. At the end of March 2021, there were around 117,000 live housing benefit claims. Again, that shows us why social housing is so important. Housing benefit enables people to get that social housing, and so it is really important for us in Northern Ireland. There were 18,000 new housing benefit claims assessed in the year to 31 March 2021. In the past year, almost 110,000 emergency home repairs were carried out. Again, many Members, including the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) who spoke before me, have talked about that leak in the roof. We deal with leaks in the roof every day not just because of the rain, but because they are a fact of life.
The number of applicants on the waiting list and in housing stress in the borough increased during 2020. By March 2021, there were about 3,100 applicants on the waiting list for Ards and North Down Borough Council, with 2,144 in housing stress. The social housing market does not meet this need. The difficulty we have in my area is that a number of landlords have decided to sell their rental properties to make the most of the bump in house prices. Of course prices are coming down now—by 10%, according to the figures in the press last week. Some people think those prices could fall by as much as 30%. Whatever value has been made in housing over the past two years could evaporate very quickly. Houses have been sold and potential rental accommodation has been sold as well. That and the inevitable increase in rent means that a lack of one or two-bed suitable housing sees a single person paying £625 per month—that is the figure in my constituency—for a terraced home. Local housing allowance or housing benefit is just over £404, so a single person has to find another few hundred pounds to make rent, never mind pay for gas, electric and food. That comes at a time when energy prices are going through the roof.
The Bill cannot alleviate all our problems, but it can go some way to making them better. Those who are working and not entitled to housing benefit are in an awful predicament; there simply is not the affordable housing for the low-income person or family. There must be a push to getting housing stock in the market up to scratch.
I agree with the Bill, but my fear is that, while public sector housing landlords will bid for more money to meet their obligations, private sector landlords will simply decide that selling is their best option. I can understand that someone wants to make a profit on a property that they have bought, or wants to let a property go because they can no longer afford to keep it, but perhaps the Minister can give us some indication of how we can prevent that from happening and build our stock, rather than lose it.
The Government must ensure that, along with the rights and proper regulations contained in the Bill, there is support for those landlords who let affordable housing and want to meet their obligations, but do not want to spend more than the house is worth. The hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) said that not every landlord is a bad landlord—we must remember that they are not. Many are committed to making properties better. Sometimes we have to work with the landlord to see how we can help them to move forward.
We must provide help for social housing tenants to access improvements and schemes that are part funded by a designated fund, and ensure that those who simply cannot get social housing can find affordable housing that is fit for standard. That must be done in co-operation with landlords who are not making a killing, charge an affordable rate, yet simply cannot bear the entire cost of double-glazed windows or anything else that is essential.
I understand that the Bill will be discussed and regulations will be brought forward in the near future. The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) referred to an amendment that she will table. It is an excellent amendment and, if accepted by Government, it will be a positive step in the right direction. I ask the Minister to consider the scheme that I have outlined, which cannot be abused and will retain affordable housing stock, rather than cause the sale of yet more housing stock.
It is a pleasure to close this debate for the Opposition. I thank all those who have contributed and echo the sentiments expressed at the outset by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about the other place. As they always do, their lordships brought a considerable amount of expertise to bear in scrutinising the Bill. As a result, it has already been improved in several important respects. I thank them, in particular our friend Baroness Hayman of Ullock, for their efforts and for the constructive, cross-party approach adopted throughout the proceedings.
It would be remiss of me if I did not also use this opportunity to pay tribute, on behalf of the Opposition, to the work of Grenfell United and the Grenfell Foundation, who have pushed at every turn for this legislation to come forward and to ensure it is made as robust as possible. Lastly, I commend the contribution of all those who have been a voice for social housing tenants over so many years, including campaigners such as Kwajo Tweneboa, ITV’s Daniel Hewitt and many hon. Members in the Chamber this evening.
There have been a number of excellent contributions in the debate. In total, I counted 10 speeches from Back Benchers, some of them incredibly powerful, and all of them in complete agreement that the Bill should proceed, and at pace. That such agreement exists across the House reflects a shared understanding that the lives of far too many social housing tenants are blighted by poor conditions, and far too many social landlords fail to treat their tenants with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
As the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, made clear, given the scale of the problem, the Opposition regret how long it took the Government to bring this legislation forward. It is now more than five years since the horror of Grenfell, more than four since the Green Paper was issued, and nearly two since the White Paper was published. Surely, time could have been found earlier to pass what is, after all, a short and uncontroversial Bill, but one of real significance for millions of social housing tenants across the country.
That criticism aside, the Opposition welcome the Bill and what it contains. We are determined to see it strengthened in a number of areas, so that standards in social housing markedly and rapidly improve, tenants are able to pursue effective redress and we can better respond to pressing issues such as the problems of serious violence highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). We will work with the Government to secure its passage today.
As we have heard, the Bill has three distinct aspects: first, it introduces a new consumer regulation regime; secondly, it overhauls the existing economic regulatory regime; and, thirdly, it provides the social housing regulator with new powers to enforce both. The second of those parts is entirely unproblematic, and as such I will only speak to the first and the third.
The provisions that relate to the new consumer regulatory regime comprise the bulk of the Bill, and they have understandably been the focus of many of the contributions in this debate. In general terms, we very much welcome the stronger and more proactive consumer regulations the Bill provides for. There are specific issues in relation to each that we intend to raise in Committee, but we welcome changes to the housing ombudsman powers, the introduction of new duties for social landlords relating to electrical safety checks, the requirement that registered providers nominate a designated person for health and safety issues, and the measures relating to the provision of information to both tenants and the regulator.
We support the expansion of the regulator’s current fundamental objectives to include those of safety, transparency and, following the well-deserved success of Baroness Hayman’s amendment on standards relating to energy demand, energy efficiency. There would, however, appear to be a difference of opinion between the Government and ourselves on whether it may be appropriate to add additional objectives, not least the monitoring of building safety remediation works, and we will seek to explore that matter in Committee.
We very much welcome the establishment of the advisory panel to provide independent and unbiased advice to the regulator and to proactively raise wider issues affecting social housing regulation. However, we are clear that the role of the panel should be enhanced, and we will press in Committee for its composition and functioning to be revised in order that it provides a more effective conduit for the voice of tenants and gives them a greater role in shaping national policy.
Lastly, we welcome the concession made by the Government in the other place in relation to professional training and qualifications, and the resulting inclusion of clause 21. However, and here I reference the very strong argument made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), we believe the Government need to go further if we are to be certain that the Bill will expedite the professionalisation of the sector, and we will be seeking in Committee to strengthen the Bill to that end.
The provisions that relate to the regulator’s enforcement powers and strengthening them are critical to ensuring both the consumer and the economic regulatory regimes function effectively. Again, while there are measures that we will press the Government to consider—for example, giving the regulator the power to order compensation to tenants—in general terms we very much welcome what is proposed in allowing for unlimited fines for non-compliance, the deregistration of social landlords, performance improvement plans, emergency repairs in instances where a tenant faces an imminent health and safety risk, and the removal of the serious detriment test.
We support the introduction of regular inspections, and I commend Lord Best on his work in the other place to strengthen the Bill in relation to them. However, the Bill still does not set out the scope of such inspections or how frequently they should take place. We are convinced it will need tightening in Committee if tenants are to have confidence that landlords will be monitored appropriately. We also remain concerned, and this is a point that several hon. Members made in the debate, about the very real risk that the regulator will struggle to discharge its new functions given the volume of individual tenant complaints it is likely to receive once its remit has been expanded. In particular, we are concerned it will not be adequately resourced to perform its new inspections role. That is why we are convinced that the Government must consider more carefully how they can help to ensure the regulator is not overburdened—for example, by doing more to enable tenants to enforce repairs themselves—and that it has the resources it will require to carry out its enhanced role, such as by allowing it to retain the proceeds of any fines levied to help fund its work.
Before I conclude, I want to touch very briefly on an issue rightly raised by the shadow Secretary of State in her remarks, and that is social housing supply. By means of reduced grant funding, the introduction of the so-called affordable rent tenure, increased right-to-buy discounts and numerous other policy interventions, the Government have engineered the decline of social housing over the past 12 years, presiding over an average net loss of 12,000 desperately needed, genuinely affordable homes each and every year throughout that period. We fully appreciate that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for reversing that decline, but we are also very clear that it cannot be silent on the issue. Provisions could be included in the Bill to help to identify the precise level of need that now exists across the country for social rented homes, and to make suggestions about how a Government serious about tackling the housing crisis can meet that need. We intend to explore that in Committee because, despite the fine words in the White Paper and the usual comforting but ultimately hollow rhetoric deployed by the Secretary of State, the Government are doing nowhere near enough to deliver the volume of social homes our country needs.
To conclude, the Bill is long overdue but wholly necessary and we are pleased it will progress today. Those currently living in poor-quality, badly managed social housing need a better deal. Just yesterday, I received an email from Nicola, a constituent living in Woolwich whose landlord is a member of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations. She felt she had no other choice than to contact me as her MP because for nearly two weeks she has had water pouring down her walls and over her plug sockets, without any meaningful action on the part of her landlord. As we have heard in the debate, cases like Nicola’s are not a rarity, but an all too frequent occurrence. The Grenfell community know more than anyone that poorly managed and underregulated social housing can have fatal consequences. Only last week, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) mentioned, details were published about the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak following prolonged exposure to damp and mould in the social home his family rented in Rochdale. We must overhaul the regulation of social housing to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of tenants across the country because everyone has a basic right to a decent, safe, secure and affordable home.
We will work constructively with the Government on the Bill, but we will also do everything in our power to further strengthen it because tenants deserve the most robust piece of legislation that this House can possibly deliver. For today, we welcome its progress in the hope that it will mark a turning point in the protection, empowerment and de-stigmatisation of those living in England’s 4 million social homes.
I sincerely thank Members across the House for their valuable contributions to the debate, but also for the constructive nature in which they have engaged with this crucial legislation. I was pleased to hear that Members from across the House support the principles of the Bill. It is imperative that we get it on to the statute book quickly, so it can deliver the change the sector needs and the change we all know tenants deserve.
It is right that I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), and many other Members across the House: Grenfell United and the community as a whole have displayed incredible courage and determination over the last five years, turning their own terrible experiences into important and lasting change. Their tireless endeavour has helped to bring this historic legislation before Members today and I wholeheartedly commend them. The Bill is part of their legacy and the legacy of the 72 who sadly lost their lives. The residents in the tower were put in an appalling situation that never should have occurred. We have a duty to ensure that it never happens again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) is no longer in his place, but spoke passionately about the fact that all social tenants should be treated with respect, a sentiment that all of us across the House certainly share. I put on record my thanks for all the work he did in this particular policy area.
A few Members spoke about the stigma around social housing. We absolutely need to reduce it. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Wigan, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). I particularly thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall for sharing her own story. It is clear that she is incredibly passionate about this issue and I hope she will continue to campaign on it with the vigour she has shown to date.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) rightly praised those working in the social housing sector and I share that praise. We have heard tales today of bad practice, but that is very much a minority of people working in the sector. We need to recognise the hard work and dedication of those across the sector to ensure their tenants are in safe and secure housing and are protected. He was also right to say that social landlords must fulfil their obligations. He rightly raised improvement plans and the new fines that will be put in place as part of the Bill.
We have heard from across the House examples of bad practice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) raised examples from the experiences of their own constituents. I must add my voice in praising Kwajo for his tireless campaigning. Stories like his prove why it is so crucial that we pass the Bill today.
The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) spoke of Georgia’s law. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult Georgia and her son’s experience must have been, but I would be grateful for the opportunity to sit down with the hon. Member to discuss that further before we get to the Committee stage.
A number of Members discussed whether we should go further on the professionalisation of the sector, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. I add my sincere thanks to her for her steadfast campaigning since the terrible tragedy occurred in June 2017. The Government firmly believe that the housing sector should have competent and respectful staff who can meet tenants’ needs and deliver high-quality services. That is why we ran a professionalisation review from January to July this year. It brought together tenant representative groups, including Grenfell United, trade bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Housing, landlords, and housing academics to consider the optimum approaches to staff development in the social housing sector. The review was informed by independent research that mapped the current qualifications and training landscape. The review concluded that there was no one-size-fits-all qualification that encompassed every facet of the social housing sector’s requirements, although I note the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead about whether it is possible to develop a slightly more detailed set of proposals on those qualifications.
My right hon. Friend also raised a point about potential reclassification by the Office for National Statistics, and rightly outlined a concern we have in Government about the risk that could bring to taxpayers, particularly the fact that £90 billion of debt could be brought on to the public ledger, which is a very real consideration for us. She asked whether it was possible to engage with the ONS, and whether any engagement had already occurred. The ONS will only make a formal classification decision on new policy or regulation once that has already been implemented. In exceptional circumstances, the Government can ask the ONS to perform a policy proposal review, but as the policy is currently still being developed, we are not in a position to request that formal review. The risk assessment that we have undertaken is based on our work with the Treasury classification team, who work closely with the ONS and have in-depth knowledge of the classification framework and its application to the social housing sector. I would be happy to sit down with my right hon. Friend and discuss the issue further before the Bill goes to Committee.
Inspections were raised by a number of hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford and the hon. Member for Battersea. The regulator has committed to delivering regular consumer inspections as part of the new proactive regime. Inspections will help the regulator to hold landlords to account and take action where necessary, ultimately driving up the standard of service delivery to tenants. The Government tabled an amendment in the Lords to put that commitment into law, which gives the regulator a duty to publish and take reasonable steps to implement a plan for regular inspections. The system of inspections will be based on a risk profile to ensure that those landlords at greatest risk of failing, or where failure might have the greatest impact on tenants, are subject to greater oversight. As part of that, the regulator will aim to inspect landlords with more than 1,000 homes every four years. We have had a positive response from stakeholders, including Lord Best and Shelter, since we placed that measure in the Bill.
Let me touch quickly on supported housing. The Government are investing £20 million in a supported housing improvement programme to drive up quality in that sector. My Department is actively engaging with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and the charity Crisis, which is campaigning passionately on this issue, to see how we can address the problems raised. Social housing supply was raised by the hon. Members for Wigan, for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for Battersea, and for Salford and Eccles. The provision of affordable housing is an existing part of the Government’s plans to build more homes and provide aspiring homeowners with a step on to the housing ladder. Our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme will deliver thousands of affordable homes for both rent and to buy right across the country. The Levelling Up White Paper committed to increasing the supply of social rented homes, and a large number of the new homes delivered through our affordable housing programme will be for social rents.
I congratulate the new Minister who is admirably summing up what I thought was a remarkably thoughtful, consensual and non-partisan debate. On a slightly lighter note, can we do something about the name of the social housing regulator? It does not have to be off-roof, or even roof-off, but could we have something a bit snappier that might strike fear into the hearts of complacent housing association chief executives, of whom there are sadly still too many?
I will certainly take that suggestion on board. If my right hon. Friend has any ideas, I will accept them on a postcard or via WhatsApp. He now has a mission to come up with a snappy name.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) raised the subject of energy efficiency. Baroness Hayman tabled a successful amendment in the other place that ties the Government into producing a strategy on energy efficiency in the social rented sector within 12 months of Royal Assent. We are considering how to address that new provision in the Bill and will update the House shortly.
The hon. Members for Vauxhall, for Wigan, for North Shropshire and for Mitcham and Morden touched on the resourcing of the regulator. We are firmly committed to ensuring that the regulator has the resources that it needs not only to deliver the new consumer regulation regime but to ensure that it continues to regulate its economic objectives effectively. We have made an additional £4.6 million available in 2022-23 to support the new regime. We will potentially be introducing changes to the fee regime, which will be subject to consultation to ensure that the regulator is funded appropriately.
The hon. Member for Strangford, as always, adopted a constructive approach, wanting to ensure that those in Northern Ireland learn the lessons of the terrible tragedy of Grenfell and that they can benefit from some of the incredible measures that we are bringing forward in the Bill. He will have heard the Secretary of State speak about his engagement with devolved Administration Ministers and officials; I hope that that has provided him with some assurance.
We have heard today how a Bill with a relatively small number of clauses can have such a large impact. Addressing housing in this country is central to our levelling-up mission. It is essential that social tenants live in safe, good-quality homes provided by responsible, well-run registered providers. I am pleased to be closing this insightful Second Reading debate; seeing how passionately Members across the House feel about the Bill only reinforces its importance. I look forward to taking the Bill through Committee and working with shadow Ministers and all interested Members across the House so that we can bring real, lasting change to the social housing sector.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords]:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 13 December 2022.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Nigel Huddleston.)
Question agreed to.
Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords] (Money)
King’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Nigel Huddleston.)
Question agreed to.
Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords] (Ways and Means)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees.—(Nigel Huddleston.)
Question agreed to.