Clause 1: Fundamental objectives
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after “safe” insert “, energy efficient”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the fundamental objectives to include reference to energy efficiency
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a councillor. I apologise to the House that, due to train delays, I was unable to speak at Second Reading, though I was here for most of that debate, bar for about three minutes.
This Bill is broadly accepted—certainly by those of us on our Benches—but there are some additions which we think would make it better. Back in July, when my noble friend Lady Thornhill and I tabled this amendment on energy efficiency, little did we know that the issue would be even more in the public eye and even more important to address in a strategic way. The amendment, which adds the words “energy efficient” to the fundamental objectives set out in Clause 1, must surely now be a priority for any Government.
Our country’s energy security is finally at the heart of government thinking. The cost of energy for tenants—many of whom will be among those with the lowest incomes—means that they will be completely unable to meet their basic needs. Improving energy efficiency is one of the key planks of a longer-term strategy to ensure energy at a cost that can be afforded. As this is undeniably the case, I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment.
Houses in Britain are some of the worst insulated in Europe—it is shameful to have to say that, but it is true. The Government aim to improve the energy efficiency of homes, but what appears to be lacking is a practical plan to achieve those absolutely essential improvements.
The properties in the social housing sector will, in the main, have been built post-1920, when cavity walls became the norm. One-third of heat loss is through walls. Prior to 1990, cavity wall insulation was not the norm, although it can be done relatively easily. Ensuring that loft insulation is 300 millimetres deep—the current new-build standard—will also help, as will double glazing, although the majority of properties will already have double glazing, albeit at the lower efficient level installed at the time. The Government have the stated intention of exchanging gas boilers for heat pumps, which are effective only with very well insulated homes. Therefore, achieving more energy-efficient social housing should be a priority, which is the purpose of the simple amendment that we have laid today.
Achieving better energy efficiency is not difficult if there is a will to do so. When I was leader of Kirklees Council, about 15 years ago we had what we called the warm zone scheme, which provided free loft and cavity wall insulation to all homes, regardless of tenure—not just social housing but all homes—and which was part- funded by a levy on energy companies. In total, nearly 100,000 homes benefited. If it was that easy to do—to be honest, it was not that difficult—it can be done now on a nationwide basis, and ought to be done. It is practical but will happen only if the sector is required to make it a priority; hence the purpose of the amendment.
This amendment is about the principle of energy efficiency, and Amendment 21, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is much more detailed in nature and provides specific targets for energy efficiency, which of course we will support wholeheartedly.
I also wish to speak to Amendment 4 to Clause 1, which is also in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornhill. The purpose of this amendment is to provide the regulator with a duty to report on the removal of unsafe cladding and the remediation of fire safety defects in social housing. Members of the Committee may be thinking that the issue of unsafe cladding and other fire safety defects has been resolved; the solution was the Building Safety Act. Unfortunately, there are many unresolved problems, and for the social housing sector the challenge is that of the lack of funding for dealing with essential remediations.
The National Housing Federation estimated earlier this year that remediation costs for its sector will be about £10 billion and for social housing owned by local authorities a further £8 billion. Social housing landlords do not have access to funding for non-ACM cladding removal—so there is no funding for the other fire safety defects. There is also no funding to cover costs for tenants in the same way as there is for leaseholders. One of the consequences is that tenants, through their rents, will be contributing to the cost of remediation.
Imposing the cost of remediation on social housing landlords obviously has knock-on effects on plans for other refurbishment, or could even stall plans for new homes. An excellent research paper from the House of Commons Library was published in June on this issue, from which I got some of that information.
The aim of the Bill is a good one: to ensure safe homes in the social housing sector. Fire safety cannot be ignored as being too expensive or too difficult. As we know, tragically, ignoring fire safety costs lives. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment to provide regular assurance that fire and building safety remediation work is being completed in the social housing sector. With that, I look forward to the rest of the debate on this group of amendments, which are fundamental to getting improvements to an otherwise sound Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, it may be helpful to the Committee to continue the theme of energy efficiency, rather than going through the amendments numerically, so I will do so. I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, I have Amendment 21 in this group, and I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Foster of Bath, who have added their names to it.
At Second Reading of the Bill in July, there was similar support from across the House—on all Benches—for action on energy efficiency in the social housing stock. The Minister himself described action as a “must”, but I am afraid he stopped there in describing how that action would actually be implemented. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, social housing tenants are among the most vulnerable in the current energy crisis. The Government’s own most recent data shows that 72% of new lead tenants were not in employment; 20% of new lettings were reserved to those who were statutorily homeless. Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit shows that houses in EPC band D, which are 35% of social housing, will pay £600 more a year under the cap as it is at the moment than those in band C, and forecasts from Cornwall Insight suggest that that could be doubled next year.
The money that we are led to believe will be spent in subsidising—paying for—those bills is money that literally goes up in smoke. The money spent on home insulation and energy efficiency is money that does not have to be spent year after year when we have an energy price crisis. This was recognised by the Government in the clean growth strategy in 2017, when they committed to consultation on minimum energy performance standards in social housing, but we have seen no plan—not even a consultation on a plan or a plan on a consultation. Hence the need to take action in the Bill to put the requirement in primary legislation and get moving with doing this.
As the noble Baroness said, this amendment is more detailed than hers. We have framed it as a duty on the Government to publish a strategy. I hope that others will agree that this is the most appropriate approach. It should not be a duty on social housing providers to improve properties without any government support, nor a duty on government to go into properties that they do not own and forcibly improve them without landlord and tenant consent. A duty for a strategy will require input from social housing providers, tenants and community groups and the specialist and general firms who carry out the work.
The amendment is relatively simple. Proposed new subsection (1) gives the social housing regulator the power to set standards in relation to energy demand—a slightly different approach from that in Amendment 1 —and requires the regulator to have regard to the Government’s strategy on this topic when it does so. Proposed new subsection (2), which is the meat of it, requires the Government to set out an energy reduction strategy, with four key points.
The first is the rollout of low-carbon heat, so that it accounts for 100% of installations by 2035. The low-carbon heat could equally well come from heat pumps or local heat networks. This is simply putting a commitment that the Government have already made, but are not making a lot of progress with, on a statutory footing.
The second is an EPC rating of C for all social housing properties by 2028. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that year; the Government have suggested 2030, but it is important that we make progress now.
The third point is to have interim targets for the first two points. We have all seen the dangers of putting very high-level commitments out in principle while not seeing any plan for their implementation and no milestone so that we can tell how far we are going. Interim targets would give transparency for tracking the government target for energy-efficiency improvements made each year and would maintain momentum.
The fourth point is a plan to support social housing providers in engaging with one another, the social housing regulator, and a single source of government advice. This is really important. One of the things that people are flailing around for is the best way to do things in the current crisis. It is tremendously important that the Government, who have referred to providing a source of advice, do so urgently, so that we do not all reinvent wheels all over the place. Proposed new subsection (3) requires the Government to consult the Climate Change Committee, which has significant expertise in this area, when producing their strategy—another belt and braces to ensure that we are making progress.
Ideally, we would be tackling energy efficiency across all fields. There is a huge gain to be made there. The noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Whitty, and I will be tabling amendments to the Energy Bill for a broader government strategy. However, we can and should make progress now with this particularly vulnerable group of people. As I said, 2017 was the first time that this was mooted by the Government. The adage is that the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The best time to have begun this strategy was five years ago, but the second-best time to plant a tree is today. I hope that the Minister will respond by doing this now.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and to support her in this amendment, along with the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, who has also added his name to it. I declare my interests as published in the register. I am also a member of Peers for the Planet. It sounds like saying that I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, not that I have ever had to do that. This is an extremely important amendment.
As has been noted, at Second Reading there was very strong support from around the House for the Bill’s objectives, and I am clear that that will remain the case. There is also strong support from around the Committee for the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero, and for the work of the Committee on Climate Change. What we need to do, through this legislation, is provide some heft to that commitment, because what is lacking, as the noble Baroness noted, is a road map to take us to the very noble aim of net zero. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, rightly said, since Second Reading, it has become even more evident how important this is—in very graphic terms, with the eye-watering price of energy and energy security centre stage following the dreadful situation in Ukraine. I think that is recognised by the incoming Prime Minister, but I say to the Minister, who has a long list of things to take up with the incoming Prime Minister and Ministers, that this is an opportunity for a very early demonstration of this Government’s commitment to tackling this very serious issue by tackling not just climate change but the energy security issue and, not least, the eye-watering cost of energy that we face currently.
At this juncture it is clear, as clear as it can be, that any action to reduce energy demand is sensible and vital. As is often said, the energy that is cheapest is the energy that we do not use. One thing we can perhaps take some comfort from, in a slightly bizarre way, is that we have got more ground to make up in this country than many other countries in relation to energy efficiency. There is a lot we can be doing; there is massive scope for energy efficiency and, indeed, for demand reduction, which this amendment is geared to. By reducing energy demand, we contribute to the fight for net zero, we contribute to helping ease the massive cost of energy and we also contribute to our energy security. These three pillars are all vital in this battle, and this amendment—a very modest amendment, really—would contribute to all three. The commitment to the low-carbon heat target of 100% of new installations of heating appliances and a minimum EPC rating of C for all social housing is, I believe, achievable and vital.
I appeal to the Government to come forward with a positive programme of engagement with social housing landlords, and advice, also very sensible and provided for in this amendment. I am sure it would have support from all corners of the Committee and would contribute in a very positive way to something that we know our country needs to do. I trust that the Government will demonstrate their commitment to net zero, to easing the cost of energy and to achieving energy security by supporting this amendment. It is a practical, pragmatic, sensible response to the energy crisis, will be seen as such, and will be seen as an early demonstration of the commitment of this Government. So I hope that is what the Minister will say when she responds to this group of amendments.
My Lords, I begin, as I did at Second Reading, by reminding noble Lords that this Bill is part of the response to the Grenfell Tower fire. Yet again, I offer my condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in that dreadful tragedy. I support all the amendments in this group, including Amendment 21, which carries my name alongside those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, both of whom have done excellent work in these areas over several years. I also support the amendments from my noble friends Lady Thornhill and Lady Pinnock, and of course I particularly support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose work on housing over many years has been inspirational.
Millions of families live in social housing. They are often the least well off and impacted the most by the current rocketing energy prices. We have something like 15 million homes, across all forms of tenure, that are below energy performance certificate band C; in other words, we have 15 million homes that are inadequately insulated, and many of them are in the social housing sector. As a Times article said a week ago:
“Our latest analysis, published today in partnership with economists at the CEBR, underlines the scale of the growing energy efficiency divide in Britain. From October, the two thirds of households living in homes rated below the government’s target EPC C rating, are set to pay £748 more per year for their energy than the third living in homes at or above the threshold.”
As the Minister knows, I have, through two Private Members’ Bills, one of them still awaiting a Committee stage—I hope she might help me out with that—and amendments to other pieces of legislation, frequently raised the need for the Government to place their own already agreed targets for improving energy efficiency into legislation to give the industry, so badly let down by previous schemes, the confidence it needs to invest in the technology, skills and equipment to achieve this. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others, I have tabled amendments to the Energy Bill to seek to achieve that.
However, for this Bill too we need to set a clear focus on these issues. Energy efficiency should indeed be a fundamental objective of this Bill and we need a strategy for energy demand reduction. After all, the alternatives—some palatable, others frankly less so—from renewables and further drilling in the North Sea to nuclear and fracking, cannot, perhaps with the exception of solar, deliver increased energy supplies for several years to come. The crisis is now, which is why I believe we should stop homes leaking heat with a crash programme of energy efficiency, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, will reduce fuel bills for years to come.
Unfortunately, the situation on home energy insulation is, frankly, dire. Just a week ago, on 30 August, the Independent pointed out:
“Home insulation installations have plunged by 50 per cent this year as the government wound down a failing grant scheme, new figures reveal, adding to the pain of rocketing energy bills. Ministers are accused of failing to take basic measures to help people cut their energy use”.
The article continues:
“Just 126,131 homes received help with work such as loft and cavity wall insulation through the Energy Company Obligation scheme in the first six months of 2022”—
a 51% fall on the number of installations carried out in the same period last year, which itself followed a “shocking” decade of failure to act, as climate experts have claimed. As the article notes, Doug Parr, policy director at the campaign group Greenpeace, said:
“It’s frankly astonishing that this dip in insulation rates comes at exactly the time we should be ramping up this proven, long-term solution to the cost of living crisis.”
Mike Childs from Friends of the Earth said:
“This winter, millions of households will be paying sky-high bills for heat that will simply escape through roofs, walls and draughty windows and doors. The next prime minister must make energy efficiency a top priority”.
It is interesting to see that traditionally Conservative-supporting newspapers are particularly depressed by the current Government’s failure in this regard. On 28 August, the Sun, under the heading:
“The energy crisis alone should make it obvious that we cannot afford to waste a single kilowatt”
“it is shocking to find the number of homes being padded out to reduce heat loss has more than halved this year. And the number of insulation installations being carried out is at its lowest since 2018. Householders faced with astronomical heating costs need lagging for their homes, not a government lagging behind.”
Even the Telegraph, on 31 August, drew attention to the disproportionate energy cost rises for those living in poorly insulated homes compared with those in better-insulated ones.
I genuinely believe that the case for making energy efficiency a fundamental objective of this Bill and for establishing a proper strategy for demand reduction is overwhelming. I support the amendments that call for that, as I do the other amendments in the group.
My Lords, I want to speak about energy efficiency as well, because clearly this is something that no one can disagree with. It is smart and, at the very least, good business practice—not to mention that it helps people on very low incomes.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, pointed out, social housing landlords have a huge challenge to raise the energy efficiency of the homes they look after and to bring them up to modern standards, simply because they do not have the money. If the Government are not going to give them a handout or ease the energy crisis in all sorts of ways, they need to make it possible and to make funding less incredibly difficult. The situation is getting worse day by day, as supply chain issues and the rate of inflation keep shooting up.
At the moment, the main source of funding for social housing improvements seems to be borrowing against future income from social rents. This means a very tight pot of funding, where energy-efficiency measures have to compete against issues such as maintenance, renovation and new home building. The Government could create new fundraising opportunities for local authorities. Some of this could be grant funding but there are other options too, such as facilitating the creation of climate bonds and other sorts of financing.
I hope that tackling this funding gap for social housing is a priority of this Government. It would help so many people. I look forward to the Minister sharing the Government’s plans and, I hope, bringing forward something on this issue on Report.
My Lords, I want to briefly record my support for the intent of all these amendments for both social and environmental reasons. The tenants of social landlords need to be prioritised by improving their energy efficiency, and hence cutting their bills. Because it is a significant proportion of our housing stock, to meet the net-zero pathway it is necessary for the social housing sector to make a step change in the improvement of its premises.
To achieve that, there are responsibilities on government, not least in pursuing the strategy that the speech and amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, address, but there are wider responsibilities on government to create the overall policy and the legislative and regulatory framework to ensure that it is delivered. There are also responsibilities on social landlords, and that should be made explicit to them, but the Bill is primarily about the regulator. The regulator’s central duty ought to include energy-efficiency objectives. I regard that as an important missing dimension of the Bill. I would argue this in relation to almost any other legislation, in any field, that changes or introduces new regulation. We need a net-zero objective in our social and economic regulators’ responsibilities and terms of reference.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. When pursued on energy-efficiency matters on the Energy Bill and in other contexts, her noble friend and colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, often says that part of the Government’s solution is to fund the programme of improving social housing. I find it difficult to say that that is sufficient. Does the Minister know what proportion of the totality of social housing premises, or whatever subset of that she has information on—large estates, in particular—has been addressed since the Government’s intention that social housing’s energy efficiency be improved, both by insulation and by the source of its energy, became clear? If she does not have that information today, perhaps her department and BEIS could provide me with an answer.
The second question is on planning, which clearly is within her department’s responsibility. Many social housing estates, mainly in the local authority but also in some housing association areas, are faced with major schemes of regeneration. Too often, in my view, local authorities and developers, when faced with demands or requests for regeneration, opt for demolition and rebuild. In almost all cases, demolition in each of its stages and the rebuild have a larger carbon content than most schemes of refurbishment. When will the planning process address this and ensure that it is a central issue for those planning authorities faced with propositions from social landlords?
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 2 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock. I wish also to echo from these Benches the support for the amendment in the name of the inspirational—I agree with that—noble Lord, Lord Best, on the same topic. The fundamental difference between the two amendments is simply that our amendment to Clause 1 would make it a fundamental objective of the Bill, while the noble Lord’s amendment seeks to ensure that the regulator has the powers to require housing associations to safeguard and promote the interests of the homeless and potentially homeless. Therefore, I am pleased to say that they work very well together.
We are seeking this simple amendment as a fundamental objective because, without it, there is a real danger that, as the Government quite rightly and understandably tighten the regulation of social housing as outlined in the Bill, social housing providers themselves, many of whom are fairly cash-strapped, will prioritise that which is being measured for fear of being named, shamed and fined. So they should, you might say, but it will have consequences for the homeless and those in temporary accommodation. This is a phenomenon that has been experienced with former council inspections and with Ofsted.
The fact that several housing associations have formed themselves into their own group, known as Homes for Cathy, shows that many take their homelessness prevention work seriously and strive to house people away from the streets, sofas and the overcrowded conditions that they might currently live in. Quite simply, we believe that this work is significant, valuable and essential, and therefore should be monitored by the regulator as part of a provider’s performance improvement plan.
During the pandemic, heroic efforts were made by government, councils, voluntary groups and housing providers to significantly reduce the numbers sleeping rough, which according to the 2022 government figures stand at an eight-year low. This is to be commended and is indeed good news, but we have to set it against the same set of annual figures that show that the numbers in temporary housing have been rising steadily since 2011. There are over 96,000 households in such accommodation as of September last year. Extremely worryingly, that figure includes over 121,000 children. We are all aware of the negative impacts this leads to, not only on a child’s education but on their general health and well-being.
Regrettably, I know from personal experience that the quality of that accommodation has deteriorated due to several factors, not least the inexorable decline in the number of social homes being built to move families on to; that is a debate for another day but a relevant factor. I will never forget the day that my head of housing came to see me urgently. Knowing that I was proud of our record of never having to use bed and breakfasts for homeless families, she was not looking forward to telling the mayor that that day we were placing families into a hotel for the very first time. Such were the pressures mounting on our housing stock. Now it is commonplace for councils to use bed and breakfasts, hotels and hostels—albeit the time for that is now limited by statute—before a move to temporary accommodation, which is when other problems begin.
Temporary accommodation, sad to say, is often inadequate—a room in a shared house that is overcrowded and in need of repairs or in poor condition. Critically, it can even be in another town, miles away from your workplace or children’s schools. It is not unusual for families to be in temporary accommodation for years. Shelter and the LGA have evidence of some families being housed in this way for a decade or more. That has to be unacceptable. Getting people off the street and out of temporary accommodation are two sides of the same coin. That should be an important function of all providers; we need it to be.
The key reason for putting this homelessness provision in the Bill as a key objective is that the situation is only going to get worse. Analysis by Heriot-Watt University projects that the current number of those experiencing rough sleeping is set to increase, particularly as market rents continue to diverge from local housing allowance levels, which are not rising with inflation as they are currently frozen. We do not need to be experts to work out that the current cost of living crisis will make the situation worse as residents inevitably fall behind in their rent, deferring those payments as they prioritise food and heating as more immediate needs.
We want the amendment to evidence the Government’s —I like the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne —heft and commitment to this. Without that, we believe that this will not get measured, and we will inevitably get only what is being measured. Society cannot afford any reduction in this work, so pressure must be maintained and support given. We cannot afford for social housing providers to start to play down this work.
Many providers already do this work and are proud of it, and need recognition that this work is valued and essential. The recent report on the Bill by the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee regrettably suggested that some providers are already moving away from their social objectives. Enshrining this amendment as an objective should ensure that housing associations maintain a reasonable focus on homelessness activities and monitor such information on lettings to homeless households, evictions and tenancy-sustainment work. We hope the Government will support the amendment, as I think it will give a real filter on the true housing crisis that we all know exists.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 22 in this group. It links to and complements Amendment 2, just spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. The two together underscore the role of social housing regulation in securing accommodation for those who are homeless or are likely soon to be so.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I apologise on behalf of LNER for arriving too late to speak at Second Reading. I hope your Lordships will forgive me adding an introductory preface to my advocacy for the amendment.
I have spent well over 50 years supporting the social housing sector and have been both on the receiving end of social housing regulation and a participant in regulatory policy-making. From these perspectives, I recognise that poorly designed regulation can interfere with the independence, freedom, flexibility and diversity of approaches of social housing providers, but a bigger part of me recognises that a well-designed regulatory system is a positive. By ensuring adherence to good standards, regulation enhances the sector’s support from its residents, central and local government, investors, partners and the wider public. That is why I welcome the Bill. Indeed, an effective system of regulation is essential if the sector is to grow, as it must, to meet the desperate need for more decent and affordable homes.
This brings me to the first of the two amendments I am putting forward today. Amendment 22 takes us to the heart of why we have a social housing sector in the first place and to the role of regulation in ensuring these providers fulfil the most pressing of the roles which society expects of them. Amendment 2, put forward by the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Thornhill, makes addressing homelessness issues part of the objectives of the regulator. Amendment 22 enables the regulator to require social housing landlords to comply with standards it sets regarding homeless and potentially homeless households.
The amendment is being sought by a group of over 100 housing associations and other housing charities called Homes for Cathy, which is led by David Bogle of Hightown Housing Association. Many of your Lordships will hear the echoes of the famous documentary drama “Cathy Come Home”, which revealed the horrors of becoming homeless back in 1966. The programme inspired many of us to get involved in social housing. Several of the organisations in Homes for Cathy today were established at that time to rescue people from homelessness and prevent households suffering the horrors of homelessness. Sadly, as we all know so well, this problem is still with us.
The Government are committed to ending street homelessness by 2024 and great progress was made by local authorities and social housing bodies during the height of the pandemic. Today we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, via email about renewed efforts to end rough sleeping, which I greatly welcome. Meanwhile, the number of homeless and would-be homeless who have had to be placed in temporary accommodation has grown alarmingly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, has mentioned.
It may seem obvious that social housing landlords should be expected to ease the problems of homeless families. Doing so is surely a key reason for the taxpayer supporting the sector. No one believes that the private rented sector can supply the secure homes we need at rents within the means of those on the lowest incomes. Unlike housing associations, councils have legal duties and statutory responsibilities for supporting homeless people. But local authorities—which are strapped for cash and have a hugely diminished stock after right-to-buy sales and after transferring their council housing to registered providers—now rely on the housing associations to help shoulder this task.
It is regrettable that not all the housing associations are doing as much as they could. Critics accuse some of the registered providers of avoiding housing those in the greatest need. In the year before Covid, registered providers evicted 10,000 tenants—effectively creating homelessness problems. Even allowing for the severe financial pressures they face at this difficult time, surely it must remain a key responsibility of housing associations to be meeting the needs of homeless and potentially homeless people.
Amendment 22 gives the regulator the power—not the obligation—to set standards of behaviour for registered providers in relation to safeguarding and promoting the interests of those who are homeless or may become homeless. This does not compel the regulator to do so or prescribe the form its action might take. In Scotland, for example, the Scottish Housing Regulator has placed a duty on social housing providers to report to the regulator on their homelessness activities.
This light-touch addition to the standards, for which the regulator in England can require compliance, seems entirely compatible with the Government’s aims to reduce homelessness. It enables the regulator to hold all the housing associations to account in their fundamental role of addressing the housing problems which the market cannot solve. It responds to the criticism that some parts of the social housing sector have forgotten their social motivations. It recognises the wonderful work many in the sector are doing and it enables the regulator to press all housing associations to do so too.
My Lords, this is an important Bill and it has our support. This is also an important debate, highlighting issues around energy costs and homelessness. Our position is that this is a good and important Bill, but there are areas in which it could be improved. I hope that the Minister is listening carefully to our debates, and I am sure that everyone here hopes to support the Government in making the Bill as good as it can be.
I will speak in support of the amendments on energy efficiency, which, in the light of rising and predicted costs, is clearly critical at the moment. I will first address Amendment 21, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and of course Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, which covers the same ground. The noble Baronesses spoke of the importance of tackling issues around energy efficiency. As we heard, the proposed new clause of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, requires the Secretary of State to publish a “Social Housing Energy Demand Reduction Strategy”. She went into some detail about how that could be achieved and what it needed to contain in order to help reduce energy consumption, fuel poverty and the emission of greenhouse gases.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned the Government’s clean growth strategy and their announcement five years ago, in 2017, about setting a target to get all housing up to energy performance certificate band C by 2030. Although many social housing providers have made strides to improve efficiency, we have heard in this debate that more needs to be done quicker. If we are to reach our net-zero targets by 2050, we must decarbonise our buildings, including the 2.7 million housing association homes in England. Housing association homes are, on average, more efficient than any other home but, as we heard, there is still much to do. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said that we have some catching up to do in this area, and he is absolutely right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, talked about insulation. We believe that social housing providers should be required to properly insulate properties to a high standard. Social housing tenants were not eligible for assistance under the new Green Deal, and some housing associations have in fact refused to insulate properties that are extremely cold and energy consuming in winter, simply because they do not have to do so. Insulating existing social housing properties would significantly reduce greenhouse emissions in the United Kingdom, help us to meet our legally binding CO2 reduction targets and potentially save the lives of many vulnerable people in the process. With people saying that they may have to choose between heating and eating this winter, this is even more critical.
This is not just about bringing existing properties up to energy band C; we also need to consider new build and our legislation around expected standards. According to Inside Housing, housing associations have built only a tiny number of homes that have the highest energy performance certificate rating of band A. The biggest 157 associations in the UK completed just under 50,000 homes in the 2021-22 financial year, but only 607 of those—1.2%—achieved a band A rating. In fact, the number of energy-efficient homes being completed by associations has actually fallen since last year, when they built 651 band A-rated properties. This data also shows that social landlords are falling behind the wider building sector. Two per cent of all new builds in England and Wales were EPC band A, according to the latest data. Although that rate is low, it is still more than 40% higher than the proportion built by housing associations.
Protecting people living in social housing from high energy bills is clearly important, because a high proportion of social tenants are on low incomes. We know that the energy crisis and the cost of living increases are causing severe financial difficulties for many housing association residents and are driving up costs for the housing associations themselves, as other noble Lords have mentioned during this debate.
While we know that many housing associations are doing all they can to help mitigate the impact of energy price rises on tenants and residents, the National Housing Federation has raised concerns that the price cap introduced by the Government to protect consumers does not help to lessen the cost for those on communal heat networks, which affects 153,000 housing association residents. Many of these residents are older, vulnerable and on very low incomes, so we must also protect these people from the rising energy costs. Will the Government look at communal heat networks and provide them with the same protections as other residents?
Alongside immediate help and support, a long-term strategy is needed from the Government on reducing energy demand. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that publishing a social housing energy demand reduction strategy will support the Government in achieving their net-zero targets, while at the same time helping to drive down fuel poverty. I hope the Minister has listened to the clear concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, in their introductions to their amendments.
I will now briefly comment on the two amendments in this group on safeguarding and supporting people who have become homeless, because this is an extremely important area that we need to tackle. The noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned the Government’s recently announced rough sleeping strategy to tackle homelessness, but this Bill provides a welcome opportunity not only to ensure that the provision of housing and support for homeless people and homeless households is recognised as an important consumer regulation objective, but to allow the regulator to have a role in monitoring registered providers in working with local government and other stakeholders to alleviate homelessness. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, made excellent introductions to their amendments, and I am sure they have given the Minister much to think about on improving strategy development to tackle this issue.
As drafted the Bill will ensure that registered providers provide safe, well-managed and quality homes, and that tenants have the opportunity to be involved in the management of those homes and can hold landlords to account. However, these important landlord responsibilities must continue to go hand in hand with duties to accommodate and support homeless people and households, and not to be seen by social landlords as an opportunity to cut back on this vital work or, potentially worse still, to house only compliant tenants who will give them a “good” landlord rating to show the regulator. So we strongly support these amendments.
Finally, I offer our support for Amendment 4, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, which includes the regulator’s objective to look at the requirement to report to the Government on cladding and the remediation of other fire safety work. This is an important area left over from the Building Safety Bill, and we really need to tie up some of these loose ends. My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the importance of the regulator, how it is set up and its priorities, responsibilities and objectives; this is clearly an important area that we need finally to cover off.
This has been an important debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming members of the Grenfell community, some of whom are in the Gallery today, while many are watching online. I commend them for their continued engagement in this vital piece of legislation and assure them that they are never far from our thoughts and prayers.
First, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock, Lady Thornhill and Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and others for this debate on these very important issues, which are becoming more important as energy becomes a bigger and bigger issue for the people of this country. These amendments seek to make changes to the Regulator of Social Housing’s statutory objectives and standard-setting powers and to the approach to energy efficiency in the social rented sector.
I begin with Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. As I said, energy efficiency is an important topic, both to meet our net-zero commitments and to reduce residents’ energy bills over the long term, which we know is more important than ever at this time. Many registered providers of social housing are already striving to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. Indeed—I think this is an answer to the first question from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—two-thirds of the sector currently achieves an EPC rating of C or above, making it the best-performing housing sector we have.
The Government are committed to considering setting a new regulatory standard of EPC C in the social rented sector and to consulting the sector before that standard is set. I am sure this is something that incoming Ministers will want to look at once they are appointed. Also, the Government committed £800 million in the 2021 spending review to the social housing decarbonisation fund, bringing the total committed to just over £1 billion. The fund will support the ambitions set out in the Clean Growth Strategy that as many homes as possible are improved to energy performance certificate EPC band C by 2035, where practical, cost-effective and affordable, and for all fuel-poor homes to reach that target by 2030.
As well as achieving good standards on average, many providers are already including net-zero considerations in their long-term planning and recognise the importance of improving energy efficiency. In the Heat and Buildings Strategy, published in October 2021, we committed to consider setting a new standard on energy efficiency in the social rented sector and that we would consult the sector before doing so. This part of the process is vital. Setting targets such as those proposed in Amendment 21 would exert significant financial pressure on social landlords who must balance differing spending priorities. We need to know whether spending on net zero might come at the expense of being able to deliver much-needed new housing and, importantly, home repairs.
That is why we must ensure that plans to decarbonise social housing are properly scrutinised and that we understand the broader impacts of any proposed metrics and standards. A full consultation and impact assessment would be a key step to understanding the impact of new standards on social landlords and on residents—who will benefit most from improved energy efficiency.
I assure the noble Baroness that improving energy efficiency in the social rented sector is a priority. The regulator already requires providers to meet the decent homes standard, which requires efficient heating and insulation. Including energy efficiency in the regulator’s objectives would therefore be only a symbolic change. Changing the objectives to include an already existing duty would be, in my opinion, a duplication.
I agree with the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that much of the debate that we have had this afternoon should possibly be taken in the Energy Bill as well. It is important that it is not forgotten.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, brought up the issue of the planning system and pleaded for incentives for regeneration rather than demolition and rebuild. I have to say that I agree with those sentiments but I do not have the answer. I will write to the noble Lord and will put a copy in the Library.
On communal heat networks, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government have confirmed—I think I mentioned this in an answer to a question today—that network customers who will not be reached by the Energy Bills Support Scheme will be supported with an equivalent scheme, which is very good news. We are also taking powers in the Energy Bill to rectify the situation and Ofgem will regulate this in the future.
I now move on to Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the important issues of cladding remediation and fire safety. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, brought up the funding for replacement of usage of non-ACM cladding. The Government have committed to £400 million to replace unsafe ACM cladding, and a £4.5 billion fund to remediate unsafe non-ACM cladding on residential buildings over 18 metres or just below in all sectors. There is money there for non-ACM cladding.
Nothing is more important than keeping people safe in their homes. The Bill is just one of a number of reforms that the Government have delivered in response to the Grenfell Tower fire; this includes this year’s Building Safety Act and last year’s Fire Safety Act. The department continues to work closely with registered providers to look at ways to make sure that buildings with unsafe cladding are remediated quickly. However, we are not persuaded that this type of monitoring is appropriate for the Regulator of Social Housing to undertake. While the regulator collects data from registered providers to inform its regulation of the standards, it is not a specialist health and safety body. The regulator’s data collection powers enable it to collect only data relevant to its regulatory functions. Significantly, its regulatory remit does not extend to monitoring the progress of cladding remediation.
The department is currently examining options for monitoring and reporting remediation progress in future, including cladding remediation. We strongly believe that decisions in this area should be based on thorough analysis of available options; this will ensure that the function is undertaken by those with the correct skills, expertise and capacity. Consequently, it would be counterproductive to pre-empt the outcome of this work by adding this amendment. I am, however, keen to reassure the noble Baroness that ensuring that landlords provide safe, high-quality social housing remains a key part of the regulator’s role.
I now turn to Amendments 2 and 22 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, respectively, which relate to the regulator’s role regarding homelessness. The Government are committed to tackling homelessness before it occurs; this year we provided local authorities with £316 million in homelessness prevention grant funding. Since the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, over half a million—510,930—households have been supported into secure accommodation. We have made excellent progress on our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping and will build on this progress through continued work with our range of partners. To deliver our vision, we have brought forward a bold new strategy to end rough sleeping and we have pledged £2 billion over three years to deliver on this ambition by supporting local authorities and partners to deliver on this strategy. It will continue to be the role of local authorities to consider how their allocation policies support those in need of social housing, including people who are homeless. It differs very much, depending on where that local authority is and its demography.
While we expect landlords to treat everyone with respect and deliver a high-quality service to all, the measures in the Bill are targeted specifically at existing social housing residents. This is to enable the regulator to monitor compliance with its standards, supporting improved services for residents.
The regulator’s existing tenancy standard already sets an expectation that providers take account of the housing needs and aspirations of tenants and potential tenants, and assist with local authorities’ strategic housing function. This includes homelessness duties. Providers are also required to provide services that will support tenants to maintain their tenancy and prevent unnecessary evictions. I also note that the regulator plays a vital role in ensuring that providers are financially viable and well managed, which protects tenants from situations that would put their housing at risk. Following the passage of the Bill, the regulator will review and consult on changes to the regulatory standards, including the tenancy standard.
At this point I want to bring up the issue of temporary accommodation, brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. Time spent in temporary accommodation means people are getting help and ensures that no family is without a roof over its head. The Government are committed to reducing the need for temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness before it occurs. This year, local authorities have received £316 million through the homelessness prevention grant, giving them the funding they need to prevent homelessness and help more people sooner. The Homelessness Reduction Act is helping more people get help earlier, particularly single households who often in the past would not have received help and would have been at risk of sleeping on our streets.
The Government are also committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing. We are investing £12.2 billion in affordable housing over five years from 2021 to 2026. This represents the highest single funding commitment to affordable housing in a decade. The investment includes the new £11.5 billion affordable homes programme that will be delivered over five years, providing up to 180,000 new homes across the country, should economic conditions allow.
The regulator continues to develop the operating model for the proactive consumer regulation regime and will consider how best to seek assurances that providers meet the revised standards set. In view of these arguments and reassurances, I ask noble Lords to kindly not press their amendments.
My Lords, first, I want to remind us all that this Bill is here largely because of the tragedy at Grenfell, to recognise that and to thank the campaigners for, in a time of deep distress, taking up the cudgels on behalf of not only those who suffered and died in the Grenfell tragedy but the whole social housing sector, to improve the quality of social housing for everybody. We should all be grateful to them for what they have forced this Government and ourselves to address and to respond positively to—so thank you.
I thank everybody for the debate we have had on such important issues. It has been an excellent debate and, across the Committee, we have all agreed. I am not sure the Minister has, but I am sure she can be persuaded and I thank her for her responses to the issues that have been raised. I want to say one or two words. There are three big debates here, are there not? One is about energy efficiency, where I thought the two amendments actually knitted together really well. In principle, there is a duty there to add that to the objectives of the regulator and, obviously, the strategy, the plan that is going to get us there. That was beyond me, so the experts took that on, and, you know, why do we not just say yes to it? Because it is so good—is it not?—and very important at this particular time. Some £700 per household could be saved if we insulated homes properly. In some parts of the country we did that, so we can do it everywhere.
On responsibility for homeless provision, I was really shocked by the statistics from the noble Lord, Lord Best, that 10,000 tenants have been evicted. Did I hear that right? I did. That is dreadful: 10,000 tenants evicted and then homeless. Where do they go? That has to be put right. Again, that was at the heart of the principle and the plan that we heard about from my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Best. A strong case was made. I know that the Minister has had to read out what she was given, but the case was there. I am sure this amendment will come back on Report, as will the one on energy efficiency.
Finally, I make no apology for raising cladding once again. The social housing sector is not as well funded to deal with it as other areas, and until I am convinced that it can be achieved without costing tenants and the opportunity cost for providers, I will keep raising it.
It has been a good debate. I thank the Minister for what she said, and I therefore will not press my amendments —but I will probably bring them back on Report.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—
“(d) after paragraph (d) insert—“(e) to make recommendations to the Secretary of State in relation to compensation for tenants of social housing.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow the regulator to make recommendations about compensation for tenants.
My Lords, I draw the Committee’s attention to my interest in the register as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. This group of amendments relates to monitoring and enforcement of what will become this Act, with three of the four amendments tabled by the Labour Front Bench.
Amendment 3, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, would allow the regulator to make recommendations about compensation for tenants. I would like to ask the Minister about government guidance on compensation and how the Government view the future relationship between the regulator and compensation working in practice.
Amendment 28, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, relates to the powers for the regulator to arrange surveys of the condition of social housing properties. The amendment notes that tenants must be given only 24 hours’ notice, whereas providers are given 48 hours’ notice. This amendment rightly draws attention to the need for social housing tenants to feel safe and secure in their homes—the basis of that hierarchy of needs that so many of us learned about at university. It seems completely unnecessary that they are given such short notice, so, again, I ask the Minister about the discrepancies in this area.
Amendment 32, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, would mean that emergency remedial action “must” take place, rather than “may”, if those conditions are met. Words are powerful things, and the implications behind “must” and “may” are equally important. The intention is to highlight the importance of emergency action to fix problems in social housing and to raise areas of concern about poor housing conditions. Emergency remedial action removes the risk of serious harm. As I know only too well, a local authority has an immediate right of access if it decides to take emergency action. If this happens, the tenant and landlord are served with a notice, and the local authority can claim back the cost of any work from the landlord. Unfortunately, unscrupulous landlords have used such actions to evict tenants, as those with limited security of tenure can be evicted fairly easily. Some landlords may choose to evict a tenant following a complaint from that tenant about the condition of the property, rather than carrying out the necessary work. This amendment would go some way to further support the rights of tenants to live in decent homes.
Amendment 48, also in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, would mean that the Secretary of State must publish an annual statement to include the number of successful and unsuccessful appeals in any given year.
This amendment seeks more information about the appeal procedure and urges the Government to be transparent about its operation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to speak to Amendment 28 in my name. Clause 22(3) sets out the powers to carry out a survey of a property without a warrant. The authorised person, who would be named by the regulator, is given these powers by this clause, as long as the registered provider has been given 48 hours’ notice. This seems fair enough to me. By the same clause, the tenant is given only 24 hours’ notice. The reason for the difference in the timings of the statutory notice is not clear to me. The purpose of Amendment 28 is to probe the thinking behind this difference. In lieu of any explanation, I propose that the notice period for both provider and tenant should be 48 hours.
The changes made by Clause 22(3) move the responsibility for giving notice to enter a property from the registered provider to the authorised person. Therefore, there is no practical reason—as there was originally in the Housing Act—for the difference in the notice period. This is especially true as, to quote from the Bill, the notice can be fixed to a
“conspicuous part of the premises.”
When the Minister responds, will she also help me by explaining the addition to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 of new Section 218B? I apologise; I noticed this only when I was reading the Bill more carefully yesterday. The tenant is provided with a copy of the performance improvement plan—which is drawn up where a registered provider has failed to reach a statutory standard for properties under their responsibility —only if they make a “written request” for one. This seems unreasonable and not to fulfil the other parts of the Bill which are for greater transparency. In my view, the registered provider or the regulator should have a duty to inform the tenants affected by the performance improvement plan as a matter of course. Tenants who are directly impacted by poor quality of provision will want to be in a position to ensure that the plan is fulfilled. They are best placed to call the registered provider to account. I apologise for raising this issue at the last minute in the debate. If the Minister cannot give me a reply, I should be happy to receive a written response.
The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, make excellent sense and we support them. I beg to move my amendment.
My Lords, I remind Members of the Committee that only the first amendment in a group is moved until such time as it is reached on the Marshalled List.
I thank the noble Baronesses for tabling amendments on these important issues. This group of amendments primarily relates to the Regulator of Social Housing’s monitoring and enforcement powers.
Amendment 3 relates to compensation. I begin by stating that registered providers of social housing should always seek to rectify problems relating to the housing they provide. In certain circumstances, where they do not do so and continue to fail their tenants, it is right that tenants are compensated for the suffering caused as a result of these failings. However, I must reject this amendment.
The regulator can already require private registered providers to pay compensation to tenants. Sections 236 to 245 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 allow the regulator to award compensation to the victims of failings by these providers. In cases where there is a dispute between landlords and their tenants on an individual issue being considered by the Housing Ombudsman, the ombudsman can also require providers to pay compensation to tenants. The regulator will determine the appropriate sanction depending on the circumstances and apply the enforcement powers most likely to bring providers back into compliance with the standards.
I think the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked about local authorities’ requirements to pay compensation. The regulator can require only private registered providers to pay compensation to their tenants. However, the regulator has a range of other enforcement powers it can use to ensure that local authority landlords provide a good service to their tenants. Through this legislation, we will be extending the regulator’s powers to issue fines to local authorities. The amount providers can be fined will be unlimited.
Amendment 28 relates to notice periods for the regulator carrying out surveys. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for bringing this up. We do not expect the Regulator of Social Housing to adopt the minimum period of notice given to tenants and registered providers before a survey takes place as the default position in all circumstances. The mandatory minimum notice periods are there to offer authorised persons clarity in urgent cases. In the vast majority of cases, we would expect the regulator to give both parties as much notice as possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an important question relating to the difference in notice periods for tenants and providers. It is important that any decision on this issue is based on thorough consideration, and, as such, I reassure the noble Baroness that while I will not accept this amendment today, I will take away this issue, my officials and I will have further discussions, and I will come back to her.
Amendment 32 relates to emergency repairs. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, brought this up, and media reports have highlighted the awful conditions that some tenants are living in. The Regulator of Social Housing found Croydon Council to be in breach of its consumer standards and continues to work with Croydon to ensure that it takes action to remedy these issues. The emergency repair power will be exercised only following a survey where the regulator has identified a failure which poses a risk of serious harm.
The regulator’s powers will ensure that it can step in and take appropriate action where there is a serious risk to the health and safety of tenants. While local authorities also have the power to conduct emergency remedial action in specified circumstances, it is right that the regulator can also take action where needed to protect tenants from harm. The emergency repair power is an important new tool in the regulator’s set of enforcement powers. It allows the regulator to conduct emergency repairs to remedy failures that cause an imminent health and safety risk to tenants. In such cases, the regulator should first seek to use other enforcement powers to encourage the provider to put things right. It is the providers’ responsibility in the first instance to act, and the regulator would do everything possible to ensure that they meet their responsibilities.
The amendment would ensure that the regulator “must” take emergency remedial action where the relevant conditions are met. I cannot accept this amendment, as it is essential that the regulator keeps the flexibility to determine where it is appropriate to use these powers. In determining which of its enforcement powers to use, the regulator will always consider what is in the best interest of tenants. It would be wrong for us to bind the hands of the regulator and commit it to taking one course of action, regardless of what it believes appropriate in the circumstances.
I will say that landlords must ensure they provide safe homes for their tenants. The changes we are making to strengthen the regulator’s powers will ensure that where landlords do not do so, the regulator can take swift and effective action.
Amendment 48 is the final amendment in the group and relates to appeals against decisions made by the regulator, including the decision to take enforcement action. I begin by making clear that we recognise the importance of mechanisms that help to inform, engage and empower social housing tenants. That is why we are introducing measures to increase transparency, such as tenants’ satisfaction measures and the access to information scheme. We are, however, unable to accept the amendment.
If an appeal is taken to the High Court, this is already published by the courts system. The information published includes whether appeals were successful or unsuccessful. As there is already a public authority with responsibility for this, it is unnecessary to duplicate this work by asking the Secretary of State to perform the same function. Noble Lords should also bear in mind that we do not anticipate appeals being launched regularly. As such, it would be simple for an interested party to access the relevant information from the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary record of High Court judgments.
On the basis of the assurances provided for each amendment, I ask the noble Baronesses kindly not to move their amendments.
My Lords, I am glad to hear that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, which seems both eminently sensible and fair, will be taken away by the Minister for further discussion—a very positive outcome—and that the Minister agrees that these are very important issues and that registered providers of social housing should always seek to remediate properties. Again, I thank the Minister for reminding us of the facts surrounding compensation. On emergency repairs, the regulator can step in for appropriate emergency action. I am glad that this new tool exists.
Clearly, I am disappointed that the Minister cannot accept the change of emphasis from “may” to “must”, but I am glad she recognises the importance of the appeal mechanism and I accept the notion of duality, which she explained clearly. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—
“(2) After subsection (3) insert—“(3A) In undertaking its objective under subsection (2)(b) the regulator must report to the Secretary of State at least every three years on whether the provision of social housing in England and Wales is sufficient to meet reasonable demands, and must make recommendations to the Secretary of State on how to ensure that the provision of social housing is so sufficient.” (3) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of any reports prepared by virtue of subsection (2) before Parliament.” Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the regulator to report to the Secretary of State on the adequacy of the stock of social housing.
My Lords, Amendment 5 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornhill. It requires the regulator to report to the Secretary of State on the adequacy of the stock of social housing. We have rightly spent a lot of time so far in the debate on this Bill thinking about the quality and standards provided by the social housing regulator, but we should also be thinking about the sufficiency of supply, hence this amendment.
The recent report of the Built Environment Committee of your Lordships’ House spelled out the stark statistics on this issue. In its report, the committee states that in March 2021 there were 1.2 million house- holds on local authority waiting lists. Many people are desperate to access social housing because the rents are within their means and the housing built to a decent standard.
The report from the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Building More Social Housing, concluded that the Government should introduce a large-scale social housing programme. That is exactly what our amendment is asking: for the regulator to report to the Secretary of State at least every three years on whether the provision of social housing is sufficient to meet reasonable demands. We want a focus not just on the numbers of social housing but on the types of housing needed. As far as numbers go, the Lords report estimated that 90,000 homes for social rent need to be built every year, whereas earlier the Minister reminded us that the Government have set out for 150,000 over a much longer period. Clearly, the Lords report is asking for a much larger-scale investment in building homes for social rent.
It is important to consider not only numbers but the types of housing built. The Lords committee report concluded that older people’s housing choices are very much constrained by the options available to them and that there will need to be more specialist housing for older people if the housing market is to be sustainable. This growing need for more specialist housing for older people, so that they can retain their independence, is vital. By 2032 it is estimated that there will be more than 5 million people in the UK who are over 80 years old. Building housing with extra care enables older people to live in a supported way and as independently as possible. This has a dual benefit of also reducing demand on social care.
Social rents are generally set at the local housing allowance, whereas families who want but are not able to access social housing often rent from the private sector, where rents invariably are higher than the local housing allowance. This results in those families who are dependent on benefits being even more impoverished, since they have to make up the rent to the landlord out of their benefits, over and above the LHA allowance that they get towards their rent. No wonder families end up going to food banks, when the rent that they are charged is more than the benefit they are provided with.
It is therefore not surprising that many families want to live in social housing where the rent is at the LHA level. The Government have stated in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that they are committed to providing housing at rents that are within the means of households, so there is a general acceptance by them, mirrored in the House of Lords report, of the urgent need for more social housing. But what is missing is a distinct lack of action by the Government to meet that need. I have already drawn attention to the disparity between the aim set out in the House of Lords report for 90,000 houses for social renters and that of 150,000 over a much longer period.
That is why this amendment has been tabled. There is an opportunity to provide a focus if we accept this amendment on the sufficiency of supply, particularly for social housing, by asking that a report be presented to Parliament every three years. That will ensure a regular opportunity to check whether progress is being made to meet the unquestionable demand and desperate need for social housing.
Amendment 52, also in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornhill, tries to add to the Bill a simple review. I am surprised it is not included already, because a review of the impact of a regulatory Bill would surely be part and parcel of what is included. All the amendment asks is that, after a year, a review is carried out and an assessment made of whether the Act has achieved what it set out to do. If we never check that the legislation that we pass has the impact that we set out to achieve, then we continue to make mistakes. I hope that this very straightforward and simple amendment will be accepted by the Minister when she responds. With those comments, I beg to move Amendment 5 in my name, and look forward to the debate on other issues in this group.
My Lords, the various amendments in this grouping are largely about monitoring, reviewing and assessing. I am very supportive of all of them, particularly the requirement in the first amendment from my noble friend on the Front Bench that there be an assessment of the sufficiency or otherwise of social housing stock in this country. I place on record how much I agree with her about the way in which such properties are built. We should ensure that many of them are built in such a way that gives an opportunity for people to live longer in their homes. There are some very simple issues that could be taken on board, such as ensuring a reasonably thick wall going up staircases so that stairlifts can subsequently be attached to them, which is rarely done at present.
Having said that, my Amendment 12 in this group concerns a somewhat niche but important issue relating to safety within social housing. It is an issue I have raised on a number of occasions, and I now have an opportunity to praise the Government for doing nearly everything that I want. My amendment seeks to persuade them to go that final bit further to achieve everything that I hoped to achieve.
During the passage of the then Building Safety Bill I drew attention to the large number of property fires caused by faulty electrical installations or appliances, some with devastating consequences. I pointed out that in the privately rented sector it is already mandatory to have safety checks on electrical installations every five years, but that there is currently no similar requirement in the socially rented sector, despite the social housing charter specifically stating:
“Safety measures in the social sector should be in line with the legal protections afforded to private sector tenants.”
I moved an amendment to that Bill to try to rectify this but, sadly, it was rejected by the Government on the grounds that it would lead to an added burden on the new safety regulator and would
“distract it and hinder its success.”—[Official Report, 29/3/22; col. 1403.]
However, I am delighted that, in a very short space of time, there has been a welcome change of heart by the Government following their own working group concluding that five-yearly checks on installations in social housing should take place. That is reflected in Clause 10 of this Bill, which amends Section 122 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to extend it to all landlords, thus including social landlords. It is a measure that I applaud. A consultation, which ended just a few days ago, has already taken place to consider the details of how such measures should be introduced. I welcome that.
The great thing is that the Government have even gone one stage further. They have clearly now decided that five-yearly checks will definitely go ahead in the socially rented sector, because paragraph 81 of the call for evidence of that consultation says:
“The government acknowledges the support of the Working Group for this proposal and agrees with the proposal to mandate five-yearly checks of electrical installations.”
It is now clear that the Government will go ahead and it is merely the details of how the scheme will work that have to be finalised.
Even at Second Reading I was pleased with all this, although the consultation had not taken place at that time, nor had we had that final statement that we would be going ahead. However, I pointed out that
“a careful study of Clause 10’s proposed way of achieving”
the five-yearly checks
“by amending Section 122 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016—reveals that the Secretary of State does not have to make any changes; merely that he may do so.”
I asked the then Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh —to give me an assurance that
“following the consultation, the Government will commit to ensuring that ‘may’ becomes ‘must’ so that the pledge to ensure the parity of social tenants with private tenants is honoured”.—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 459.]
Very sadly, although I was told that the Government
“would not be putting those powers in the Bill if we were not very serious in our intention to level up between private and public housing”,
he nevertheless declined to accept my proposal to change “may” to “must” and said:
“I know that he, in exhorting me to move from ‘may’ to ‘must’, recognises that we do not want to pre-empt the consultation on electrical safety measures for social housing.”—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 468.]
The consultation has now made it clear that the Government will go ahead but will be guided on the details of how they do so as a result of the consultation. Therefore, I now have a new amendment, Amendment 12, to deal with concerns about pre-emption by saying that the Government would have one year after the consultation before they must bring forward the required regulations. It no longer pre-empts the consultation. It would enable the Government to develop regulations to cover the details around implementation over the coming year. At the same time, it would ensure that the legislation required the much-needed and, as I am sure the consultation responses already show, widely supported introduction of mandatory five-yearly checks on electrical installations to take place in the socially rented sector. We nearly got there; on this occasion, I hope that we will have the Minister’s support for this amendment.
Very quickly, I will speak to Amendment 5, but I support others. I am a big fan of social housing. I grew up in a council house in the 1950s and 1960s and my parents thought they were the luckiest people alive to have a new council house. It was a very happy home. These days, social housing is in very short supply, partly as a result of all sorts of population changes but also because of the Government’s very badly thought through right-to-buy policies. Somehow, we have to mop this up.
The Green Party’s 2019 manifesto committed to fund councils to deliver more than 100,000 new social houses per year
“through sustainable construction, renovation and conversion”.
That is the scale of the solution needed to make local communities much more secure in their social housing. The Government have to remove the barriers that local authorities and social landlords face.
I will touch very briefly on freezing or limiting social rent increases. I very much feel that these rent increases need to be kept as low as possible—or frozen. The Government have to backfill the large gaps that this would leave in the funding for social housing. I also suggest a ban on evictions at the moment, because life is getting harder and harder. It seems downright unfair if the Government are going to pay energy companies £0.25 trillion to cap energy prices but, at the same time, pay nothing to social landlords to cap rents.
My Lords, I will first make a few comments about the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It is important that she has drawn attention to the issues we have around the huge demand that exists for social housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the short supply as well. That means we have incredibly lengthy waiting lists. People often cannot get a property because there are no suitable properties available for their needs.
I would also like to reflect on the bedroom tax, which caused all sorts of problems with the availability of inappropriate social housing for people who had been asked to move. It is something we have to address. I was pleased that the noble Baroness talked about the importance of ensuring that, when investment is made, it is made in the type of housing that is needed, which also needs to be built to appropriate standards. Again, this is something that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned around sustainability.
When I was a Member in the other place, local residents brought up the lack of appropriate social housing time and again. It was one of the major unsolvable problems, to be honest, that we had to deal with all the time. So I hope that the Minister takes this away and that we can look at having a proper programme of decent, sustainable, appropriate social housing development.
On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, we supported him on the safety concerns and protections that he raised during the passage of the Building Safety Bill and join him in welcoming Clause 10 on electrical standards, as clearly it is important. Once again, we support his comments on the consultation and his amendment in this area.
I have a number of amendments in this group concerning the impact, the timing and the transparency of decision-making in the Bill. My Amendment 24 to Clause 19 would mean:
“Any direction under subsection (2A) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”
This is to ensure that there is proper oversight and transparency of any standards and objectives set by the Secretary of State.
My Amendment 27 to Clause 21 would ensure that performance is monitored routinely rather than ad hoc by requiring the Secretary of State to publish regular timetables for the purposes of performance monitoring. It is important that the Bill brings in stronger enforcement powers for the regulator to tackle poor performance and we support these tougher enforcement powers. However, we also believe that they should be used in conjunction with a tough, regular inspection regime. Shelter has made it clear that it believes routine inspections are needed to make good practice and good behaviour the norm. However, I am aware that we shall be discussing this aspect of the Bill later today in group 6, so I shall move on.
My Amendment 53 to Clause 31 on the Housing Ombudsman scheme would mean that within 30 days of the Act being passed, the Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of its timing. The Government have spoken for years about regulating social housing, but it has taken until now for the proposed legislation to be brought forward—that is, over five years since the Grenfell fire. Why has it taken so long? The purpose of my amendment is to try to understand why this was not looked at with more urgency. Can the Minister tell us why has it taken so long for the Bill to be introduced? Can she also confirm what the expected timetable will be for the remaining stages, and when the Government expect the Act to be fully implemented? We do not want it to get stuck in the doldrums, as seems to have happened with a number of different pieces of legislation more recently.
This leads me to my Amendment 65, which would mean that all sections come into force on the day that the Act is passed. As I have said before, this is an important Bill, but it has been too slow to appear. Once it has passed through Parliament, there must be no more dither and delay, which is why my amendment allows the Minister to confirm that all sections will come into force on the day that the Act is passed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for tabling these amendments, which all relate to the implementation and review of the Bill. Before I start, I will respond to the issue raised about social housing rents by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as it does not really fit in to this debate. I would just say that we are consulting on setting a ceiling on rent increases in 2023-24. The consultation sets out several options for the ceiling; responses will be considered once the consultation closes, which we expect to be in a short time rather than a long time.
I will begin with Amendment 5 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. The noble Baroness is right to highlight the importance of social housing supply, but also that it is not just about any houses; it is now very much about specific housing—housing for older people and families as well as for disabled people and vulnerable people. The Government are committed to increasing the amount of social housing but also to looking at the prioritisation of specific housing for specific groups.
Housing will be provided through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme and I think it entirely appropriate that the regulator should have an objective to support the provision of social housing. However, I do not accept the noble Baroness’s request that it should be the regulator’s role to assess the need to increase the provision of social housing or to make recommendations as to how that might be achieved. There are many other organisations, such as the Chartered Institute of Housing, Savills and Shelter, which publish reports on these important issues at regular intervals.
I am concerned that asking the regulator to fulfil this role would not only be unnecessary but divert resources and attention from its important responsibilities, such as registering providers, setting standards in social housing, assessing risks across the sector, conducting financial checks of providers and carrying out enforcement action where needed. Instead, I believe that the regulator should continue to support the provision of social housing through its work to ensure that private registered providers are financially viable, efficient and well-governed. This in turn helps to ensure that the private registered providers can obtain funding to enable them to deliver more social housing.
Amendment 12, in the name of Lord Foster of Bath—who has already given part of my response—concerns the electrical safety consultation. As the House has already heard, we fulfilled our commitment to consult on electrical safety in social housing and the consultation closed only last week. In my opinion, it would not be right to pre-empt its outcome before carefully reviewing the responses we received. However, the Committee may note that the Electrical Safety Working Group, which included representation from across the social sector, was supportive of mandatory electrical safety checks, and I would not be surprised if the outcome of the consultation chimed with those views. However, it is only fair and reasonable that we do not pre-empt the final consultation.
Amendment 24, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, relates to directions issued by the Secretary of State to the Regulator of Social Housing. The amendment would require the direction relating to information and transparency to be laid before both Houses. There is already an established process for issuing directions to the regulator, set out in Section 197 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. The process requires that any direction be published in draft and subject to consultation ahead of being formally issued. This provides an opportunity for stakeholders, including parliamentarians in both Houses, as well as members of the public, to have a say on the drafted direction before it comes into force. In our opinion, this already provides sufficient opportunity for scrutiny of the information and transparency directions before they come into effect.
Amendment 27 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, relates to timetables for performance monitoring of registered providers. Clause 21 of the Bill enables the regulator to deliver tenant satisfaction measures, including setting dates for the publication of such data and the period it covers. As the body granted legal powers through Clause 21, it is right that the regulator, not the Secretary of State, decide matters relating to timing of performance information. The regulator has already consulted on these matters and will respond in due course.
Amendment 52, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, concerns scrutiny of the impact of the Bill. The Government recognise the importance of appropriately reviewing the impact of legislation. We will work with the regulator, and the Housing Ombudsman where appropriate, to conduct a full review at the end of one regulatory cycle to determine the impact of the measures introduced. This will be after four years of the new regulatory regime being in place. We committed to that in our regulatory impact assessment, and I am happy to commit to it again today.
The commitment to a review after a four-year cycle is important for two reasons. First, following the passage of this legislation, a number of steps will need to take place before the proactive consumer regime is implemented in full. These include the Secretary of State issuing directions to the regulator and the regulator subsequently consulting on the revised consumer standards. A review after one year would not allow sufficient time for those changes to take effect. Secondly, it is right that we wait for a four-year regulatory cycle, at which point the measures will have had time to take effect and have had full impact on the sector.
Amendments 53 and 65 have been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. The former would mean that the entirety of the Act came into force on the day it was passed, and the latter would require an assessment of the impact of this legislation’s timing. The noble Baroness asked me one very important question: why has the Bill taken so long to be introduced? We spent time listening to residents, hearing first hand about their experiences and how they wanted to see change. Over 8,000 residents contributed to these discussions. We published our social housing White Paper in November 2020. This is a complex process and programme, and we want to make sure we get it right, so it will take time for us to fully implement it.
The legislation will have a significant impact on the lives of social housing tenants across the country, and the measures will be implemented at the earliest appropriate opportunity. The majority of the provisions in this Bill will come into force on such a day or days as the Secretary of State may appoint by regulations. The timing of commencement is directly linked to the overall implementation of the strengthened consumer regulation regime, and we need to allow time for the sector to prepare.
The Regulator of Social Housing has already begun its work to develop this new regime. It plans to commence its statutory consultation on the regulatory standards following Royal Assent and the issuance of directions from the Government, with a view to full implementation in 2024. However, the message to registered providers is clear: do not wait for regulation to make changes—act now. I hope that noble lords are satisfied with the responses I have given to the amendments, and I ask that the noble Baroness withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I note that my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath is probably the only person this afternoon who is receiving a positive “thumbs-up” response, to his determined campaign for electrical safety. That is one win for my noble friend, and some “maybes” for the rest of us.
I have listened carefully to the answers the Minister gave to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I will check because some of them sounded acceptable, but I am not sure about leaving the regulator to determine the timing of the impact. I will read Hansard to see whether those issues should be pursued further.
That brings me to Amendment 5, on the sufficiency of housing, which is fundamental to any debate on social housing provision. I am sorry to say that I had a bit of difficulty with the response. It is all very well saying that other organisations provide statistics and scrutinise social housing provision numbers, quality, decency and so on, but we need in our legislation a regulator or the ombudsman to be able to state the facts and comment to the Government—and to have the stature to do so.
I will read what the Minister said carefully, but the essence of the argument seems to be, “There are other people who do it, so why should the Government?” The regulator should be concerned with housing numbers because it is required to think about and has a responsibility for the safety, provision and quality of social housing. Adding “sufficiency” to its list of responsibilities would be a positive move. However, I accept the Minister’s supportive words on not only the number of houses but their suitability. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Advisory panel
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 9, at end insert—
“(4A) In making appointments to the Panel, the regulator must give consideration to appointing persons from different regions of the United Kingdom.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure regional diversity on the Panel.
My Lords, I will introduce my three amendments in this group. First, Amendment 6 is supported by the National Housing Federation and the Local Government Association. It would amend Clause 2 to ensure that there is diverse regional representation among the members of the proposed advisory panel and that those members can then provide the regulator with information and advice on issues that may arise or vary at a regional level.
The LGA has further suggested that the Bill could also ensure diversity of councils on the panel in terms not just of region but of authority size, the quantity and quality of housing stock and social housing management arrangements. We agree with the LGA that it is vital that the membership of the panel comprises a diverse range of councils so that consumer issues right across the sector can be effectively represented. However, although we support the panel, we are disappointed that the proposals stop short of making it a permanent national representative body for tenants. Why has the decision been taken not to make this permanent? Do the Government intend to review this at some stage?
Improving tenant engagement and listening to what tenants say is clearly one of the most important lessons from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, so tenants need to be right at the heart of the advisory panel. This is why I have put forward Amendment 7, which says that the panel must be chaired by a tenant with responsibility for agenda setting. I hope that the Minister understands why it would make a huge difference to tenants’ trust and belief if the panel were to really give them a voice.
I thank the noble Lords who supported my Amendment 30: the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and my noble friend Lord Whitty. It seeks to create a power for the Secretary of State to require managers of social housing to have appropriate qualifications and expertise. The fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 was a stark example of what underregulated and unprofessional management in social housing can lead to. Bringing some level of professionalisation into the housing sector has been argued for consistently and cogently by members of Grenfell United. I thank them for their continued work and persistence and for the time they gave to discuss their concerns in this area with me.
Grenfell United believes that a more professional housing sector is one of the main ways by which to create a fitting legacy for the 72 lives that were so needlessly lost on 14 June 2017. In the social housing White Paper, the Government said that they would
“Review professional training and development to ensure residents receive a high standard of customer service.”
But the Bill introduces no measures that would enable professional standards to be mandated in law. Poorly managed and maintained social housing can cause serious harm to renters’ health and well-being—yet there are no requirements to be properly qualified or to undergo professional development.
Ministers have described social housing as the first social service. Well-managed social housing, offering adequate levels of support to residents, takes pressure off health and social care service as well as early years and school support services. But, first and foremost, we believe that professional qualifications and development should be mandatory for senior managers working in social housing. Qualifications and training should aim to provide housing management staff with the skills and knowledge needed to do the job, as well as instilling the values and ethics needed to deliver a care-centred service for residents.
Having senior staff with the appropriate skills and qualifications would ensure that the teams of housing officers and other junior staff that they manage are professionally run, thereby delivering a quality service for all residents. This would balance the need for professionalisation, while not creating barriers to housing associations and councils finding enough staff. We do not intend this amendment to be prescriptive: it requires regulations to define what types of work would require a qualification.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that the Government are currently conducting a review into professional standards within the social housing sector. We believe that there should be legislative backing to ensure that its conclusions can be implemented and upheld effectively. It is also important that the review is published in time for its recommendations to be considered as part of the development of this legislation, so can the Minister confirm that it will be available during the progress of the Bill?
Since the fire at Grenfell Tower, survivors and thousands of tenants of social housing have demonstrated time and time again that they do not have trust in the regulator on its own. The Government rightly recognised the need for action and accountability following the fire and promised a new deal for social renters. This amendment would allow for the monitoring and enforcement of professional standards in the social housing sector, including clear government direction and accountability. Surely this is an area in which the Minister could agree with us, and perhaps we could work together to take some of these issues further forward.
Finally, I am aware that my noble friend Lord Whitty has Amendment 47 in this group. I assure him that we support what he is trying to achieve with it, and I look forward to hearing more detail from him.
My Lords, I will add a brief footnote to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who spoke to Amendment 30, to which I have added my name, as she said. As we have been reminded throughout the debate, Grenfell Tower was a tragic reminder of the need for professional management in social housing. Unlike private tenants, social tenants have few options to move to an alternative landlord if they do not get the service that they are entitled to.
During the passage of the Bill on social care, I urged the Government to do more to drive up professional qualifications in the social care sector so that it could compete more effectively with the health service in the recruitment of staff, develop a proper career structure with improved conditions of service and, as a crucial outcome, drive up the quality of care received by the customers. Much of that argument applies equally to social housing, where many of those employed will come across vulnerable families and where those managing social housing need the capacity that comes with relevant training to ensure that those families get the support that they need.
I am well aware of the counterargument that was deployed in the debate on social care and that may well be deployed against this amendment—namely, that there are many committed people working in the sector who have no professional qualifications but none the less provide a first-class service, and we do not want to lose them. We also do not want to introduce barriers to entry for a service that often finds it difficult to recruit. But I believe that the amendment addresses those objections by requiring those managing social housing to have appropriate professional qualifications or satisfy specified requirements. There is sufficient flexibility, not least in proposed subsection (3), which refers to a
“specified qualification or experience of a specified kind”.
Of course, the amendment only applies to those in a managing role, not others involved in the sector.
Now I believe that the Government are aware of this need to drive up standards and quality of management in the sector, as their White Paper said they would undertake to:
“Review professional training and development to ensure residents receive a high standard of customer service.”
I am sure that the Chartered Institute of Housing, which represents those employed in the sector, would help develop the appropriate modules of training, building on its existing expertise—as indeed would the National Housing Federation. However, at the moment, the Bill is simply silent on this issue, which is highly relevant to the regulation of social housing. As the noble Baroness said, the department has set up a working group to review professional standards, but that is no substitute for the clear statement of intent set out in the amendment. As the noble Baroness said, we need to know when that working group will publish its report.
So what I think we are hoping for from the Minister in response to this amendment is a clear restatement of the principle set out in the White Paper, coupled with some identifiable milestones so we can monitor progress towards that destination, and a commitment to a serious and sustained dialogue with the professional bodies concerned so that we get the details right. I look forward to my noble friend’s response.
My Lords, my name is attached to both Amendment 30, which was so ably moved by my noble friend on the Front Bench, and Amendment 47. I will not repeat everything my noble friend said, but I endorse all of it.
I will focus on the nature of the problems some tenants of social housing have encountered. In recent media exposés, we have seen serious problems in social housing—both local authority and housing association —of unaddressed conditions of damp, infestation and electrical faults. I will read an extract from a letter I received this morning from a tenant of social housing—I will not identify the landlord. The tenant says, “I have witnessed first hand terrible living conditions and treatment of tenants by my housing association. This includes illegal entry to properties, landlord harassment if a tenant makes an official complaint, poor repairs, failure to deal with severe anti-social behaviour from neighbours, lack of insulation, failure to decently carry out essential maintenance, poor fire safety and huge lies about cladding”.
That is not a unique experience; we have seen enough of it to indicate the decline of the management of social properties in too many areas of local authorities and housing associations. The reasons for this are not clear, but it has been partly about the structure of the industry and because local authorities have been under severe financial pressure, which has starved them of the ability to staff issues such as maintenance and support. Meanwhile, it is also true that some housing associations have become, through mergers et cetera, too large to relate effectively to their tenants and their problems.
When social housing was at its best—for example, in the era that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to—local authorities and housing associations had substantial in-house expertise in their management and professional roles in areas such as architects, construction, maintenance and social support for tenants and their families. Much of that expertise has gone, due to pressures on local authority budgets and so forth. For example, the lack of construction expertise has put local authorities in the hands of developers when they propose major changes. In those days local authorities effectively had the whip hand in dealing with the building sector, because there was competition between a lot of local building companies—but they are now very much in the hands of the big housebuilders and developers. That changes the social responsibilities, and the result has been a failure of maintenance provision, toleration of damp and unhealthy conditions and, as other noble Lords have referred to, a general disdain for the views and knowledge of tenants. That is why I support Amendment 30.
We need to reprofessionalise the personnel who run local authority housing, and, in many cases, that applies to housing associations as well. That requires both clear qualifications for the management and professional jobs, and regular and effective inspections by the regulator. The Bill starts to introduce that, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, it needs substantial strengthening. Without a step change in the quality of housing staff in both sectors, social tenants will too often continue to get a raw deal and continue to be largely ignored if they express their concerns. As we know, this was tragically the initial and most substantial failure in the case of Grenfell, where the tenants had expressed over the years the problems which the building, and the refurbishment of the building, were likely to present. Let us, therefore, in this limited Bill provide for better staffing of local authorities and housing associations, and better regulation, inspection and enforcement of the quality of staffing—as is provided in Amendment 30.
I acknowledge that my second amendment, Amendment 47, deals with a very particular area relating to the situation in which local authorities or housing associations are proposing a major redevelopment or regeneration scheme—and in many cases those schemes may be felt to be necessary. However, when regeneration has the effect of changing dramatically either the physical nature of the housing or the balance of tenure of the estate, or both—as such big proposals do in many cases—it is important that there is effective consultation with the tenants and other residents. I would argue that this should include both tenants and leaseholders, but social landlords are dealt with in relation to tenants in this Bill.
In another context that I mentioned earlier, I referred to the preference of planning authorities and developers for demolition and for changing the whole nature of a council estate. I discussed this in terms of carbon content and environmental consequences. However, there are also social dimensions to what is normally the dominant developer preference, often by both the local authority or housing association and the planning process itself. Major regeneration plans need to be subject to the genuine support of existing residents, and a proper consultation needs proper rules.
There are cases where ballots are proposed—Amendment 47 deals with this—but the terms of the consultation need to be fair and clear. Ballots may be required for large-scale developments by government policy, by local authority planning policy, or by situations attached to a particular proposal. Alternatively, they may be voluntarily proposed as the best means of a social landlord consulting their tenants. By their nature, such ballots are normally, but not in all cases, binary: you either support the proposition coming from your landlord and the developer, or you do not. In a few cases, there are more options. Whether the conduct of those ballots is either binary or with options, it needs to be fair, and recent experience in both sectors has suggested that it has not been fair. The developer and the landlords use all their advantages to advocate their proposition. The way their proposals are defined and presented, and the timing and the description of what the alternative of no action would imply, are all aspects of the propaganda provided for residents and reflect the view of the landlord—who, in turn, is often dominated by the proposals of developers.
Amendment 47 covers agreement on the wording and presentation of the options in such ballots and the information provided for each option, including the status quo; if there is an organised opposition case, then there should be equivalence of information on each option, equal funding in those circumstances for both or all options, which is particularly important in any form of democracy, and the proper identification of all residents entitled to vote. Regrettably, where consultation ballots have been conducted, these basic rules of democracy have in many cases emphatically not been followed. The regulator needs the power to deal with these issues and I hope that Amendment 47 in some form, not necessarily the form in which I have put it here, will be part of its responsibilities.
My Lords, before turning to Amendment 30, to which I have added my name, I will make some brief general comments about the amendments and say that we strongly support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, on regional reps. Normally, I am not a fan of what I would call tokenistic representation but I feel in this case that it is absolutely essential because the regional variation in housing is massive. We go so far as to feel that there should be regional panels for precisely this reason. We appreciate that that would be pushing it too far here, but we are the party of regionalism, after all.
With regard to the chairing of the panel, I understand the need to have the tenant’s voice at the heart of this, but our concern is that if it were prescriptive you may not get the best person for the job and that is who we would want for this crucial role. If we have a concern around the panel, to be blunt, it is its size and its remit. We fear that it will just be a talking shop.
Turning to Amendment 47, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, about regeneration, but feel very strongly that a neutrally phrased question should also apply to ballots on stock transfer. I appreciate that stock transfer is an incredibly loaded political issue, but I genuinely believe that tenants should have—and can be denied—the right to change their landlord, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said. That is especially the case sometimes when the landlord is the council. Instead, we believe that empowering tenants and giving them a stronger voice at all levels might be stronger in cases of both regeneration and stock transfer.
In many ways I am surprised that Amendment 30 is not part of the Bill. To a lay person, it would seem rather puzzling to imagine that any organisation would be able to do the scale of the job that the Bill is asking them to do without a range of suitably qualified senior managers. The challenge is huge and we want them to succeed—more so as many of the general concerns about the Bill, which, as we have said, enjoys wide, cross-party support, are around capability and capacity, whether of the Government centrally or within the sector. Do they, as a whole, have the skills and capacity to effectively deliver what the Bill proposes and what we all expect, not least what is expressed by all those who are part of Grenfell United, who fully support this amendment?
In my 30 years of being involved in local government, I feel that this is one area that has witnessed incredible changes in the housing sector, most notably in the demands placed on it. It was lovely to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, saying how proud her parents were of their council house and to go back to those days when councils and providers were managing well and coping, on the whole. Now they are stretched, on occasion to breaking point, and permanently under pressure.
During this time, Governments have rightly increased statutory responsibilities on councils and housing providers for higher and better standards to meet changing circumstances. As we know and has been evidenced today, providers have obviously been behind the curve and been caught napping.
Social housing is very scarce resource, which, due to the woeful lack of it, has to be rationed. I do not envy anybody in the job of rationing that scarce resource. It means that people turn up at their council at crisis point, which is very challenging to deal with. A day with a housing officer in my early days as a councillor was a real eye-opener.
I conjecture that the training and development of staff is not always the top priority for an organisation under pressure; ironically, it should be. A suitably qualified professional manager would ensure that this was a priority and not a case of “If we can find time for it” or “Turn up to the training if you can”. The attitude of other employees is also influenced by the tone set on training and development by their managers. They can respect their expertise, demonstrated through their qualifications, which, in turn, contributes to the overall culture of the organisation. It is surely at the heart of the Bill to change the culture of any failing organisation. This is why I find it hard to believe that there is no statutory footing for the greater professional management of this most valuable sector, in line with other statutory services, such as health professionals, teachers and social workers.
It is worth noting that, as social housing has become scarcer, it is those in greatest need who are now rightly housed as a priority. Indeed, the social housing Green Paper has, as someone mentioned, described the sector as the “first social service”. Attention to the most vulnerable in our society takes huge skill and expertise and needs to be well managed.
I note that the National Housing Federation has expressed concern about this amendment, citing existing problems with the retention and training of committed and skilled staff and the ever-present, not to be minimalised, financial strain on providers to fulfil the core requirements of the Bill. That is why we believe that this amendment is much needed for the Government to encourage, cajole and push all the relevant parties, including the federation and the LGA, to work together to address this worrying situation as it currently is. We believe it will completely undermine the whole purpose of the Bill if that is not given serious attention. The chair of a tenants’ advisory service recently said that we do not want to look back in five years and realise that we have been simply rearranging the deckchairs on the “Titanic”. I agree with her.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 30 in this group, but I first apologise for not being able to speak at Second Reading. Secondly, I declare my interests, as set out in the register, as someone who works with both the Grenfell community and Theresa May, who I shall mention in a moment.
The Grenfell Tower fire exposed a host of social housing issues, but in terms of this amendment it is important to highlight one in particular: the stigma that existed then and exists now, and which will continue to exist unless we take practical steps to do something about it. As the Green Paper on social housing showed, and as Theresa May said as Prime Minister:
“Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority. On the outside, many people in society—including too many politicians—continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home … Our friends and neighbours who live in social housing are not second-rate citizens.”
But for that issue to be addressed, those friends and neighbours must not be treated like second-rate citizens, not just by those on the outside but those on the inside, whose job it is to manage their homes.
We know from the Grenfell Tower inquiry what happens when the job is not done properly, when there is poor management and maintenance, no care and no respect, and when repeated pleas fall on deaf ears and people begin to lose hope. We also know that this was not a one-off. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, alluded to, the work done by Daniel Hewitt of ITV News and Kwajo Tweneboa on social media has proved beyond doubt that this is a widespread and deep-rooted problem.
I am not sure how we can expect the sector to improve unless we take active steps to professionalise it. We need to encourage people into the profession, to instil a sense of pride in what can be a difficult but rewarding career, and we need to recognise the essential part that social housing managers play in creating a thriving community, alongside our teachers, nurses and social workers, all of whom we expect to be qualified. As one resident of Grenfell Tower who was here earlier said, “You wouldn’t send your child to a school where the teacher was unqualified.” A properly functioning social housing system is just as important to a child’s welfare as its education.
As has been mentioned, it was the Conservative manifesto of 1951 that stated that housing
“is the first of the social services”.
It went on to say that
“work, family life, health and education are all undermined by crowded houses.”
The argument then was about numbers, and it still is—but it is also about standards and acknowledging the modern-day complexity of these roles. By registering social housing managers and ensuring that they have relevant qualifications, we can begin to drive up standards. As Shelter has pointed out, it also means that it will be better equipped to support residents suffering from domestic abuse or racial harassment, or who may be caught up in youth violence or harassment by criminal gangs.
The Government have already recognised the need for improvement, and they have launched a review. I appreciate that they need time to respond to that review, but if the response is not going to be available as the legislation progresses, it would be a terrible irony if that became the reason to reject this amendment, which is measured and reasonable in scope. It is not asking for that training to be made mandatory now; it is merely asking that the Secretary of State be given the power to establish requirements for qualifications and training in regulations. That seems reasonable to me, and this is the right legislation in which to place this power. If we miss this opportunity, it could be years before there is another chance. The Grenfell community has waited long enough for the change we promised them.
Doing it now will also allow the Government to be fleet of foot—a rare occurrence—when the time comes for professionalisation, as it surely will. Awareness of the problems in social housing is growing all the time, and with it so will calls for professionalisation. Meanwhile, we should be aware that lawyers representing the bereaved and survivors at the Grenfell Tower inquiry will be proposing professionalisation in their submissions concerning future recommendations, which will be heard later this year.
Instigating this change does not need to involve the creation of a whole new body. As my noble friend Lord Young mentioned, the Chartered Institute of Housing has an existing framework of qualifications, professional registration and a code of ethics and values, and this could all take professionalisation forward. There may need to be some tweaking, of course, but the infrastructure is already there. To that end, will the Government consider this amendment as one which will bring meaningful and lasting change?
I have probably spoken for long enough, but I leave the last words to the Grenfell community. As I have said before in this place, and as is relevant again now, they want Grenfell to be remembered not for what happened on the night but for all the positive actions that have flowed as a result. They believe passionately that professionalisation can be one of the most important elements of the legacy they have fought so hard for, for many years. We owe it to them to give this proper consideration.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling amendments relating to tenant engagement.
I begin with Amendment 6, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which would require the regulator to consider appointing persons from different regions of the United Kingdom to the advisory panel. I hate to do this, but I point out that the Bill relates to the regulator of social housing in England alone. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to require representation on the advisory panel from the regions across the United Kingdom. That is a technicality that I should point out.
However, I understand that the aim of the amendment is to ensure that the panel is made up of a range of views. The social housing White Paper made it clear that the purpose of the panel was to provide independent and unbiased advice which would support the transformative change needed and build trust with tenants and social landlords across England. I am more than happy to put it on the record that I am clear that this means that the advisory panel has to be properly representative. I know that the regulator is fully committed to ensuring that that is the case. I am also sure that future Ministers will take a keen interest in ensuring that the advisory panel is delivering the broad representation we expect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether councils will be on the advisory panel. The Bill specifies a number of groups that must be included on the advisory panel. That includes councils, and we would expect the regulator to seek diverse views, including among local authorities. She also asked whether the Government will review the temporary nature of the advisory panel. As previously mentioned, the new regulatory regime will be reviewed after a four-year regulatory cycle, and that includes the advisory panel and its effectiveness. However, the panel is not envisaged to be a temporary body; it will continue to offer advice to the regulator on the discharge of its functions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said that she believes that prescribing factors that must be considered in deciding who makes up the panel is unnecessary and could tie the hands of the regulator. I agree—in fact, it might hamper the regulator’s ability to balance a range of factors to get the best range of views. The regulator already has several mechanisms for engaging with stakeholders, including a non-statutory advisory panel, which includes engagement with representatives from across regions within England. I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness that the Government are committed to ensuring that the panel is representative, including voices that reflect issues and views from across the country—that is, England.
Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require a social housing tenant to chair the advisory panel and to have responsibility for setting its agenda. I am sympathetic to what drives this amendment—empowering tenants and ensuring they have a voice, which is what the Bill is all about—but I do not agree that it is desirable for the legislation to specify how the panel should operate or who may lead or set the agenda in this way.
I should make it clear that the panel is intended to allow a collection of diverse voices to share their knowledge and opinions with the regulator. I would also expect the advisory panel, with the regulator, to shape how it works and what it considers. I do not believe that having a tenant set the agenda, as chairman of the panel, is necessary to ensure that the views of tenants are heard. The Government also want the panel to consider the full range of other regulatory issues that the regulator has to tackle. While consumer issues are rightly at the forefront of the Bill, we are determined that the importance of economic regulation should not be diminished. A requirement for a tenant to chair and set the agenda would not support what we are trying to achieve. As I have said, in practice I expect that all members of the advisory panel, along with the regulator, will shape its agenda and how it operates.
I now turn to the important Amendment 30, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which relates to professionalisation of the social housing sector. It is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and my noble friends Lord Young of Cookham and Lady Sanderson of Welton, and I will speak more about it in a bit. We know how important it is that social housing staff carry out their roles with a high degree of professionalism. That is why our social housing White Paper committed to review professional training and development in this sector, and to consider the appropriate qualifications and standards for social housing staff in different roles, including senior staff. To inform the review, we established a working group made up of resident groups, landlords, professional bodies and academics. We also commissioned independent research and undertook fact-finding visits to gather a wide range of evidence. We are now considering the most effective means of improving professionalism in the sector.
The noble Baroness’s amendment would allow the Secretary of State to set a requirement for persons engaged in the management of social housing to hold specified qualifications and undertake ongoing professional development, such as participation in or completion of a specified programme or course of training. We agree that these proposals have merit, and that tenants should have access to staff who listen and respond to their needs. That is why is it important that this matter be given proper consideration, which I can confirm very strongly is being given at this time. To answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, as I have said, we are working hard to fully assess the merits of different options to address this important issue and we will set out the Government’s preferred approach as soon as possible. I can assure the Committee that I will talk to the Minister personally, whoever that may be, to reflect the views of the Committee on this important issue.
I thank my noble friend Lady Sanderson of Welton not just for her input into this debate but for all the work she has done to support the Grenfell community since the fire. We all know that she has put in a lot of work, time and effort—thank you. This is probably not what the Committee wants to hear, but I will take this on personally and come back to Members who have shown interest before we get to Report with a new Minister.
I turn now to Amendment 47 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, which concerns the regulator’s powers to intervene if a ballot on issues such as regeneration and stock transfer is not being conducted reasonably, transparently or equitably. Ballots are an important way for landlords to involve tenants in the decisions they take. We expect consultations to be meaningful and genuinely seek to hear and act on the views of tenants. Guidance is readily available on resident engagement in regeneration, and statutory guidance on local housing authority stock transfers covers consultation requirements.
In addition, tenant involvement and empowerment is a core part of the regulator’s consumer standards. Where a registered provider is proposing a change in landlord or a significant change in management, the regulator expects registered providers to consult in a fair, timely, appropriate and effective manner. The Bill strengthens the regulator’s ability to intervene if a provider is systematically failing to consult fairly with tenants. Tenants will be at the heart of the new consumer regulation regime, and the views of social housing tenants and other sector stakeholders will play a crucial part in shaping it. Following these reassurances, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
I thank noble Lords for their support, particularly for my Amendment 30, which is an important amendment on a subject the Government have talked about before: professionalisation of the service. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, for all the work she has done and for the speech she made. She talked about legacy and what the Grenfell Tower community wants to see from this. I shall repeat what I said in my speech, and to which she referred: Grenfell United believes that a more professional housing sector is one of the main ways in which to create a fitting legacy for the 72 lives that were lost. We need to keep that right at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.
I thank the Minister very much for her response. She referred to the review, which is clearly important and shows that the Government are looking seriously at professionalisation. I am pleased that she believes my amendment has merit—that is very important—and that proper consideration will be given to it. As we move through the Bill, this is one area on which we can make some genuine progress and she will have our support in doing so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendment 7 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3: Collection of information
8: Clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(ba) in subsection (3), omit the words from “not” to the end;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes a consequential amendment to section 108 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 which is needed following the addition of the new offence by clause 3 of the Bill.
My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to economic regulation and refinements to the regulatory framework, as well as fee-charging powers for both the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman. Amendments 20 and 46 deliver the social housing White Paper commitment to ensure that the regulator is notified if there is a change in who controls a registered provider. At present, there is no obligation for registered providers to notify the regulator where such a change occurs. This may be detrimental to effective regulation, as a change in control can be a clear indicator of substantial changes to a registered provider’s business model or governance structure.
Amendment 20 sets out the circumstances that constitute a change of control. First, it introduces a new Section 169CC into the 2008 Act. Broadly, this requires the regulator to be notified if more than 50% of the board members of a registered provider change in a 12-month period. Secondly, a new Section 169CD requires notification where a registered provider becomes or ceases to be a subsidiary of another legal person, such as another body. Amendment 46 defines “subsidiary” in relation to this provision. I believe this a sensible change that will ensure the regulator is notified of significant changes that might affect a provider’s business model and/or governance structure.
I turn now to the amendments relating to the Housing Ombudsman. Clause 31 will improve complaint handling in the social housing sector by empowering the Housing Ombudsman to issue new types of orders and placing the complaint handling code on a statutory footing. Amendment 49 seeks to take this further by placing a duty on the Housing Ombudsman to monitor the compliance of its member landlords with the complaint handling code. This will identify the landlords that are not meeting the standards set out in the code. The ombudsman may then issue these landlords with complaint handling failure orders to rectify any issues identified and, if required, refer the matter to the regulator.
Government policy is to maximise the recovery of costs of arm’s-length bodies, which both the Housing Ombudsman Service and the regulator already seek to achieve. Amendments 50 and 51 clarify that the Housing Ombudsman is able to fund all its costs through fees charged to member landlords. This would include the cost of enforcement activities, whether those activities were connected to that member or not, such as the costs incurred by any compliance monitoring activities required to meet the duty set out by Amendment 49. This will maintain consistency with the current funding model for the Housing Ombudsman, which is 100% funded by member landlords.
The Regulator of Social Housing will see substantial growth in its regulatory activity when the new consumer regulation regime is implemented, which means that its costs will increase significantly. As a number of noble Lords pointed out at Second Reading, it is important that the regulator is provided with the funding to enable it to deliver the outcomes this Bill seeks to achieve. However, certain activities are currently not charged for. Amendment 10 will ensure that the regulator can recover an even greater part of its operating costs from the sector.
New subsection (4A) will make clear in the legislation that the powers available to the regulator to charge fees include charging for costs that may be unconnected with the specific fee-payer. For example, this would ensure that the costs of investigation and enforcement activity can be recovered through fees. This amendment also enables the regulator to charge all applicants an application fee, not just those that are eventually successful. The regulator is required to consult on any significant changes to the fees regime, which will enable stakeholders to have their say on how a new fees regime will work. Fees principles are also subject to approval from Ministers.
I turn now to other, more minor amendments in this group. Amendment 25 seeks to remove Sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act and replaces Clause 20 of the Bill which solely removes the serious detriment test. Amendments 23, 26, 31, 34 to 42, 45, 57, 58, 61, 63 and 64 mean that as well as removing the serious detriment test, the overarching grounds for the use of monitoring and enforcement powers are replaced by appropriate, tailored grounds for each of those powers. These changes do not mark a major change from the existing regime but provide greater clarity on the grounds for the use of the regulator’s powers.
Amendment 43 makes changes which will allow the regulator to use the power to appoint board members where there are none, but an officer remains, addressing the gap that currently exists. This amendment also clarifies that the regulator can appoint officers where a provider has failed to meet a regulatory standard. Amendment 44 makes clear that the regulator does not need to wait until the expiry of a term of appointment of an officer before renewing the appointment. It is vital that the regulator can act decisively and effectively, and Amendments 43 and 44 support this goal.
Amendments 8, 9, 60 and 62 remove redundant text setting out maximum levels of fines for offences under the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, now that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has removed these limits in practice.
Amendments 13, 16 and 18 extend existing moratorium provisions to unincorporated charities. The housing moratorium is an important protection as it provides time for the regulator to work with a provider and secured creditors to try to find the best solution where a provider gets into financial difficulty. Amendment 55 clarifies that all charities are subject to the existing accounting requirements in Section 135 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. Section 135 sets out the expectations on charities in relation to their accounts, including, for example, the requirement on a charity to prepare a balance sheet for each period that gives a true and fair view of the state of affairs of the charity.
Sections 129 to 133 of the 2008 Act contain requirements in relation to accounts of registered providers that are companies. Amendment 15 applies these provisions to limited liability partnerships, or LLPs. Section 120 of the 2008 Act sets out requirements for the regulator to notify other relevant bodies where it registers or deregisters a social landlord. At present, the requirements do not apply in relation to registered providers that are LLPs. Amendment 14 extends Section 120 to LLPs. Section 122 of the 2008 Act restricts the making of gifts and the payment of dividends and bonuses by a non-profit registered provider. Amendment 54 expands subsection (6) of this provision, which allows for the recovery of wrongful payment, so that it applies to non-profit registered providers of all types.
These amendments will help ensure that the correct regulatory framework is in place, and that both the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman are able to recover costs to deliver maximum cost recovery. I commend these amendments to the Committee.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the letter she sent prior to the Committee today, explaining the reasons for the 42 government amendments that were tabled during the Recess and which she has had to explain today. I appreciate that they are technical amendments, but I find it a bit concerning that, time and again, government Bills are published without the minutiae of the implications having been checked. The consequence is that we have myriad alterations today. However, I thank the Minister for going through them in detail—it is clearly not her fault that she has had to do so. With that, I accept what she has said.
The government amendments are mainly of a technical nature, and Her Majesty’s Opposition broadly support their introduction. However, some of them introduce slightly more significant changes, and it is right that the Committee should consider these in more detail. Could the Minister explain the purpose of the amendments which repeal Sections 198A and 198B, and further confirm what consultation, if any, has taken place on these changes?
I also ask the Minister for further information on the operation of Amendment 49, and consequential amendments, which will mean that the Housing Ombudsman monitors its own compliance with the code of practice. In particular, can she explain the safeguards to prevent it marking its own homework—a device I rarely used with my own pupils?
My Lords, I have so much paperwork here, so may I please read that question in Hansard? I will make sure that the noble Baroness receives a timely response. I will also put it in the Library and send it to all Members who have taken part in this debate.
Amendment 8 agreed.
9: Clause 3, page 3, line 32, leave out “, after “107(6)” insert “or (6A)”” and insert “—
(a) in the words before paragraph (a), after “107(6)” insert “or (6A)”;(b) in paragraph (a) omit the words from “not” to the end”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes a consequential amendment to section 108 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 which is needed following the addition of the new offence by clause 3 of the Bill.
Amendment 9 agreed.
Clause 3, as amended, agreed.
10: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to charge fees(1) Section 117 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (fees) is amended as follows. (2) In subsection (1)(a), after “fee” insert “for dealing with an application”.(3) After subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The regulator may make dealing with an application for initial registration conditional upon the payment of the fee.”(4) In subsection (2) omit “initial or”.(5) After subsection (4) insert—“(4A) The amount of a fee payable under this section may be calculated by reference to costs incurred, or likely to be incurred, by the regulator in the performance of any of its functions, including costs unconnected with the fee-payer and costs unconnected with registration or regulation under this Part.”(6) In subsection (5)—(a) in paragraph (a), for “expenditure on” substitute “the costs incurred in”;(b) omit paragraph (b) (but not the “and” following it);(c) in paragraph (c), for “to which it relates” substitute “incurred, or likely to be incurred, in the performance of the regulator’s functions”.”Member's explanatory statement
This makes it clear that the regulator may charge fees for dealing with applications for registration (even if unsuccessful) and may require payment in advance. It also makes clear that fees may be set at a level to cover all of the costs of the regulator, including, for example, costs unrelated to the registration process.
Amendment 10 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that the government amendments seem to have had an easier time than the amendments from the rest of the Committee.
I want to oppose the proposition that Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill. This is a probing suggestion, following up a point I made at Second Reading about the potential overlap between the role of the Housing Ombudsman on the one hand and that of the Regulator of Social Housing on the other. I am all in favour of empowering social tenants and enabling them to drive up the quality of the housing in which they live and the quality of the management of the social housing stock. However, there is a risk of confusion as the roles of the ombudsman and the regulator begin to merge.
In response to my concerns, when winding up the Second Reading debate, the Minister said:
“I point out that there is a long track record of close working between the regulator and the ombudsman, and we are ensuring effective information sharing between them. The proposals in the Bill will reinforce and strengthen the co-operation that already exists. We are also delivering a communications campaign to tenants so that they know where to go and are well informed”.—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 469.]
The department then sent me a document, headed Regulator of Social Housing and Housing Ombudsman’s Roles and Responsibilities. It is some six pages long, indicating that there is clearly a need for a detailed explanation. This document complements a five-page memorandum of understanding, published two years ago.
There are two sentences in the recent document which set out what I thought the respective roles were. One says:
“The regulator does not intervene in individual complaints or mediate in disputes between tenants and landlords.”
This statement simply is not true. The Regulator of Social Housing can intervene in individual complaints. The social housing White Paper expects the Regulator of Social Housing to
“undertake specific, reactive investigations and/or inspections where appropriate. This could be when a serious potential compliance breach has been brought to its attention by tenants”.
The briefing notes that accompanied the Queen’s Speech reinforced this by referring to the powers of the regulator to arrange emergency repairs to a tenant’s home following a survey. By definition, the regulator can do this only if he has intervened in an individual complaint. The regulator also has the means to rectify these complaints himself, as is contained in Clause 24. It is clear from that that the regulator can move from the systemic down to the detailed.
The other sentence is about the ombudsman. The document says that his role is to resolve disputes between tenant and landlord. It would be fine if it stopped at that but, again, his role is far wider and begins to encroach on the role of the regulator. He can move up from the detailed to the systemic. The social housing White Paper says that his remit includes the powers to investigate potentially systemic issues arising through complaints. He has issued a code, setting out good practice for landlords; he can initiate investigations of his own if an individual case is indicative of wider failure, again trespassing on the role of the regulator; he can use insight and data to identify trends in complaint type; he can carry out thematic investigations into issues affecting the sector, producing regular spotlight reports; he can share expertise, insight, experience and learning to influence the sector to drive a positive complaint-handling structure, again overlapping with the role of the regulator. The objectives I have just mentioned are emphasised in the corporate plan for 2022 to 2025 and in Clause 31 of the Bill. It seems that there is a clear risk of confusion, duplication and overlap between these two bodies.
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill refer diplomatically to the overlap to which I have just referred:
“The regulator and the housing ombudsman both have a role in overseeing the performance of social housing landlords”.
Exactly. I note that the memorandum is to be revised—in the words of the document to which I referred earlier—
“to provide clarity following the passage of the Bill.”
I hope we can find some clearer demarcation of the roles which avoids mission creep by both, but also ensures that there is not a gap between the two. One could argue, as the memorandum effectively does, that these two individuals are grown-ups, can work amicably together and can sort out who does what—and I am sure they do. However, I still do not think it right to leave potential overlap and duplication to the good will of two individuals.
My second concern is for the tenants who now have two bodies they can turn to if their complaint to the social landlord is not resolved: the Housing Ombudsman and now the Regulator of Social Housing. The ombudsman can make awards and recommendations, but he cannot, for instance, enter premises to remedy specific failures. If I were a tenant—and particularly if there were a backlog of complaints to the Housing Ombudsman—I would probably head for the Regulator of Social Housing since he has more powers. Is he geared up to cope with this?
In its briefing for this debate, Shelter says it is vital that the regulatory roles of the ombudsman and the Regulator of Social Housing are clearly defined, that tenants and tenant groups understand how to complain and that any complaints process or system is easy to use, accessible and effective. That leads me back to what my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh said at Second Reading:
“We are also delivering a communications campaign to tenants so that they know where to go and are well informed”.—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 469.]
This is crucial. Can my noble friend the Minister say a little more about this, as the briefing from Shelter indicates that a tenant with a complaint about his or her social landlord may not know who to go to?
As I said, my opposition to the clause is probing, and I hope that my noble friend can assure me that these concerns will be taken on board.
I have also added my name to Amendment 29, which will be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and which deals with the frequency of inspections. The social housing White Paper says that large providers should be inspected every four years, but there is no commitment to this in the Bill. I just want to make one point about this.
When I discussed the amendment with Shelter, before I added my name, I asked it to contact the National Housing Federation, as this obviously affects its members and, as we have heard, has financial implications for them. Shelter replied:
“We were able to meet with the NHF to discuss the amendments last week. They do not have a formal position on the amendments themselves. This is largely because they are a large membership body, and it would require posing the question to all their members.”
However, it did say that it had no real concerns about the amendments and is generally supportive of them, and agrees that more scrutiny and monitoring standards are needed. Its main priority is ensuring that its members are informed of what is in the Bill, to ensure that they are best prepared to implement the changes when they happen.
Its only potential issue was the inspections amendment applying to smaller social landlords. But with the amendment being a regulation-making power and not prescriptive, Shelter continued,
“we feel that it allows the Government/regulator flexibility to have different requirements on inspections for social landlords of different sizes.”
Basically, the National Housing Federation is broadly supportive of this amendment.
Against that background—and with, I am sure, the compelling oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Best—I hope that the Government will respond positively to Amendment 29. In the meantime, I beg to move that Clause 4 be not added to the Bill.
My Lords, I agree in part with what the noble Lord, Lord Young, says, but we need some degree of clarification. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to produce more complex and clear regulations as to the relationship between the two organisations.
It is slightly incongruous that my Amendment 11 is also in this group. It is a simple amendment, and I shall be brief for obvious reasons. It would add, in the designation in Clause 9 of the role of the designated health and safety officer, that mental health and well-being should be taken into account in terms of their duties. It is clear from many of our personal experiences and from the media coverage which the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson of Welton, recently referred to, that failures to deal with problems in social housing both cause and aggravate mental health problems and cause anguish and distress among tenants and their families. For that reason, we need to write it in the Bill because, in terms of prioritisation on issues with which the designated health and safety officer will be faced, it is important that he or she takes into account the mental anguish and the consequential mental health problems of tenants who are, regrettably and deplorably, in these circumstances.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 29, in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Thornhill, and of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who has already spoken; I am grateful for his comments. The amendment obliges the Regulator of Social Housing to carry out regular, routine inspections of the registered providers of social housing.
The principal justification for regulation at present—with extensive regulation of governance and financial affairs—has been to protect the taxpayer, who has paid for a significant, although much diminished, proportion of the spending by these bodies. But, as the Bill recognises, the very valid justification for effective regulation today is to protect the consumer—the tenant, the resident. This aspect of regulation has been seriously neglected.
Even though most housing associations are charities, and all except the strange new breed of so-called for-profit registered providers exist for the public good rather than their shareholders’ returns, the interests of the consumer still require all these organisations to be subject to the watchful eye of an external, independent agency. Sadly, no organisation is immune to making mistakes or becoming complacent, insensitive, deaf to the voice of their consumers, customers, citizens. This can be an increased hazard for the housing associations that have grown dramatically over recent years, to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made reference; several now own and manage over 100,000 homes, accommodating a population equivalent to that of a major city. This brings accusations of registered providers being out of touch with their residents, lacking local knowledge, and becoming remote and uncaring. Reporting by ITV and others, which has been alluded to already, has uncovered very poor performance in some of the largest housing associations.
Meanwhile, being a relatively small organisation, and supposedly with shorter lines of communication between provider and consumer, is not a guarantee of good practice. After all, in the most serious case of the Grenfell tragedy, the organisation—a tenant management organisation within the council—was relatively small and entirely locally based, but it failed its residents disastrously. An ombudsman service can play a vital role—as the Housing Ombudsman does—in responding to tenants’ complaints. However, this is no substitute for a regulator with the remit and powers to enforce proper standards and good practice in every social housing organisation.
So, given that effective regulation—particularly consumer- orientated regulation—is necessary and valuable, how can we ensure that the new regime introduced by the Bill actually succeeds in delivering decent standards, good management and maintenance services, and sensitive engagement with tenants and leaseholders? Amendment 29 seeks to address this.
Amendment 29 is intended to make sure that the regulator conducts regular, routine inspections to check that its consumer standards are being met. The amendment is earnestly sought by the Grenfell United campaigners, working alongside Shelter, to make a reality of the Bill’s intentions; indeed, this change to the Bill is the primary request of those who have been so appallingly affected by the previous inadequate regime. I met today with Edward Daffarn, the well-known Grenfell campaigner, and Tessa Barkham from the Grenfell Foundation. They made it clear that, after five long years of patient, painstaking, persistent campaigning, they are desperately hoping that the positive legacy of Grenfell will be a really robust system of effective regulation.
In this House we are well used to passing legislation to effect much-needed change, only to discover that the change we intended does not materialise. The problem is with the delivery. Our amendment aims to make sure that this fate does not befall the Bill. The amendment would hold the Government to their own commitment in last year’s social housing White Paper to introduce routine inspections for all but the smallest social landlords. At that time, the Government suggested inspections “every four years” for providers with “1,000 or more homes”. This amendment leaves it to the Secretary of State to determine the frequency of inspections for different organisations, for example of different sizes and proportionality, and to stipulate some minimum expectations for these. This allows for flexibility in responding to a changing environment. But the point is that the regulator would be obliged and made accountable to exercise the discipline of undertaking a regular inspection of each registered provider.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities explains that the Government intend there to be—to quote its June press statement—“Ofsted-style inspections”. This amendment puts that intention into the Bill. It revives arrangements I well remember experiencing when the regulator was the Housing Corporation and my housing association was paid periodic “monitoring visits”, which certainly kept us on our toes.
This amendment gets to the heart of how real change in the current regulatory system can be effected. Without this clear obligation on the regulator to carry out regular, routine inspections to ensure that consumer standards are met, the Bill may simply join the many Acts of Parliament that have the best of intentions but never actually make a difference. With this amendment, the Bill would achieve the outcome which the Grenfell campaigners are rightly seeking. It would take on board the Government’s own commitment to this approach and would greatly increase the chances of the Bill achieving its central purpose of providing real consumer protection.
My Lords, I will first of all speak to Amendment 29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best. My noble friend Lady Thornhill was going to speak but unfortunately has had to leave; she is not feeling too well.
I will just say that it has been eloquently expressed why it is very important that this amendment is included in the substance of the Bill. It gets our wholehearted support and there is no need for me to say any more.
I will also speak to Clause 4 stand part. I added my name to that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, after he raised the selfsame issue at Second Reading. It seemed that this was an area of confusion that we need to clarify before the Bill is passed.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, explained that the extension of the powers of the regulator will almost certainly lead to confusion about the power of the Housing Ombudsman. They both have responsibility for seeing that social housing landlords treat their tenants fairly, and the regulator has considerable new powers to ensure safe and secure housing, including the power to obtain a warrant to enter a property if a landlord fails to comply, as set out in Clause 24. The regulator has been given huge powers of enforcement. What can the ombudsman do? Similarly in housing as elsewhere, the tenant turns to the ombudsman if there is an unresolved issue, but it does not have those extensive powers, as the noble Lord explained in some detail. It cannot make any practical intervention. All the ombudsman can do is write a report, make recommendations and possibly award compensation, if that is appropriate—that is it.
It is not clear to me, and I do not think it is clear in the Bill, at what stage the tenant should appeal to the ombudsman. Is it as a last resort, where the regulator’s efforts have not provided a full solution—in which case, how will a complaint to the ombudsman help to resolve it? Is it envisaged that the ombudsman is the final arbiter where the regulator has not succeeded? If not, then whom? The section on appeals in the Bill is totally focused on an appeals system for registered providers; there is nothing in it about appeals for tenants. If the ombudsman is the final arbiter for tenants then more needs to be done to clarify the roles, responsibilities and powers of the ombudsman.
I am totally with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, in what he has said. There is confusion. I am looking at it from the side of the tenant. If there is an unresolved complaint—be it about rent, repairs or whatever the issue—where does the tenant go? They go first to their landlord and, if it is not resolved, they go to the regulator, because it will be a practical issue. The regulator has huge powers, so it ought to be resolvable, but if not, do they go to the ombudsman? What can the ombudsman do? From the tenants’ point of view, this is not as clearly worded as it should be.
I hope the Minister will be able to say that she will go back to the department to sort out how each of these roles will work so that there is no confusion from the tenants’ point of view, which is where I am looking at it from. I support the objection to Clause 4 standing part and look forward to what the Minister will say.
My Lords, my Amendment 33 is in this group. It would mean that the Secretary of State must bring forward an affirmative SI to make provisions for monitoring the compliance of social housing with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. I think we can all agree that there is not a lot of point in having a standard if it is not complied with. I hope that, by recognising that, the Minister will consider accepting my very simple amendment.
I have also added my name to Amendment 29, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Best. As he said, it would impose a duty on the social housing regulator to carry out regular inspections of all registered providers to ensure compliance with the regulatory standards. This is incredibly important, which is why I was very pleased to add my name to his amendment. He introduced it in such a way that we are all very clear why it is needed and would be an important improvement to the Bill, if accepted.
As it currently stands, reactive investigations are an important aspect of the system, but, unfortunately, they often come too late and sometimes they are too heavily reliant on other parts of the system revealing issues. We know that self-reporting by landlords can mask the scale or severity of problems and that action is sometimes not taken until it is too late. We need properly designed routine inspections that can be done at short notice so that we can uncover issues in a more timely manner and, most importantly, act as a deterrent to poor service and ensure that good practice is an everyday responsibility for landlords and their staff.
As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, when the Government introduced the social housing White Paper, they promised routine, Ofsted-style inspections. In this way, we would deliver a truly proactive system of regulation of social housing. As the noble Lord said, if we are genuinely to deliver what the Government seem to want with the Bill, we must ensure that good standards, right across the board, are delivered within the system. Having such inspections would help to achieve that, which is why we fully support his amendment.
I move to Amendment 11, in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty, which we also strongly support. His amendment to recognise the impact of unsafe or overcrowded conditions on mental health and well-being is incredibly important. A lot is talked about the impact of poor housing standards on physical health; not enough is talked about their impact on mental health, so we strongly support his amendment.
Finally, I come to the opposition to Clause 4 standing part from the noble Lord, Lord Young, who, as always, introduced it very clearly and effectively. He was absolutely right when he said in his introduction that we need clarification of the roles of and relationship between the regulator and the Housing Ombudsman. He talked about the overlapping of their responsibilities and the importance of avoiding confusion and duplication. If this is to be truly effective, everyone must know their role and each role must be effectively delivered. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response and to see whether the Bill could be amended by the Government to try to bring clarification so that we do not get confusion once this becomes law.
I finish by saying that we have had a number of excellent discussions today on the Bill and I look forward to working with the Minister to positively move forward the issues we have raised today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Young, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Best, for tabling these amendments, which all relate to changes to the proposed proactive consumer regulation regime. I shall start with the opposition to Clause 4 standing part, raised by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and my noble friend Lord Young asked questions on the blurred lines and lack of understanding as to who does what. I shall try to explain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked who a tenant goes to if they have a complaint. They should go first to their landlord. In the event that the complaint cannot be resolved between the tenant and the landlord, the matter can be escalated to the Housing Ombudsman, who can investigate individual complaints from tenants. Under the principle of co-regulation, it is the responsibility of landlords to deal with, and be accountable for, complaints about their service. The regulator’s Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard requires that they have clear and effective mechanisms for responding to tenants’ complaints. If the complaint cannot be resolved between tenant and landlord then, as I said, the matter can be escalated to the Housing Ombudsman, but if there is evidence of systemic failure by the landlord to comply with the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard, the Housing Ombudsman can refer the matter to the regulator. I will say a bit more about this in a minute, because there is confusion, and more clarity is required to take this forward.
Effective information sharing between the Housing Ombudsman and the Regulator of Social Housing is crucial to holding landlords to account and ensuring that complaints are dealt with fairly and effectively. To deliver this, we are seeking to legislate to strengthen the relationship between the Housing Ombudsman and the regulator. A key element of this is to put a requirement for a memorandum of understanding between the two bodies into statute. The current memorandum requires close co-operation and the sharing of relevant information and data, including evidence of potential systemic issues. This will be updated to reflect the new regulatory system of proactive consumer regulation. There is a strong track record of collaboration, and a strengthened memorandum of understanding, backed by statute, will enhance this relationship.
There is still much more to do to ensure that residents know where to seek support. We understand that. We delivered campaigns in 2021 and 2022 to ensure that residents understood how to make a complaint and how to seek redress. These campaigns reached 2.2 million and 5.7 million people respectively, and successfully raised awareness of, and confidence in, the complaints process. I assure noble Lords that the Government will build on this work and the foundations of this clause to ensure that these organisations work cohesively and are accessible to tenants.
However, I have also listened to the issues that noble Lords have raised. There is an issue about clarity of responsibilities, and a further issue to push forward far more communications with tenants, in order for them to understand the processes that we are putting in place. They are stronger processes and they are good processes, but tenants need to understand how to access them. I will take these things back to the department.
Amendment 11, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, seeks to make provisions specifying that mental health and well-being falls within the remit of the health and safety lead role. This legislation will require registered providers to designate a lead to monitor the provider’s compliance with health and safety requirements in relation to their role as landlords providing accommodation to tenants. The lead will also be required to advise the responsible body on how the provider should address any potential risks and failures.
Mental health is already part of the lead’s remit where the landlord is responsible for meeting a statutory health and safety requirement relating to it. Those requirements include, for example, meeting the decent homes standard. This requires that a property must be free from serious category 1 hazards, as classified by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005. One hazard group is psychological hazards, which includes hazards relating to space and crowding, security, light and noise. The role of the health and safety lead will be visible and accessible to tenants, so that they know who is responsible for health and safety and have the assurance that it is taken seriously.
Amendment 29, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, relates to inspections. The regulator is accountable to Ministers and Parliament for delivering effective regulation under its statutory objectives. The regulator has committed to delivering regular consumer inspections as part of the proactive regime to monitor and drive compliance with consumer standards. This was set out in the social housing White Paper, and this Bill provides the regulator with the power to deliver on that commitment. The regulator is currently developing its approach and will engage with the sector in the design of the regime. We should not pre-empt this by setting requirements in legislation.
The regulator has consistently followed policy objectives set by the Government. We do not believe that there is any risk of it not doing so regarding inspections. The regulator carries out many regulatory activities of significant importance without requirements in legislation. For example, the regulator already conducts regular inspections of the financial stability and governance of large private registered providers under the existing economic regulation regime. While the Government set the regulator’s objectives, they do not set duties for the regulator on how it ensures that providers meet the standards or mandate the regulator to carry out specific duties. This gives the regulator operational independence to regulate effectively and the flexibility to respond to changes in the operating environment. We should not compromise this. Adding a duty for inspections would create an imbalance and be a significant departure from the current approach. Consequently, we believe that it is for the regulator to design and implement inspections.
Amendment 33, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, relates to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. As part of the revised consumer regime, the regulator will introduce a set of tenant satisfaction measures which landlords will be required to report on. These will provide tenants and the regulator with information on landlord performance, including in relation to the decency of stock and repairs, to allow them to hold landlords to account. As I set out earlier, the decent homes standard requires that a property must be free from serious category 1 hazards, as classified in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005. Homes are also required to be in a reasonable state of repair, have reasonably modern facilities and services, and provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort. All registered providers are required to meet this standard. I reassure the noble Lord that these requirements mean that there is no need to introduce a separate reporting mechanism, which could create duplication and unnecessary complexity.
Following these reassurances, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this debate. As this is the last debate, can I say that my noble friend the Minister deserves commendation for how she picked up this Bill at relatively short notice, has dealt sympathetically with a whole range of issues, and has undertaken to go back to the department with some of our concerns? I am a great fan of my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, but her style is certainly somewhat different and more user-friendly.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, made the case for Amendment 29. He made two points: that this was the primary request of the Grenfell survivors; and that this was simply holding the Government to their own commitments. We both listened to what my noble friend the Minister said about the importance of not pre-empting anything, that there is no risk of the regulator not doing what was necessary and that it was important that it had operational independence. However, looking at the body language of the noble Lord, Lord Best, during the Minister’s response, it struck me that this might be an issue that he wanted to return to on Report.
Finally, turning to my own objection to Clause 4 standing part of the Bill, I was grateful for what my noble friend the Minister said. She went through the process, whereby a tenant should complain in the first instance to the landlord, and in the second instance to the Housing Ombudsman, and that is quite right. My concern and, I think, the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was that the tenant might skip the Housing Ombudsman stage and go straight to the regulator, because of the increased powers that it has. Listening to the noble Baroness, I wondered whether the tenant could take the regulator to the ombudsman if the tenant was not satisfied with what the regulator had done.
Again, I am grateful for what my noble friend said in response to our debate. I quote her when she said, “More clarity is required”. I think she said that after the memorandum of understanding has been revised in the light of this Bill, it will then be made statutory. She also said that there is more to be done to inform tenants about how to seek redress, and there are remaining issues about clarity and communication that she will take back to the department. Against those assurances, I have no hesitation at all in withdrawing my objection to Clause 4 standing part and I am more than happy to see it added to the Bill.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clauses 5 to 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Appointment of health and safety lead by registered provider
Amendment 11 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10: Electrical safety standards
Amendment 12 not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clauses 11 and 12 agreed.
Schedule 1: Limited liability partnerships
Amendments 13 to 15
13: Schedule 1, page 33, line 3, leave out paragraph 9
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Schedule 2, page 35, line 35 in the Minister’s name.
14: Schedule 1, page 33, line 18, at end insert—
“Notice of registration or de-registration
11A In section 120 (notice), in subsection (1)(c), after “charity)” insert “or a limited liability partnership”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the regulator to notify the registrar of companies of registration decisions about limited liability partnerships.
15: Schedule 1, page 33, line 18, at end insert—
11B (1) Section 129 (companies exempt from audit) is amended as follows. (2) In the heading, after “companies” insert “or limited liability partnerships”.(3) In subsection (1)(a), after “charity” insert “or is a limited liability partnership”.(4) In subsection (2)—(a) after “directors of the company” insert “or members of the limited liability partnership”;(b) for “company’s”, in both places, substitute “registered provider’s”;(c) for “which the company” substitute “which the registered provider”.(5) In subsection (3), for “has the same meaning as in” substitute “means accounts prepared in accordance with”.11C (1) Section 130 (exempt companies: accountant’s report) is amended as follows.(2) In the heading, after “companies” insert “or limited liability partnerships”.(3) In subsection (2), for “company’s” substitute “registered provider’s”.(4) In subsection (3)(b), for “company” substitute “registered provider”.(5) For subsection (6) substitute—“(6) In this section and sections 131 and 132—“firm” means any entity, whether or not a legal person, that is not an individual and includes a body corporate, a corporation sole and a partnership or other unincorporated association;“body corporate” includes a body incorporated outside the United Kingdom.”11D In section 131 (exempt companies: reporting accountant)—(a) in the heading, after “companies” insert “or limited liability partnerships”;(b) in subsection (1), for “company”, in both places, substitute “registered provider”.11E (1) Section 132 (application of Companies Act) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1)—(a) for “company” substitute “registered provider”;(b) for “company’s” substitute “registered provider’s”.(3) In subsection (2)(e)—(a) for “454(4)(b)” substitute “454”;(b) for the words from “provision” to the end substitute “section (revised accounts and reports),”.11F In section 133 (exempt companies: extraordinary audit)—(a) in the heading, after “companies” insert “or limited liability partnerships”;(b) in subsections (1), (2) and (4), for “company”, in each place, substitute “registered provider”.11G In section 141 (offences), in subsection (6), omit the words from “not” to the end.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment amends provisions of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 relating to accounts of registered providers so they also apply to a provider which is a limited liability partnership.
Amendments 13 to 15 agreed.
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed.
Clause 13 agreed.
Schedule 2: Amendments to restrictions on insolvency procedures
Amendments 16 to 18
16: Schedule 2, page 35, line 35, after “security)” insert “—
(a) in subsection (1), omit the words from “that” to the end;Member's explanatory statement
Section 108 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 contains restrictions on when a person may take steps to enforce security over property of a private registered provider. This amendment extends the provisions so they apply to any private registered provider, whatever form it takes.
17: Schedule 2, page 36, line 5, at end insert—
“(c) omit subsection (3);”Member's explanatory statement
This is consequential on amendments made to section 79 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 by clause 5 of the Bill.
18: Schedule 2, page 36, line 5, at end insert—
“(d) before subsection (4) insert—“(3A) In the case of a registered provider that is a charity registered under the Charities Act 2011 which is not a body corporate, the reference to the property of the registered provider is to the property held on the trusts of the charity (and for this purpose “trusts” has the same meaning as in the Charities Act 2011, see section 353 of that Act).””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Schedule 2, page 35, line 35 in the Minister’s name.
Amendments 16 to 18 agreed.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 14 to 15 agreed.
Clause 16: Notification of constitutional changes
19: Clause 16, page 14, line 24, leave out subsection (5)
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name to insert a new clause after clause 16.
Amendment 19 agreed.
Clause 16, as amended, agreed.
20: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Notification of change of control(1) The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 is amended as follows.(2) Before section 169D (and the heading immediately before it) insert—“Notification of change of control
169CB Application of rules about notification of change of controlThis group of sections does not apply to local authorities.169CC Change in board members(1) A registered provider must notify the regulator if—(a) the board members of the registered provider change (whether as a result of an appointment or removal of a board member or for any other reason), and(b) following that change, any of the circumstances described in subsection (2) arise.(2) The circumstances are that—(a) the number of board members of the provider has increased by more than 50% since the beginning of the relevant period;(b) the number of board members of the provider has decreased by more than 50% since the beginning of the relevant period;(c) more than 50% of the board members of the provider are persons who were not board members of the provider at the beginning of the relevant period.(3) For the purposes of this section, the “board members” of a registered provider are—(a) in the case of a registered charity which is not a registered company, its charity trustees within the meaning given by section 177 of the Charities Act 2011;(b) in the case of a registered society, the members of its committee within the meaning given by section 149 of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014;(c) in the case of a registered company, its directors within the meaning given by section 250 of the Companies Act 2006;(d) in the case of a limited liability partnership, its members.(4) For the purposes of this section, “the relevant period” is—(a) the period of 12 months ending with the day on which the change mentioned in subsection (1)(a) takes effect (“the 12 month period”), or(b) if the registered provider was not a registered provider throughout the 12 month period, the period—(i) beginning with the day (or, if more than one, the latest day) in the 12 month period on which it became a registered provider, and(ii) ending with the day on which the change mentioned in subsection (1)(a) takes effect.169CD Change in subsidiary statusA registered provider must notify the regulator each time—(a) it becomes a subsidiary of a person, or(b) it ceases to be a subsidiary of a person.””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment places a registered provider under a duty to notify the regulator if certain events occur. The events are ones which may affect control of the provider.
Amendment 20 agreed.
Amendments 21 and 22 not moved.
Clause 17: Standards relating to information and transparency
23: Clause 17, page 15, line 15, leave out subsection (3)
Member’s explanatory statement
This is consequential on the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause.
Amendment 23 agreed.
Clause 17, as amended, agreed.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Direction by Secretary of State
Amendment 24 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clause 20: Intervention powers: removal of “serious detriment” test
25: Leave out Clause 20 and insert the following new Clause—
“Failure to meet standards: exercise of intervention powersOmit sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.”Member's explanatory statement
Clause 20 of the Bill amends section 198A to remove the test of “serious detriment” before powers can be exercised. This amendment replaces that with a clause repealing sections 198A and 198B. These sections set out general grounds for exercise of powers. Instead, amendments are made to the powers themselves (where necessary) to adjust the grounds on which they can be exercised.
Amendment 25 agreed.
Clause 20, as amended, agreed.
Clause 21: Performance monitoring
26: Clause 21, page 16, line 9, leave out “After section 198B” and insert “Before section 199 (and the heading immediately before it)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is consequential on the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause.
Amendment 26 agreed.
Clause 21, as amended, agreed.
Amendment 27 not moved.
Clause 22: Surveys
Amendment 28 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Amendments 29 and 30 not moved.
Clause 23: Performance improvement plans
31: Clause 23, page 22, line 37, leave out from “of” to “has” in line 38 and insert “paragraph (e) (inserted by paragraph 8A of Schedule 3) insert “, or(f)that the authority
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to insert a paragraph 8A into Schedule 3 to the Bill (which contains amendments of section 252A of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008) and also corrects inconsistent use of language in the paragraph inserted into section 252A.
Amendment 31 agreed.
Clause 23, as amended, agreed.
Clause 24: Emergency remedial action
Amendment 32 not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clauses 25 to 28 agreed.
Amendment 33 not moved.
Schedule 3: Regulatory and enforcement powers
Amendments 34 to 45
34: Schedule 3, page 36, line 10, at end insert—
“(za) for subsection (1) substitute—“(1) The regulator may hold an inquiry into the affairs of a registered provider if the regulator suspects that—(a) the affairs of the registered provider may have been mismanaged,(b) the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A, or(c) there is a risk that, if no action is taken by the regulator or the registered provider, the registered provider will fail to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can hold an inquiry and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
35: Schedule 3, page 36, line 21, at end insert—
“6A In section 249 (management transfer), in subsection (1)—(a) in paragraph (a), omit “or”;(b) at the end of paragraph (b) insert “, or(c) the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can require a transfer of management functions and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
36: Schedule 3, page 36, line 35, at end insert—
“8A In section 252A (appointment of advisers to local authorities), in subsection (2)— (a) in the words before paragraph (a), for “thinks” substitute “is satisfied”;(b) at the end of paragraph (d) (inserted by section 9) insert—(e)that the authority has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A,”.8B In section 253 (transfer of land by private registered provider), in subsection (1)—(a) in paragraph (a), omit “or”;(b) at the end of paragraph (b) insert “, or(c) the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.”8C In section 255 (amalgamation), in subsection (1)—(a) in paragraph (a), omit “or”;(b) at the end of paragraph (b) insert “, or(c) the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.””Member's explanatory statement
These amendments adjust the grounds on which the regulator can appoint an adviser to a local authority, require a registered provider to transfer land or amalgamate registered societies and are linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
37: Schedule 3, page 36, line 37, at end insert—
“(b) in subsection (3), for the words from “that” to the end substitute “that—(a) the affairs of the registered provider have been mismanaged, or(b) the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 194.””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can restrict the dealings of a registered provider while an inquiry is in progress and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
38: Schedule 3, page 37, line 2, leave out ““non-profit” substitute “private”” and insert “the words from “that” to the end substitute “that—
(a) the affairs of a private registered provider have been mismanaged, or(b) a private registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 194.””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can restrict the dealings of a registered provider following an inquiry and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
39: Schedule 3, page 37, line 5, at end insert—
“(ba) in subsection (3), for the words from “that” to the end substitute “that—(a) the affairs of the registered provider have been mismanaged, or(b) the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can suspend an officer, employee or agent of a registered provider and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
40: Schedule 3, page 37, line 14, after “mismanagement” insert “or failure”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Schedule 3, page 37, line 5, in the Minister’s name.
41: Schedule 3, page 37, line 19, leave out ““non-profit” substitute “private”” and insert “the words from “that” to the end substitute “that—
(a) the affairs of a private registered provider have been mismanaged, or(b) a private registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can remove an officer, employee or agent of a registered provider and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
42: Schedule 3, page 37, line 22, after “mismanagement” insert “or failure”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Schedule 3, page 37, line 19, in the Minister’s name.
43: Schedule 3, page 37, line 32, at end insert—
“(aa) in subsection (1)(b), omit the “or”;(ab) after subsection (1)(b) insert—“(ba) in the case of a registered provider which is a registered charity, registered society or registered company, if none of the officers is a board member,(bb) if the regulator is satisfied that the registered provider has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A, or”;(ac) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) In subsection (1)(ba), “board member” means—(a) in the case of a registered charity which is not a registered company, a charity trustee within the meaning given by section 177 of the Charities Act 2011;(b) in the case of a registered society, a member of its committee within the meaning given by section 149 of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014;(c) in the case of a registered company, a director within the meaning given by section 250 of the Companies Act 2006.””Member's explanatory statement
This widens the power of the regulator to appoint officers of a registered provider so that an appointment can be made where a provider has breached a regulatory standard or, for some forms of registered provider, where none of the existing officers are a “board member” (as defined).
44: Schedule 3, page 37, line 33, after “subsection (4)(a)” insert “—
(i) leave out “on expiry”;Member's explanatory statement
This is to make it clear that the regulator does not need to wait until the expiry of a term of appointment of an officer before renewing the appointment.
45: Schedule 3, page 37, line 34, at end insert—
“15 In section 269A (local authorities: censure during or following inquiry)—(a) in subsection (3), for the words from “that” to the end substitute “that—(a) the affairs of the authority have been mismanaged, or(b) the authority has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.”;(b) in subsection (4), for the words from “that” to the end substitute “that—(a) the affairs of the authority have been mismanaged, or (b) the authority has failed to meet a standard under section 193, 194 or 194A.”16 In section 269B (response to censure notice), in subsection (2)(c), after “mismanaged” insert “or it has failed to meet the standard (as the case may be).””Member's explanatory statement
This adjusts the grounds on which the regulator can give a censure notice to a local authority and is linked to the repeal of sections 198A and 198B of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (see the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to substitute clause 20 with a new clause).
Amendments 34 to 45 agreed.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.
Clause 29 agreed.
46: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of “subsidiary”(1) In section 271 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (meaning of subsidiary and associate), for subsections (1) to (5) substitute—“(1) A person (“A”) is a subsidiary of another person “B” if—(a) A is a subsidiary undertaking in relation to B for the purposes of the Companies Acts (see section 1162 of, and Schedule 7 to, the Companies Act 2006), or(b) A would be a subsidiary undertaking in relation to B for those purposes if “undertaking” were defined for those purposes to mean any person.”(2) For the purposes of section 74 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the amendment in subsection (1) applies in relation to leases granted on or after 10 June 2022.”Member's explanatory statement
This widens the meaning of “subsidiary” in Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 so, amongst other things, it applies to bodies other than companies.
Amendment 46 agreed.
Clause 30 agreed.
Amendment 47 not moved.
Schedule 4: Appeals
Amendment 48 not moved.
Schedule 4 agreed.
Clause 31: Housing ombudsman scheme
Amendments 49 to 51
49: Clause 31, page 30, line 13, at end insert—
“11C A duty of the housing ombudsman to monitor compliance with a code of practice described in item 11A that it has issued.”Member's explanatory statement
This requires a housing ombudsman scheme to place a duty on a housing ombudsman to monitor compliance with a code of practice on complaint handling (if the ombudsman has issued one).
50: Clause 31, page 30, line 13, at end insert—
“(2A) In paragraph 2, in sub-paragraph (1), in item 15, for “expenses of the scheme” substitute “costs of the person administering the scheme and the scheme’s housing ombudsman”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Clause 31, page 30, line 21 in the Minister’s name.
51: Clause 31, page 30, line 21, at end insert—
“(4) In paragraph 11—(a) after sub-paragraph (1) insert—“(1ZA) The amount of a subscription payable by a member may be calculated by reference to costs incurred, or likely to be incurred, by the person administering the scheme and the scheme’s housing ombudsman in carrying out any of their functions, including costs unconnected with the member and costs unconnected with the operation of the scheme.”;(b) in sub-paragraph (1B), for “expenses”, in both places, substitute “costs”;(c) in sub-paragraph (1C)—(i) for “expenses”, in the first place it occurs, substitute “costs”;(ii) for “expenses of the scheme” substitute “costs”.”Member's explanatory statement
This makes it clear that subscriptions payable by members of a housing ombudsman scheme may be set at a level to cover all of the costs of the scheme administrator and the ombudsman, including, for example, enforcement costs and other costs unrelated to the scheme.
Amendments 49 to 51 agreed.
Clause 31, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 52 and 53 not moved.
Clause 32 agreed.
Schedule 5: Minor and consequential amendments and transitory provision
Amendments 54 to 64
54: Schedule 5, page 42, line 16, at end insert—
“10A In section 122 (payments to members etc), in subsection (6), for “registered company or registered society” substitute “registered provider”.”Member's explanatory statement
This expands the provision about the recovery of wrongful gifts or payments so it applies to all non-profit registered providers.
55: Schedule 5, page 42, line 16, at end insert—
“10B In section 135 (charity accounts), in subsection (1), omit “non-profit”.”Member's explanatory statement
The amendments to section 115 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 made by clause 7 of the Bill remove the automatic designation of charities as “non-profit organisations”. This amendment is to acknowledge that and to ensure that provisions of the 2008 Act about accounts apply to all registered charities, regardless of their designation as “non-profit”.
56: Schedule 5, page 42, line 23, after “notifications)” insert “—
(a) for “169C”, in both places, substitute “169CD”; Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name to insert a new clause after clause 16.
57: Schedule 5, page 43, line 13, at end insert—
“(za) in subsection (2) omit “applicable to it”;”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment removes some words which are not needed and is to achieve greater consistency of language in Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.
58: Schedule 5, page 43, line 26, after “(1)” insert “—
(a) in paragraph (a), omit “applicable to it”;Member's explanatory statement
This amendment removes some words which are not needed and is to achieve greater consistency of language in Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.
59: Schedule 5, page 43, line 28, at end insert—
“27A In section 256 (restrictions on dealings during an inquiry), in subsection (2), for “has reasonable grounds for believing” substitute “is satisfied”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amends the language used to express the standard which must be met for exercise of the power in order to achieve greater consistency within Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.
60: Schedule 5, page 43, line 28, at end insert—
“27B In section 258 (restrictions on dealings: supplemental), in subsection (3), omit the words from “not” to the end.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment updates section 258 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 so that it states that an offence under that section is punishable on summary conviction with an unlimited fine (which is currently the case by virtue of section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012).
61: Schedule 5, page 43, line 29, at end insert—
“28A In section 259 (suspension during inquiry), in subsection (2), for “has reasonable grounds for believing” substitute “is satisfied”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amends the language used to express the standard which must be met for exercise of powers in order to achieve greater consistency within Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.
62: Schedule 5, page 43, line 29, at end insert—
“28B In section 264 (offence of acting as an officer while disqualified), in subsection (2)(a), omit “not exceeding the statutory maximum”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment updates section 264 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 so that it states that, on summary conviction, an offence under that section is punishable with an unlimited fine (which is currently the case by virtue of section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012).
63: Schedule 5, page 43, line 29, at end insert—
“28C In section 269 (appointment of new officers), in subsection (1)(c), for “thinks” substitute “is satisfied”.28D In section 269A (local authorities: censure during or following inquiry), in subsection (2), for “has reasonable grounds for believing” substitute “is satisfied”.”Member's explanatory statement
These amend the language used to express the standard which must be met for exercise of powers in order to achieve greater consistency within Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.
64: Schedule 5, page 45, line 16, leave out paragraph 37
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment, in the Minister’s name, to insert a paragraph 8A into Schedule 3 to the Bill (which contains amendments of section 252A of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008).
Amendments 54 to 64 agreed.
Schedule 5, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 33 and 34 agreed.
Clause 35: Commencement
Amendment 65 not moved.
Clause 35 agreed.
Clause 36 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.