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Social Housing Reform

Volume 711: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2022

Everyone in this country deserves to live in a safe and decent home. It is unacceptable in a country like the UK that anyone should have thick black mould covering their walls and have to worry about their children breathing in spores; to be put at risk of slipping on a permanently wet floor; or to have water dripping through their ceiling on to electrical appliances, putting their safety at risk. Yet too many people in social housing do live in circumstances such as these. And too often, social housing residents have simply not been listened to or felt respected by their landlords when they have tried to raise complaints, or simply talk to their landlord about these issues.

The package of reforms I am announcing today helps address these issues and is just one of a number of reforms that the Government have delivered since the Grenfell Tower fire, including the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Act, to help social housing tenants live in safe and decent homes. We have made progress. In 2010, 20% of social homes were classified as non-decent. In 2019, 13% of social homes were classified as non-decent. However, we must go further.

That is why the Government will bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows which will ensure robust regulation of social housing landlords, a policy that has long been championed by bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell tragedy. We published “The Charter for Social Housing Residents: Social Housing White Paper” after talking to thousands of residents across the country about their experiences. This set out a wide range of measures designed to drive up standards and fix a broken complaints system including by beefing up regulation of the sector, strengthening the Housing Ombudsman Service, and empowering residents to know and exercise their rights. We know we need to go even further than this to make sure that we are delivering for residents up and down the country, which is why one of our 12 missions set out in the Government’s “Levelling Up” White Paper is to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030.

Today I am announcing a package of measures which represent important steps forward. These measures are:

Social housing regulation legislation

A Resident Panel

Naming and Shaming

Tenant factsheet

Social Housing Regulation Legislation

Social housing tenants deserve to be better informed by their landlords, treated with courtesy and respect and to have their problems quickly resolved. Unfortunately, this has not always been the experience of residents in social housing.

The upcoming legislation will enable a new, proactive approach to the regulation of social housing landlords on consumer issues such as safety, transparency and tenant engagement, with new enforcement powers to tackle failing landlords. It will support a strong new regulatory regime which will drive a significant change in landlord behaviour, ensuring landlords focus on the needs of their tenants and are held to account for their performance.

The upcoming legislation has three core objectives:

To introduce a new, proactive consumer regulation regime so providers of social housing can be effectively held to account for the services they provide to tenants.

To refine the existing economic regulatory regime to make sure social housing providers are well governed and financially viable, to protect homes and investment in new supply.

To strengthen the enforcement powers of the Regulator for Social Housing (“the Regulator”), enabling it to take robust action where landlords are in breach of the standards.

Further information on the sample draft clauses which have been published today can be found here.

The Resident Panel

It is vital that the voices of tenants who live in social housing are heard directly by the Government. That’s why we are announcing the formation of a Resident Panel. The panel will consist of 250 social housing tenants, who will discuss the measures the Government are taking to ensure social landlords provide their residents with a high-quality service and invite residents to help us improve them.

The panel will meet once every four months for the foreseeable future, with residents having the opportunity to inform policy thinking, through sharing their experiences and suggesting ways that the Government can continue to influence landlords to drive change.

Naming and Shaming

While there are many providers of social housing who provide high-quality accommodation and services to tenants, there are too many who fail to meet the standards expected of them. The Government will take a stronger stance on naming and shaming social housing landlords who fail to meet the standards expected of them, by:

publicising on social media where landlords have breached the Regulator’s consumer standards or where the Housing Ombudsman has made its most serious findings of severe maladministration against them;

engaging directly with these landlords where they have not self-referred to the Regulator. If a landlord finds they have breached a regulatory standard, they should let the Regulator know; those who fail to do so will be contacted by Ministers.

Tenant factsheet

We know that too often tenants do not know who to turn to get help when they need it most.

That’s why we are publishing—and promoting—a factsheet to explain the role of the Housing Ombudsman Service and the Regulator. The factsheet reinforces the clear message in our communications campaign “Make Things Right”, which is encouraging residents to use their landlord’s complaints process and where necessary the Housing Ombudsman Service if they’re unhappy with the service from their social housing provider.

Both these organisations seek to improve the service delivered by social housing landlords, but there can be confusion about the respective roles of the two organisations, and where residents should go for support if needed.

The factsheet will outline the support on offer to residents, how landlords are held to account, and the changes that we are making to improve the services provided by the Housing Ombudsman Service and the Regulator of Social Housing.