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Failing Landlords to Expect Ofsted-Style Inspections and Unlimited Fines

Failing Landlords to Expect Ofsted-Style Inspections and Unlimited Fines

Published 15/07/2022

Author Articles @ EVO

Failing Landlords to Expect Ofsted-Style Inspections and Unlimited Fines

Highlights:

-        What is Social Housing?

-        The Social Housing Reform Bill

-        Reactions to the Social Housing Reform Bill

-        The Positives and Negatives of the Social Housing Bill

 

What is Social Housing?

Social homes in England offer affordable housing managed by local councils or housing associations which are either not for profit or for profit organisations.

Some of the biggest housing associations in England are Clarion, The Guinness Partnership, PA Housing, and Peabody. If you live in a social home, the housing association or council act as the landlord.

Social home rentals are linked to local incomes and, as such, offer the most affordable housing in all areas across the country. A family who qualifies for social housing usually has a secure tenancy and is protected from being evicted (compared, for instance, to those who rent privately). This means that families can put down roots, enrol their children in nearby schools or colleges and plan for the future.

Social homes are more likely to comply with the standards set for decent housing: they tend to be better insulated and more energy-efficient. In recent years, however, investment in maintaining and improving social homes has declined and the status of social housing needs to be addressed.

The Social Housing Reform Bill

After the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, doubts were cast by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on central UK Government bodies. It was felt that these bodies ought to have known that their management of the tower was breaching the rights to life and adequate housing of the tower's residents.

The fire gutted the building and killed 72 people.

The Grenfell Tower fire exposed a range of problems with social housing, providing motivation for much-needed change. In 2018, after wide-ranging discussions with social housing tenants across the country, the Government published a social housing green paper – A New Deal for Social Housing – which aimed to redress and rebalance the relationship between tenants and landlords.

The Charter for Social Housing Residents: Social Housing White Paper, published in November 2020, recognised the need for ongoing and effective regulation in protecting and empowering social housing tenants and ensuring that landlords are held to account in terms of delivering the services expected of them.

The white paper outlined the Government’s commitment to expand the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), and introduce a hands-on, proactive approach to regulation of issues such as quality of homes, landlord services and increased transparency.

The RSH is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The RSH promotes and strives for an efficient and well-governed social housing division with the aim of delivering and maintaining homes of decent quality.

The bill recommends scrapping the ‘serious detriment test’. Currently, the RHS is only able to intervene in cases where tenants are deemed to be at risk of ‘serious detriment’. 

Under the new measures, the regulator will be able to intervene on grounds of a breach or potential breach of standards, whether or not the situation has been classified as a serious detriment.

In the Charter, the Government commits to delivering transformation for social housing tenants by: 

  • Ensuring that social housing is safe and secure.
  • Assessing the performance and accountability of social landlords, including how they react to repairs, complaints and safety.
  • Guaranteeing that tenant complaints are dealt with promptly and equitably.
  • Improving consumer standards for tenants, and offering backing by the Regulator of Social Housing (a strong consumer regulator).
  • Authorising social housing tenants to hold landlords to account, for example, by having regular meetings, or by being on the board of organisations that represent the tenants.
  • Ensuring tenants live in good quality homes and neighbourhoods.
  • Providing support to tenants taking their first step to ownership.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill enhances the powers of the RSH by;

  • Enabling the RSH to intervene with landlords who are performing poorly on consumer issues, such as complaints handling and decency of homes, and to act in the interest of tenants to make sure issues are rectified.

  • Enabling the RSH to inspect landlords to make sure they are providing tenants with the quality of accommodation and services that they deserve.

  • Guaranteeing prompt action where there are concerns about the decency of a home by only giving 48 hours’ notice (down from 28 days’ notice) to a landlord before conducting a survey.

  • Authorising the RSH to issue unlimited fines. The maximum fine that can be charged currently is £5,000.

  • Empowering the RSH to arrange emergency repairs of tenants’ homes (following an inspection and finding evidence of systemic failure by the landlord), ensuring that serious issues are resolved rapidly where a landlord is unable or unwilling to take appropriate action. The landlord will have to pay for the remedial measures taken.

  • Social landlords face Ofsted-style inspections and harsh fines in new laws to tackle damp and unsafe homes.

  • Creating new Tenant Satisfaction Measures to enable tenants to assess the performance of the landlord and to have a say in areas that need attention.

  • Ensuring that tenants of housing associations will be able to request information from their landlords.

Reactions to the Social Housing Bill

Ex-housing secretary Michael Gove said that the new bill which is expected to become law by early 2023 will help to tackle “rogue social landlords”. He said, “In 2022 it is disgraceful that anyone should live in damp, cold and unsafe homes, waiting months for repairs and being routinely ignored by their landlord.”

“We are driving up the standards of social housing and giving residents a voice to make sure they get the homes they deserve. That is levelling up in action.” Michael Grove also promises to name and shame landlords who are not compliant or who have been found guilty of maladministration by the Housing Ombudsman.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, welcomes the Government’s publication of the Social Housing Regulation Bill and promises to continue to put into practice the measures it sets out to ensure all tenants have a home that is “warm and dry, safe, secure and affordable.”

Alongside this, is the proposal for a resident panel that will meet with ministers three times a year in order to share experiences, insights and inform policy.

Housing associations are demonstrating their commitment to engaging with residents through the National Housing Federation initiative Together with Tenants. This initiative sets new standards for tenant and landlord relationships.

Housing experts have praised the reforms, saying they will “tip the scales of power” in favour of tenants and ensure they cannot be ignored by landlords.

The Charter sets out measures designed to deliver on the Government’s commitment to the Grenfell community. Its 2019 manifesto pledge, to empower tenants, provide greater redress, better regulation, and improve the quality of social housing.

Other issues included in the white paper are the obligations of the landlords to nominate a person who will take responsibility for ensuring compliance with health and safety and increasing transparency by allowing tenants to see what decisions the landlord is making and how well the landlord is performing.

The housing bill calls for the effective resolution of tenants’ complaints by speeding up decisions that have already been agreed upon with the Housing Ombudsman.

The Housing Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial complaints resolution service. The Ombudsman’s determination may include recommendations for action and/or a financial remedy.

If the Ombudsman identifies possible significant systemic issues, they can refer the case to the Regulator of Social Housing.

The housing bill encourages investment in the neighbourhood by supporting access to green spaces. It also deals with anti-social behaviour by letting tenants know who is responsible for remedial steps that must be taken and who they can contact in this regard for support and assistance.

The Positives and Negatives of the Social Housing Bill

The social housing bill has been well received by tenants, social landlords and the housing sector who have welcomed measures to;

  • Raise housing standards
  • Increase transparency and accountability
  • Improve the complaints and redress processes
  • Engage and empower tenants

There have, however, been concerns about issues such as

  • The slow pace of housing reform
  • An insufficient supply of homes for social rent
  • Lack of clarity about who qualifies for social housing
  • Failure to address the stigma of social housing (heightened by the Government’s strong emphasis on home ownership)
  • The lack of a tenant representative body
  • The challenge for social landlords to put in place all the new requirements, as there is no time frame attached to delivering the requirements set out in the white paper

The campaigners who feel aggrieved by the devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Government’s slow reaction to provide safe housing in light of this tragedy continue to make their voices heard.

While the Social Housing Bill acknowledges and ratifies the importance of offering safe housing, transparent communication with tenants, and landlord accountability, it is clear that the pace at which the changes are taking place does not meet the approval of all stakeholders.

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