Failing Landlords to Expect Ofsted-Style Inspections and Unlimited Fines
- 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
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.
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:
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 social housing bill has been well received by tenants, social landlords and the housing sector who have welcomed measures to;
There have, however, been concerns about issues such as
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.
PHOTO BY Illustrations @ EVO
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