Government announces consultation period relating to the new Social Tenant Access to Information Requirements

Bethany Paliga
Bethany Paliga

Published: May 23rd, 2024

5 min

On 20 May 2024, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (the Department) launched a consultation seeking views on the content of a policy statement which outlines the requirements registered providers will need to meet under the new Social Tenant Access to Information Requirements (STAIRs). The consultation is also asking for views on a proposed Direction from the Secretary of State to the Regulator of Social Housing (the Regulator), directing the Regulator to require registered providers to comply with the policy statement for STAIRs.

Background

The STAIRs scheme was first introduced in the Charter for Social Housing Residents: Social Housing White Paper, as it included a commitment to introduce an ‘access to information’ scheme for the tenants of registered providers. The commitment specified that the scheme would allow social housing tenants and their representatives to access information related to the management of their housing.

Later, the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (the Act) amended the fundamental objectives of the Regulator, to include transparency and extended its standard-setting powers to cover information and transparency. It also introduced a new power of direction for the Secretary of State, allowing them to direct the Regulator on matters relating to the provision of information to tenants of social housing concerning social housing accommodation and related facilities and services.

In announcing the consultation, the Department confirmed: “The government is committed to building a culture of openness and transparency across the social housing sector, which is crucial in empowering tenants and ensuring they are able to hold their landlords to account for the quality of housing and services they provide,” which it is hoped will be delivered, in part, via STAIRs.

Overview of the STAIRs scheme

It is intended that the STAIRs will oblige registered providers to proactively publish certain information about their activities relating to the management of social housing, as set out in the publication scheme. This will allow tenants to routinely access information relevant to the management of their homes. Registered providers will also be required to review and update the information provided on a regular basis, and ensure it is accessible to all of their tenants. STAIRs will also introduce a new mechanism social housing tenants or their designated representatives to use when requesting access to information related to the management of their housing, within a specified timescale of 30 working days.

The proposals will mainly affect tenants of social housing in England, including licensees and shared owners owning less than 100% of the property equity.

It is intended that the scheme will apply to all registered providers in England, though the consultation is also intended to consider whether STAIRs should also apply to local authorities in relation to information held by tenant management organisations contracted to manage housing on behalf of local authorities.

Importantly, the Department distinguishes that the proposed right of access under the STAIRs scheme will not override any statutory rights or duties placed on the tenant or provider, including those set out in the data protection and freedom of information legislation.

It is proposed that information of relevance to the STAIRs scheme spans following categories: governance and decision making; spending; housing stock management; performance; housing services; list and registers; and social housing management.

Specifically, it is proposed that registered providers will be expected to:

  • specify the information, which is held by the registered provider, and falls within the classifications referred to above;

  • proactively publish, or otherwise make available as a matter of routine, information which is held by the registered provider and falls within the relevant classifications;

  • make tenants aware of the publication scheme, so that information can be easily identified and accessed by tenants; and

  • review and update on a regular basis, the information the registered provider makes available under the Social Housing publication scheme.

The draft policy statement intimates that in a similar way to the right of subject access, a request for information is only valid if the applicant is identifiable and a tenant or their designated representative does not have to mention STAIRs in order for the requirements under STAIRs to apply. The policy does, however, distinguish that for the purposes of the STAIRs scheme, a request for access must be made in writing and registered providers must make reasonable effort to assist applicants to make a clear and valid request.

The draft policy statement continues on, to include proposals for exemptions from disclosure under STAIRs and the basis on which registered providers can refuse a request.

Conclusion

Clarity as to the expectations proposed for the STAIRs scheme will be welcomed across the sector, particularly those in governance teams, who were left with a number of questions about the intentions of the scheme following the enactment of the Act.

The consultation is open now and is expected to last 8 weeks, until 15 July 2024. All registered providers are encouraged to review the draft direct and policy statement, to allow them to engage with the consultation and ensure that voices from across the sector, particularly those most impacted by the introduction of the scheme, are heard. Following the consultation period and review of the responses, it is hoped a definitive indication as to the requirements of the scheme will be published and registered providers can begin to plan for its implementation.


For further information please contact Bethany Paliga

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