Social Housing Reform Update

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Governance, Procurement & Information Article

11 April, 2022

Background

The Government has recently published sample draft clauses and explanatory notes in the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill which set out how it intends to deliver the policies outlined in the Social Housing White Paper. The Government is publishing these changes almost a year and a half after the Social Housing White Paper.

The White Paper was introduced with the intention of driving up and improving the regulation of the social housing sector following the Social Housing Green Paper, which promised to deliver a "fundamental rethink of social housing in the wake of the fall of the Grenfell Tower Fire".

The reforms plan to broaden the remit of the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). Currently, the RSH largely focuses on financial and governance matters, however these changes set out within the White Paper will place a renewed focus on the regulation of consumer matters, such as disrepair, complaints, and transparency.

The White Paper also outlines the Government's plan to grow the Housing Ombudsmen by increasing its resources and launching an awareness campaign. Other proposed changes promised in the White Paper include the involvement of a new set of tenant satisfaction measures and a review of the Decent Homes Standard to improve the quality of the housing.

What is being announced?

The government has published some of the draft clauses which it proposes to include within the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. It includes 19 draft clauses that will amend existing legislation in order to deliver the policies set out within the White Paper. The majority of the clauses relate to the broadening of the RSH's remit including an amendment to the RSH's fundamental objectives to ensure that it supports the provision of housing that is well managed and of appropriate quality. The draft clauses also propose to add a new objective that the RSH will require the landlords to be transparent with their tenants.

The RSH will be given much greater powers to collect information, which the government said will "enable the regulator to follow money paid to bodies outside of the social housing sector and investigate potential fraud by examining the financial accounts of organisations thought to be financially deriving profits from the activities of a registered provider".

Another draft clause proposes to introduce a new access to information scheme for social housing tenants of RPs. The aim of this proposal is to ensure a culture change whereby RPs are more open with tenants, beyond the information provided through tenant satisfaction measures. It would also provide tenants of RPs with the same rights to access information from their landlords as tenants of local authorities have under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The draft Bill also sets out the obligation for RPs to designate a health and safety lead and lists the functions that health and safety lead must carry out. These include ensuring that the lead has 'sufficient authority', and is able to devote 'sufficient time', to perform the role effectively and discharge their functions.

The draft Bill also includes plans to legislate to remove the highly criticised "serious detriment test", which at present prevents the RSH from intervening in consumer standards unless a breach would seriously harm a tenant.

Power will be given to RSH to introduce new tenant satisfaction measures and force landlords to prepare performance improvements plans, while its ability to survey the condition of properties will also be strengthened. In addition, the cap on the amount that the RSH can fine RPs will also be removed.

The Government's plans also include naming and shaming landlords that are not adhering to consumer standards, the government seeks to highlight poor practise by landlords, including on social media. This will also include publishing when the Housing Ombudsmen has made a finding of severe maladministration or when the regulator find that consumer standards have been breached.

When will these changes come into force?

The government has not committed to a timeline for publishing the draft legislation in full and passing this through parliament. Back in February 2022, it was announced that the government hoped to introduce the Social Housing Regulation Bill in May or June 2022, however it is still unclear whether the Bill will be delivered at this time.

A full copy of the sample draft clauses can be found at - Social Housing (Regulation) Bill - Draft clauses (publishing.service.gov.uk)

For more information contact Daniel Milnes in our Governance, Procurement & Information department via email or phone on 01254 222313. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Governance, Procurement & Information department here

Update: Tenant Access to Information Scheme

Data Reform Bill Announced in Queen's Speech

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