Rising from the ashes: what is the future for social housing regulation?

Article

22 October, 2010

The abolition of the Tenant Services Authority (TSA) was announced on 14 October 2010 by the Housing Minister Grant Shapps. The announcement signals the end of one of the principal organisations designed to regulate the social housing sector. With the intended closure of the Audit Commission also due to take place in the coming years, it is important that social landlords are fully up to date with the proposed changes and what will replace them in the future.

The TSA's Past

On 1 December 2008, the TSA opened for business and effectively replaced the Housing Corporation. Created by the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, it is the regulator for almost 1,800 social landlords (such as housing associations, councils and co-operatives in England) and on 1 April 2010 it commenced regulation with its new powers based on a set of common standards across the sector. The standards detailed the levels landlords were expected to meet in order for tenants to be able to benefit from an acceptable level of service and covered:

  • tenant involvement and empowerment;
  • the home, including repairs, maintenance and quality of accommodation;
  • the tenancy, including allocations, rent and security of tenure;
  • neighbourhoods and community;
  • value for money; and
  • governance and financial viability.

The TSA's Future

The first announcement that the TSA was to be abolished was during the summer of 2010, subject to a review being carried out of its functions as part of the autumn comprehensive spending review.

The review recommended that the TSA's economic and backstop consumer regulation functions should be handed over to the Homes and Community Agency (HCA). These functions were to be handled by a committee within the HCA which would be legally separate from the HCA's investment functions, and membership of the committee would be overseen by the Secretary of State.

It also stated that there should be change in focus in the context of consumer regulation with tenants being provided with more powers to hold their landlords to account. Landlords will be expected to support tenant panels (or equivalent organisations) so that services can be examined and disputes can be resolved. Landlords will have to agree with tenants what information is to be provided about their performance so that it can be inspected effectively. There would also be a new role for "tenants' representatives" who would provide a voice for tenant rights and attempt to improve housing standards.

Full details of the review into social housing regulations are due to be published shortly.

It has also been reported that the abolition will form part of the Decentralisation and Localism Bill which is due to be heard in Parliament. At present no definitive closure date has been announced for the TSA.

Other Public Bodies

It had been reported in August 2010 that the National Audit Office was to take on many of the responsibilities currently undertaken by the Audit Commission and that local authorities would be able to choose their own auditors.

The Commission's website states that it remains responsible for the 2011/12 audit of public bodies. It continues to say it expects to close around December 2012, subject to the relevant legislation being passed and timetables being confirmed.

The TSA and the Audit Commission are not the only housing-related organisations to be earmarked for closure or restructuring. As part of the reforms of public bodies, the Homes and Communities Agency is to be substantially reformed, the National Tenant Voice is to be abolished and the Rent Assessment Panels and Residential Property Tribunal Service are also to be closed with their functions being transferred to the Ministry of Justice's tribunal service.

Summary

Due to the economic reforms being undertaken by the Government, it is likely that there will be upheaval in the regulation of the social housing sector. Until all of the changes are introduced and have taken effect, social landlords are advised to monitor the situation and be aware of just who is regulating their operations at any given time. Although the fire has been lit, the social housing regulators have not yet been turned to ashes.

For more information and assistance on these issues, please contact the Housing Department at Forbes Solicitors on 01772 220200 or email Stuart Penswick.

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