The Social Housing Green Paper – further detail and next steps

Our initial analysis of the key points in the Green Paper.

14 August 2018

The Government published its Social Housing Green Paper on 14 August, announced at our annual conference last year, in response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. 

We have prepared an initial analysis of the key points in the Green Paper, and have set out how this ties in with existing work at the Federation. The Green Paper sets out a 12-week consultation, closing on 6 November, and we outline how members can contribute to our response. It has also launched a separate call for evidence on social housing regulation, which closes on the same date. 

Key points in the Green Paper 

The Green Paper draws upon a listening exercise ministers carried out with social housing tenants, and strikes a positive tone about social housing. It repeatedly stresses the importance of social housing for the country, and is presented as 'a fundamental shift in the state's approach to social housing and the people who call it home'. 

The paper covers five key themes. 

Ensuring homes are safe and decent 

The emphasis on safety is very much based on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire. Echoing the Hackitt Review, it calls for better information for and engagement with residents on safety issues. The paper proposes piloting, with a small group of social landlords, new approaches to communicating with and engaging residents on safety issues. We are involved in the Government's Hackitt early adopter scheme and are keen to ensure any piloting properly represents the breadth of our sector and the different communities you work with. 

The paper also calls for a review of the Decent Homes Standard, and points out that some safety measures applying to private landlords do not extend to social landlords.

Effective resolution of complaints

The consultation with tenants revealed serious dissatisfaction with complaints handling by social landlords, coupled with a lack of awareness of existing remedies. The Green Paper seeks views on the 'democratic filter' stage of the complaints process, exploring whether this should be abolished or retained with a reduced waiting period, if the filter is not used, from eight weeks to four.

The Government is also seeking views on how to ensure complaints are resolved swiftly and effectively, and whether landlords’ reporting of complaints handling can be improved.

Empowering residents and strengthening the regulator

The Government suggests league tables based on key performance indicators covering matters such as repairs, safety, handling complaints, engagement with residents and neighbourhood management. It calls for data on landlord performance to be made available and accessible to residents.

The paper also asks whether the regulator should provide a ‘consumer’ rating alongside existing ratings on governance and financial viability.

The paper proposes the regulator be given stronger ‘teeth’ to ensure consumer standards are met. It seeks views on achieving a more proactive role for the regulator on consumer matters, including the modification or abolition of the ‘serious detriment’ test. There is a specific question about how the regulator may be made more accountable to Parliament.

Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities 

The most consistent theme raised by residents was the perceived stigma of being a social housing tenant. The Green Paper looks at ways of overcoming this and refers to a number of initiatives by housing associations including the ‘See the Person’ campaign.

Expanding supply and supporting home ownership

The paper acknowledges the need for new social housing, stressing both its importance in its own right and its contribution to the overall supply of new housing. It reaffirms the target in last year’s White Paper of 300,000 houses annually by the mid-2020s and proposes to ease borrowing rules for local authorities. However, it does not offer any prospect of additional grant beyond the £2bn announced last year, nor does it propose to replace the £400 million diverted from the development programme in order to fund remedial works post-Grenfell.

It is particularly disappointing that it appears to see further social housing development as continuing very much along the same lines as in the last few years and it does not indicate any intention to restore substantial levels of investment in properties to be let at social rents. Our view is that refreshing the supply of social rent housing is the most pressing need in the housing sector and it should have been placed up front and centre in the Green Paper. 

There are positive commitments to expand strategic partnerships, and to further partnerships to provide longer term funding certainty to housing associations.

How this ties in with our Offer for Tenants

Many of the questions posed in the Green Paper are questions we have already been asking ourselves as part of our Offer for Tenants work, through which we set out the sector’s ambition to become the most trusted and accountable organisations in the country.

We think this project – which is directly and positively referenced in the Green Paper – gives us a strong framework to debate and respond to the paper.

We will therefore build on this work with members and tenants over the coming months to develop a comprehensive sector response.

Next steps

The first stage of this process will be gathering your views on the transparency and accountability challenges facing our sector. Last week, we published our discussion paper on these issues, developed in partnership with the Centre for Public Scrutiny. We’d like responses to this by 5 September.

We’ll use your feedback on this discussion paper, on top of further analysis of the Green Paper, to provide the foundations of a sector response. We will then run a series of consultation events in October to discuss both the Green Paper and the wider next steps for our Offer for Tenants work – culminating in a sector response that is both meaningful and ambitious.