In July 2023, following months of debates and discussion, the Social Housing Regulation Act received Royal Assent officially becoming law. This milestone represents a significant stride towards shaping a new era of consumer regulation in the social housing sector.
This crucial journey began following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 which resulted in the government’s publication of the Charter for Social Housing Residents in November 2020. The Charter outlined a range of measures that the government would take to balance and create strong relationships between social landlords and their residents. The proposed measures sought to protect the safety and well-being of social housing residents to ensure their voices are heard, they reside in high-quality homes and have avenues for seeking resolution when issues arise.
The NHF welcomed the Social Housing Regulation Act. We believe everyone deserves an affordable home that is warm, safe and secure. The Act aims to reform social housing to provide tenants with greater powers and improve access to swift and fair redress.
Under the new regime, the ‘serious detriment test’ no longer applies, and the Regulator can proactively intervene where landlords are performing poorly on consumer issues and conduct routine inspections to investigate systematic issues. The Regulator has amended its consumer standards to meet expanded objectives which landlords will be required to comply with from 1 April 2024.
Social landlords will also need to consider how they effectively demonstrate transparency and accountability with their residents. The Act introduces new requirements and policy measures to increase the transparency of social landlords to their tenants. For example, for the first time, registered providers are required to collect and provide information on the Regulator’s Tenant Satisfaction Measures providing residents with the opportunity to scrutinise their landlord’s performance.
Also, social landlords will be required to comply with a new access to information scheme. This scheme enables social housing residents to request access to information from their landlord regarding the management of their home in a similar way to how the Freedom of Information Act works for local authority tenants.
The Act not only mandates landlords to maintain good quality homes and prioritise resident safety it also aims to ensure residents receive good service and are treated with respect. This includes a new set of standards for registered housing providers mandating social housing managers and executives to possess specific qualifications or be actively working to attain them. Registered providers must also adhere to specific rules concerning knowledge, skills and experience required for housing association staff dealing with tenants.
This increased consumer regulatory focus protects and empowers residents to access swift redress. It strengthens the Housing Ombudsman's authority to issue a complaint handling code and guidance to registered providers. The introduction of Awaab's Law provides greater tenant protection against hazards like damp and mould, requiring registered providers to address hazards promptly within specified timeframes. Registered providers must also provide tenants with information regarding their rights and how to make a complaint against them.
For housing associations, these regulatory changes mean proactively taking steps to ensure compliance with the revised consumer standards, equipping staff to meaningfully engage with residents and knowing their homes.
Boards will need to ensure they have adequate oversight and a comprehensive grasp of their data, including relevant information on the condition of housing stock, residents, and overall performance. In this new era, housing associations must foster a culture in which effective systems are in place to quickly identify where things have gone wrong. This culture should be geared towards swiftly rectifying these issues, thereby assuring both themselves and the Regulator in their ability to meet expected standards.
At the NHF, we are dedicated to supporting members to prepare for the forthcoming regulatory framework. Alongside advocating on behalf of the sector, we will provide our members with timely policy updates, access to extensive guides and resources, and direct engagement opportunities with government officials to gain insights into forthcoming changes.
Our newly formed National Customer Experience and Housing Management Network will enable members to exchange best practices and foster collaboration.
Now that the Social Housing Regulation Act has received Royal Assent, a series of consultations will be conducted on the measures to take forward the social housing reform programme.
These consultations will play a crucial role in shaping the sector landscape and we encourage our members to actively participate and provide your feedback. We will keep you informed about the upcoming consultations and opportunities for you to share your views on the new procedures. Our aim is to ensure the new consumer regulation regime brings about meaningful change for residents that is both practical and achievable for housing associations.