Decent Homes Standard review: comments on ‘reasonable state of repair’ – National Housing Federation response to MHCLG review

16 June 2021

The Charter for Social Housing Residents: Social Housing White Paper published in November 2020 announced a review of the Decent Homes Standard, which sets out the regulatory standards for social housing properties and has not been updated since its original publication in 2007.

The National Housing Federation supports the current review of the Decent Homes Standard. We are taking part, alongside others in the sounding board run by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

As part of this exercise, MHCLG has sought input on the specific issue of the requirement in the existing Decent Homes Standard that the property be in a ‘reasonable state of repair’. This response addresses this issue.

The requirement that the property be in a ‘reasonable state of repair’ is criterion (b) in the existing Decent Homes Standard. Specifically, a dwelling will be ‘non-decent’ if:

  • One or more key building components are old and because of their condition, need replacing or major repair.
  • Two or more other building components are old and because of their condition, need replacing or major repair.

We agree that the requirement of ‘a reasonable state of repair’ is an important criterion in the Decent Homes Standard and that it should be retained. The issue therefore concerns not the criterion itself but the way it is defined.

Questions answered by the NHF

1a. Is the list of building components complete, or are there omissions or inconsistencies, taking account of new technologies and materials and present-day expectations on quality and decency?

The list of building components and intended lifetimes is a valuable element of the Decent Homes Standard and should be retained. This applies even if, as we suggest below, the distinction between ‘key’ and ‘other’ components is dropped and the age of components ceases to be a factor. The list should, however, be updated to reflect current expectations. This is particularly important in view of the drive toward greater fuel efficiency, sustainability, and decarbonisation. For instance, sources of renewable energy such as heat pumps (both ground and air) and photovoltaic (solar) panels should be included.

Water supply (both hot and cold) should be explicitly included.

‘Wall structure’ needs to distinguish non-traditional construction, where lifespans will differ.

For multiple-occupancy buildings, ‘external doors’ needs to distinguish between the external door of each flat leading into the common parts of the building, from the external door of the building as a whole. In particular, the external door of each flat will be a fire door and this will be reflected in its lifespan.

More generally, the list should better reflect safety considerations, including installations for the detection of fire, carbon monoxide and other hazards, and sprinklers where relevant., It should also be made clear that the reference to electrical systems includes their safety, for instance whether they can sustain the load likely to be imposed on them by modern lifestyles.

Finally, damp courses should be considered a building component.

1b. Is it useful to differentiate between ‘key’ and ‘other’ building components?

We think the current distinction between ‘key’ components and ‘other’ components makes the criterion more complicated without adding value to it. Removing this distinction would make the criterion easier to understand and would eliminate the need to define which components are ‘key’ and which are ‘other’.

1c. Does clustering of two or more non-serious issues rendering a home non-decent remain a useful and valid approach?

No. Any significant failing should mean that the home is not in ‘a reasonable state of repair’.

2a. Is it right that ‘age’ is a consideration when considering issue around decency and disrepair?

While the age of a component may be a reason for reviewing it against modern standards and checking its condition, the assessment of a component should be based on its condition and functionality rather than its age. Therefore, age should not in itself be a factor in deciding whether the criterion is met.

Consideration should however be given to whether a component is consistent with current standards and expectations. This is not the same issue as age because it may be that even an older component remains consistent with current expectations and if it is in good condition and functioning well there is no reason to regard it as tending to make the home ‘non-decent’, even if it has comfortably exceeded its expected lifetime. But if expected standards have changed and the component does not meet the new standard, then it should be replaced even if it is in good condition and functioning as intended.

2b. Is it valid and useful for the standard to provide and set out component life-times? If so, why?

Even if age is dropped from the criterion, we feel that the lists of component lifetimes are useful as a guide and should be retained. However, since they were drawn up in 2006, they should be reviewed to ensure that they reflect technical changes and improvements, and to update the components that are included (see answer to question 1.a. above).

2c. Taking into account advances in new technology, do you think the component lifetimes need refreshing or updating?

Please refer to the previous answer.

3. Is the prescribed approach to identifying building components in poor condition useful, or is there scope for greater local discretion?

We understand the arguments for local discretion but we think they are outweighed by the value of a clear national standard. Local variations would risk creating a ‘postcode lottery’. They may also present difficulties for housing associations with stock extending over a wide area, where different standards might apply.

4. If the criterion needs amending, do you have proposals for change?

Essentially, we have addressed this in our previous responses – in particular, in stressing the importance of safety issues and the need to reflect changing lifestyles. We are aware of suggestions that account should be taken of the wider surrounds outside the property itself. We are not unsympathetic to this suggestion but further work would need to be done on what such a requirement might look like and how to ensure that it relates only to matters that are within the landlord’s effective control.

Who to speak to

John Bryant, Policy Leader