The social housing whitepaper - what changes are on the horizon?


Released in November 2020, the whitepaper sets out the actions the government will take to ensure that residents in social housing are safe, are listened to, live in good quality homes, and have access to redress when things go wrong.

In this video, Alexandra Holsgrove Jones and Linda Convery discuss - what changes does the white paper envisage and what impact will these have on the sector?

The social housing white paper – what changes are on the horizon?

Transcription 

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

Welcome to another video in our TLT taster sessions, short briefings on topical issues. Today, we're going to be looking at the social housing white paper, which was published in November. I'm Alexandra Holsgrove Jones, Senior Professional Support Lawyer in TLT's Real Estate Group. And I'm joined today by Linda Convery, Head of TLT's Housing and Regeneration Team. Linda, as expected, tenant safety is a key theme of the social housing white paper. And I think that increased tenant engagements.

Linda Convery:

Yes, the new charter, which is at the beginning of the white paper, sets out the seven elements that every social housing resident should be able to expect. These are to be safe in your home, to know how your landlord is performing, to have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly, to be treated with respect, to have your voice heard by your landlord, to have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in, and to be supported to take your first step to ownership.

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

So a key part of this is going to be the creation of a robust regulatory scheme.

Linda Convery:

Yes, and it is interesting how the government is being very proactive in its plans to make sure that local authorities, who today have not been directly regulated by the Social Housing Regulator, should be governed by the same regime of future consumer regulation as housing associations and for-profit social landlords.

Linda Convery:

The fact that the government is also asking local authorities to review their contracts with arms length management organisations, ALMOs, and tenant management organisations, TMOs to make sure that they do not prevent the regulator from taking action. And the government is willing to introduce legislation to make any provisions preventing a social housing regulator from exercising its powers in contracts between local authorities and ALMOs and TMOs void, rather than simply issuing guidance, emphasises just how serious the government is taking this issue. It will be interesting to see how the Local Government Association responds.

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

So linked to this is the issue of tenant satisfaction, enabling tenants to see how their landlord is performing, having their voices heard and ensuring that complaints are dealt with fairly and promptly.

Linda Convery:

Yes, the policy paper puts housing associations, for-profit providers and local authorities on a level playing field when it comes to measuring tenant satisfaction. Most associations already have some tenant satisfaction measures in place, but it may be a big step for local authorities and for-profit providers alike, who have not been previously required to explicitly measure and focus on tenant satisfaction.

Linda Convery:

Plans outlined in the paper to introduce rankings based on tenant satisfaction measures and routine inspections, the largest landlords with a thousand or more units will be largely welcomed by tenants, but it may cause problems for some organisations. Lots of housing associations, for example, have around 6,000 to 7,000 units. Many of these associations, as well as other smaller providers are already closely engaged with residents and the local community due to their size. This is something the government should take into account when ranking such organisations alongside larger local authorities and national providers.

Linda Convery:

Any proposed league table stemming from the requirements outlined in the white paper will need to be meaningful for tenants when looking at data and making decisions about where they live. The major challenge will be in communicating to tenants what concrete difference this will make. The government is also introducing policies aimed at improving the process of resolving residents' complaints. It is enhancing the role of the housing ombudsman and expects social housing landlords to comply with the new complaint handling code that has been published by the housing ombudsman.

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

So we've talked a bit about transparency of landlord's performance. What about tenant engagement?

Linda Convery:

Well, since the separation of the Social Housing Regulator from what is now Homes England, resident engagement has remained at the top of the agenda. Now that the serious detriment test will be dropped and the Social Housing Regulator will gain greater powers, including the fact that they can now undertake actions, such as commissioning a survey of properties within two days, as well as directly arranging for repairs and recouping money from providers, it is hoped that the regulator will be a real advocate for tenants when making a complaint.

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

Thanks, Linda. Now, during the various recent lockdowns, access to open space has been an issue for many residents, particularly in social housing. Does the white paper contain anything about promoting wellbeing through green spaces?

Linda Convery:

Yes. The government plans to review the decent home standard, including access to, and the quality of green spaces, not just the bricks and mortar. There is a greater sense here that the government is looking to solidify community-led neighborhoods, aligning with similar language in the recent planning white paper around community assets. The measures will also be about finding the balance between providing housing and implementing a green agenda.

Linda Convery:

There is a fear that some social housing providers may be confronted with the decision to choose between them, while some providers may simply not have the resources. This will ultimately depend on the provider, but it could have an unintended consequence on housing supply, leading to potential trade-offs, the register providers and developers when it comes to meeting quality standards and building enough housing for those who need it.

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

Thanks Linda, can you just give us a few final words on the white paper?

Linda Convery:

Well, we have waited a long time for the white paper and it is a real bedrock of policy, which, if it becomes law, would give a solid framework for both landlords and tenants. The measures should also help increase consumer confidence and make real change viable in the social housing sector, as it advocates for residents to become more involved in how their housing association or social housing provider is run.

Alexandra Holsgrove Jones:

Thanks, Linda. And thank you for joining us. If you have any questions on the issues we've been discussing, then please get in touch. And you can also sign up for future TLT taster sessions.

 

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