The Regulator of Social Housing (the Regulator) has released its review of consumer regulation for 2018-2019 (the Review) and it’s an important read for Registered Providers (RPs).

As RPs know, the Regulator has a restricted ability to intervene in cases involving the Consumer Standards. The Regulator can only investigate where there has been, or there is a potential that there will be, a significant risk to tenants due to a failure to meet the Consumer Standards. In 2018/2019 the Regulator published six regulatory notices where RPs had failed to meet a Consumer Standard and had risked or caused serious detriment to tenants.

The key messages from the Review are clear:

Good governance is critical

    The Regulator reiterates that compliance with the Consumer Standards can only take place where there is effective governance and risk management arrangements in place. It is stated that where the Regulator has found that there has been a failure to comply with a Consumer Standard and the serious detriment test has been met there has been a corresponding governance failure.

    To ensure good governance, RPs need to ensure that they are assessing their compliance with the Consumer Standards and that they understand what assurance they have that risks are being identified, managed and monitored - with escalation mechanisms where appropriate.

    The Regulator will also take into account communication with the Regulator and early transparency is essential. As the Regulator clearly puts it “our reactive approach does not lessen the obligation on registered providers to comply and communicate with us in a timely manner in relation to a potential breach [of the Consumer Regulations].” The Regulator notes that referrals and information about potential breaches of the Consumer Standards come from a range of different sources including tenants, statutory referrals or information obtained during the course of economic regulation work - and from RPs themselves.

    The Consumer Standards apply to local authorities

      The Review reiterates that the Consumer Standards apply to local authorities. The Regulator will consider referrals against local authorities in the same way as for private RPs. Like for private RPs, the Regulator expects that tenants will have homes that are safe and of reasonable quality, access to an effective complaints process when things go wrong and have an opportunity to have a say in decisions that affect them. It is expressly stated that local authority councillors must ensure that arrangements are in place to keep their tenants safe.

      Tenants must be engaged with and tenant complaints handled effectively

        The Review provides that “how registered providers engage with their tenants, how they listen to tenants and give tenants the opportunity to make their views known is a key indicator of organisational culture and it goes to the heart of why registered providers exist and their purpose”. This clearly shows the importance of real engagement with tenants.

        The Review reiterates the importance of tenant consultation – this must be carried out in a fair, timely, appropriate and effective manner with any proposals clearly set out in an appropriate amount of detail. This includes actual or potential advantages and disadvantages and costs to tenants both in the immediate and the longer term. The Review also is clear that RPs need to show how they have taken the outcome of consultation into account when making a decision.

        Tenants must be safe and comfortable in their homes

          The Regulator explains that each year the Home Standard features in around half of all referrals that are considered in relation to the Consumer Regulations. This year every case where a breach and serious determinant was found was in relation to the Home Standard.

          The most common issue was fire safety which ended up also showing weaknesses in other areas of health and safety for RPs. Other areas include repairs and maintenance services and compliance with statutory health and safety requirements.

          In relation to the Neighbourhood and Community Standards, whilst the Regulator acknowledges that dealing with anti-social behaviour is challenging, it is clear that all tenants must feel safe in their home and community. The Regulator expects RPs to work with other organisations to address anti-social behaviour and will ask RPs what assurance they have that they are listening to tenant concerns and acting on these where there is a complaint of this kind.

          The Review also contains fourteen case studies which should be reviewed by RPs and local authorities as they provide invaluable insight into the way in which different scenarios have been dealt with by the Regulator.

          If you would like to discuss any of the themes and issues raised in this recent publication please contact Rachel Collins or Susie Rogers.