The long awaited social housing white paper—The Charter for Social Housing Residents—(“the Charter”) was published yesterday (17 November 2020). This white paper sets out reforms under seven key chapters which all aim to improve services to tenants and give them a stronger voice. We summarise the fourth chapter, and what this means for landlords below.

Chapter 4: To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator for tenants

  • Introducing a proactive, proportionate, outcome-focused and risk-based approach to consumer regulation.
  • Transforming the Regulator of Social Housing so it proactively monitors and drives landlords’ compliance with its consumer standards.
  • Removing the ‘serious detriment test’ and introduce routine inspections for the largest landlords (with over 1,000 homes) every four years.
  • Changing the Regulator of Social Housing’s objectives to explicitly cover safety and transparency, and work with it to review its consumer standards to ensure they are up to date and deliver its revised objectives.
  • Giving the Regulator of Social Housing the power to publish a Code of Practice on the consumer standards to be clearer on what landlords are required to deliver.
  • Strengthening the Regulator of Social Housing’s enforcement powers to tackle failing landlords and to respond to new challenges facing the sector, by removing the cap on the level of fines it can issue, introducing Performance Improvement Plans for landlords failing to comply, reducing the notice period for surveys on the condition of properties, and introducing a new power to arrange emergency repairs if needed where a survey uncovers evidence of systemic landlord failures.
  • Making it explicit that provisions in contracts between local authorities and Arms Length Management Organisations or Tenant Management Organisations would be deemed void if they hindered the Regulator of Social Housing in its exercise of its powers.
  • Reviewing the statutory Right to Manage guidance.
  • Setting out an expectation for all landlords to self-refer breaches with the regulatory standards.
  • Strengthening the Regulator of Social Housing’s powers to provide robust economic regulation of private registered providers.
  • Requiring the Regulator of Social Housing to set up an Advisory Committee to provide independent and unbiased advice on discharging its functions.

One of the stand out provisions set out in this chapter is the removal of the ‘serious detriment’ test and the introduction of routine inspections for landlords with over 1000 homes every four years. This is a ‘blast from the past’ from the Audit Commission days, and an opportunity for the regulator to see for themselves the services that are being delivered to tenants.

This is likely to take place in three stages, including a desktop review, a risk-based approach to routine inspections and reactive investigations where failings have been identified. This will be a significant piece of work for all landlords as the desktop reviews are likely to be annual.

There is a clear tone within this chapter in more scrutiny of consumer related activities, with tougher consequences if failings are identified through unlimited fines and the introduction of performance improvement plans. At present, boards and executive teams are grappling with many big decisions in relation to new build programmes, climate change, decent homes, and frontline services – the new inspection regime is another big piece of work that they’ll have to cater for.

Other highlights from the white paper

We’ve taken a look at the various proposals under the seven chapters, and have highlighted some particular areas of interest for landlords, which are available below:

Register for our upcoming webinar

We wait with interest for the new consumer standards, but in the meantime we will be holding a webinar to discuss the white paper and what it means for registered providers on 1 December 2020Learn more and register here.