On 20 July 2023 the Social Housing (Regulation) Act (the Act) received Royal Assent to become law in the UK. The main purpose of the legislation is to overhaul consumer regulation, giving the Regulator of Social Housing (the Regulator) a much more proactive role in protecting tenants. The economic standards are also tweaked, with significantly increased enforcement powers in relation to the new consumer standard and the updated economic standards.

The Act contains no surprises and we anticipate that the vast majority of Registered Providers (RPs) will already be fully compliant. The Act will come into force in April 2024, and will introduce key reforms for the sector, including overhauling the consumer standard, with an emphasis on improving the experience of tenants and extending the enforcement powers of the Regulator of Social Housing. The reforms focus on holding underperforming RPs to account, and giving tenants a stronger voice.

In this insight, we summarise the upcoming key changes and what they mean for RPs.

Greater powers and proactivity for the Regulator of Social Housing

The Act gives the Regulator a much more proactive role in the enforcement of the consumer standards, and the ability to intervene by carrying out regular inspections of social housing properties. This means that, as well as demonstrating compliance with the Regulator’s economic standards in regulatory inspections, RPs will need to show how they are providing good quality homes and services to tenants.

The Regulator will also have increased powers to collect information and to address any landlord shortcomings, including issuing unlimited fines (as opposed to the previously capped fines).

Currently, the Regulator can intervene on a consumer issue, however, only if there is a risk of “serious detriment” to tenant(s). The Act removes this test, meaning that the Regulator will be able to intervene in more tenant complaint cases.

Strict time limits for addressing hazards and more transparency for tenants

A key part of the new regulations is Awaab’s Law, introduced following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak in 2022.

Awaab’s Law is a requirement on RPs to comply with strict time limits to address any health and safety hazards reported by tenants, such as damp and mould, and rehouse tenants where appropriate. RPs will be required to promote transparency and tenants will have the right of access to important information about their homes and obtain swift redress where necessary. The Regulator will also be able to order emergency repairs and access homes with 48 hours’ notice.

Appointment of a health & safety lead at each RP

Every RP must appoint an employee/officer to be its health & safety lead, responsible for compliance with health & safety obligations towards tenants. Contact details for that individual must be provided to the Regulator and made available to residents.

New qualifications requirement for managers

The Act introduces new qualification requirements for social housing managers and executives. This aims to ensure that housing association managers provide the best service possible to their residents.

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has indicated that around 25,000 people across the sector will be required to have an appropriate-level housing management qualification regulated by Ofqual, equivalent to a Level 4 or 5 Certificate or Diploma in Housing, or a foundation degree from the Chartered Institute of Housing. Further details are still to be formally announced.

Strengthened relationship with the Housing Ombudsman

In an attempt to provide a more joined up approach, the Housing Ombudsman will provide guidance to RPs following tenant complaints and RPs must measure the service they provide against the Housing Ombudsman guidance. The Regulator and Housing Ombudsman will have a closer working relationship, based on a memorandum of understanding (the initial version of which was published in 2020).

The Act also gives the Regulator wider powers to charge fees, particularly on initial registration, that are not necessarily related to the cost of the relevant application.

Next steps for the Regulator of Social Housing

On 25 July 2023 the Regulator launched a consultation on its proposed new Consumer Standard that will apply to all social landlords. RPs will be expected to know more about the condition of tenants’ homes and the individual needs of people living in them. Further, there is a requirement for RPs to listen to tenants’ complaints and to respond quickly when things need to be put right. There is an emphasis on landlords being open and accountable to their tenants.

The consultation period will run for 12 weeks, finishing on 17 October 2023. Further information will be published including the qualification criteria for managers. More will also follow on how providers will be graded. The Regulator has indicated that they intend to launch a programme of regulatory inspections from April 2024, where landlords will need to demonstrate that they are providing good quality services and homes for tenants which meet the Regulator’s standards.

Capsticks will be gathering feedback from RPs and responding to the consultation in the coming months.

How Capsticks can help

The quality of social housing will inevitably improve in light of these proposed changes, and we anticipate that most RPs will already be well-advanced in adapting to the above requirements, but please get in touch if you need any support or guidance on any of the issues raised.

More information is to be announced by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and we will issue further updates as appropriate, however, it is crucial that RPs continue to carry out regular inspections and monitor their stock to ensure data (particularly on stock condition) is up to date.

If you would like any assistance or advice in connection with any of the above, or if you would like us to review any of your policies, please don’t hesitate to contact Michael Owen, Susie Rogers or Catherine Craven.