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Social housing regulation - what, why and when

Posted on 10/08/23 in Housing Matters

Social housing regulation - what, why and when

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 has received royal assent. It paves the way for significant changes and improvements to the social rented sector.

What is the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023?

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act lays foundations for changes to how social housing is managed. It includes increased regulation of social landlords and new rules for protecting tenants from serious hazards in their homes.

Many of the provisions in the Act are responses to the tragedies of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and death of two-year old Awaab Ishak, who died in 2020 from exposure to serious mould.

The Act allows the Regulator of Social Housing to take action against social landlords before people are at risk and hold landlords to account with regular inspections. It introduces new social housing consumer standards and gives the Secretary of State power to require social landlords to investigate and rectify serious health hazards.

When do the changes take effect?

The Act received royal assent on 20 July 2023, so it is now law, but many provisions need regulations before they can come into force. These are expected to be published in 2024.

The Act paves the way for important changes, but social tenants will have to wait for these measures to come into force.

Proactive enforcement powers

Currently, the Regulator must have reasonable grounds to suspect that a social landlord’s breach of the consumer standards has caused, or could cause, serious detriment to a tenant before it could use its intervention powers.

The Act will remove the ‘serious detriment’ test from the consumer standards for social homes. This allows the Regulator to act before people are at risk.

It gives the Regulator stronger powers, including the power to impose unlimited fines.

Performance improvement plans

The Regulator will be able to give notice to require a social landlord to prepare and implement a performance improvement plan where the landlord is failing to meet regulatory standards.

Performance improvement plans are intended to be used proactively and will enable the Regulator to hold providers to account. Tenants can request copies of improvement plans.

Other powers

The Act includes other enforcement powers. For example, the Regulator can:

  • impose unlimited fines
  • undertake surveys on properties
  • authorise emergency remedial action to remedy failures by a landlord

Tenant safety: Awaab’s Law

The Act introduces what has become known as ‘Awaab’s Law’, named after two-year old Awaab Ishak, who died in December 2020 from exposure to serious mould in his parents' social rented home.

The Secretary of State must set out new requirements for landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould within a fixed period. Consultation is expected to take place on these requirements within the next six months. Once this comes into force, a tenant could enforce their rights by a claim for breach of covenant if their landlord does not comply.

This measure could help prevent tenants from developing serious health issues because of poor conditions in their homes.

New social housing standards

The Regulator’s proactive role will be supported by new consumer standards and a regular inspections regime. These are expected to take effect from April 2024.

Private registered providers, such as housing associations, already have inspections. For local authorities, this will be a new regime. It is hoped that regular inspections will act as a deterrent to bad practice.

Find the existing regulatory standards on Gov.uk.

The new consumer standards will cover a range of issues including health and safety, landlord transparency, and housing management staff qualifications.

Health and safety

Social landlords must employ a health and safety lead who will be responsible for making recommendations to ensure compliance with health and safety laws.

Where a tenant’s safety is threatened, social landlords will have a duty to offer them alternative accommodation on equal terms to their existing tenancy. For example, where a tenant is the victim of domestic abuse.

Information and transparency

The Regulator can set a standard for social landlords covering the provision of information to tenants and the Regulator.

The standard might contain rules for that social landlords to:

  • publish information about executive pay
  • provide information to tenants about accommodation, facilities or services
  • check compliance with the standards and inform the Regulator about non-compliance

Housing management staff qualifications

The Regulator can set standards on the competence and conduct of all staff involved in the provision of housing management services.

This includes mandatory qualification requirements for senior managers and executives, such as a foundation degree or similar.

Joint working

The Regulator must establish an advisory panel to provide it with information and advice on anything which could have a significant impact on social landlords or the provision of social housing. The Act specifies who must be represented on this panel. This includes social landlords, representatives of social housing tenants, and the Secretary of State.

Housing Ombudsman

The Regulator and the Housing Ombudsman must co-operate to prepare, publish and review their Memorandum of Understanding. The Memorandum must set out how they plan to work together to ensure a more joined up approach to regulation and the handling of complaints for the benefit of tenants. The Regulator and the Ombudsman must consult each other when making changes to their schemes or standards.

The Act gives the Ombudsman the power to issue its Complaint Handling Code on a statutory footing. The Ombudsman will have the power to instruct social landlords to measure their service against Ombudsman guidance on issues such as damp and mould.

What happens next

The Act provides a strong legal framework, but the practical changes will depend on how robustly it is implemented. The Secretary of State will give directions to the Regulator, and the Regulator needs to set its new consumer standards before its effectiveness can be assessed.

It is expected that most changes will start to take effect from 2024.

Further reading

Social Housing (Regulation) Act: Royal Assent must kick off a transformation in social housing | Shelter

Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 – essential guide -Trowers & Hamlins

It’s finally here: a digest of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk)

Legislation

Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (legislation.gov.uk)