The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) published a draft of the Social Housing Regulation Bill (alongside further announcements on social housing). In this blog, we discuss some of the key changes within the draft Bill and what these mean for residents. In a follow-up blog, we’ll explore the changes we’d like to see that aren’t covered by the Bill, as well as the work left for the government to do for the changes to fully deliver on promises made to social housing tenants.
Nearly five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, we’re still waiting for long-promised legislation to better regulate social housing to be introduced to Parliament. However, yesterday we came to a big step closer.
The Social Housing Regulation is the first in changing things on the ground for tenants. Yesterday, we got to see a draft version of the Bill.
But we must remember, a draft is just a draft. The Bill has not yet been put in front of parliament. Until this legislation passes and becomes law, the Regulator of Social Housing (the Regulator) cannot legally set a tough, proactive system of regulation that truly has tenant’s safety and wellbeing at its heart. Therefore, social renters won’t see the change they have been waiting for.
What we need now is the Social Housing Regulation Bill to be introduced to Parliament.
Five key changes in the Bill
In the meantime, what’s in the draft Bill? It’s structured as a list of amendments to existing legislation (the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008). Consequently, it takes some time to time to figure out what it means.
In a nutshell, the Bill will amend some key sections of the current legislation, which relate to the Regulator’s role and the action it can take to regulate consumer standards in social housing.
Here are some of the key changes and what they mean:
1. Removal of the ‘serious detriment test’: This is a big one. The serious detriment test currently prevents the Regulator from intervening in cases unless it has reason to believe tenants are at risk of a ‘serious detriment’. The test has long stood in the way of the Regulator monitoring and enforcing consumer standards proactively – preventing the Regulator from inspecting landlords and enforcing all the consumer standards. With the removal of the serious detriment test, the Regulator will be able to set up a proactive inspection regime with teeth, but the devil will be in the detail. As well as the regular (e.g., four-yearly) planned inspections proposed by the government, we support Grenfell United in wanting to see short or no-notice inspections that can fully assess the service a landlord is providing to its tenants.
2. Removing the cap on fines: Currently, fines for non-compliance are capped at £5,000. This is quite a small figure when we consider the appalling conditions some tenants have been forced to live with. The level of penalty the Regulator can hand a landlord will now be ‘unlimited’. Handing out a bigger fine is crucial – as a deterrent to bad practice, enforcing the law against poorly performing landlords, and disincentivising the poor treatment of tenants.
3. Shorter notice periods for conditions surveys: The Regulator has always been able to order an emergency survey – to assess conditions – where it suspects standards aren’t being met. The Bill brings the notice period for these surveys down from 28 days to just two, with just one day’s notice for the tenant. This is a big change. The government and the Regulator should consider what impact such short notice might have on tenants, especially those dealing with illness or other serious issues. Ultimately, the aim of uncovering and addressing serious problems in a tenant’s home before assessing repairs is a good one. Far too many tenants have had to endure poor housing conditions for too long.
4. Performance Improvement Plans: The Regulator now has the power to require landlords to a ‘performance improvement plan’ where they have been found in breach of standards. Landlords will have to set out timelines and plans, which they will then be required to implement to address the issues identified by the Regulator. How effective these improvement plans are will depend on how they’re enforced – and ultimately what action the Regulator is willing and able to take against landlords which fail to improve. Strong enforcement is needed to incentivise landlords to address quickly and effectively.
5. Safety: Safety has been added to the Regulator’s fundamental objectives. This means the Regulator can now set a standard on safety and enforce against it. The Bill further introduces a new requirement for social landlords to appoint a named individual responsible for Health and Safety. Social renters need standards and accountability on safety, but whether they’ll benefit from these changes will hugely depend on how these changes are implemented. A ‘named individual’ could be a great addition to a landlord team, but only if the role is designed with the tenants’ best interests at heart. The Regulator will need to figure out how to monitor and address this.
Other changes include:
• A new focus on ‘transparency’ and access to information about landlords, which can be vital evidence to challenge bad practices.
• A new ‘tenant advisory panel’ to the Regulator, made up of tenants and landlords, which will advise on the Regulator’s work.
• Further changes to the relationship between the Regulator and the Housing Ombudsman.
Later this week, we’ll be exploring what we think was missing in yesterday’s announcements and the draft Bill.
We’ll also set out what’s left to turn things around for social renters. A draft Bill is a step in the right direction, but it is vital that the Bill is introduced to parliament without delay as promised. Until this draft becomes legislation, the Regulator cannot deliver a new system of regulation and social tenants won’t see changes on the ground.
The government needs to deliver on its promise and bring the Social Housing Regulation Bill through parliament and into legislation as soon as possible.