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Consumer Regulation Review 2021-22: key lessons

Melanie Dirom examines the Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) recently published annual Consumer Regulation Review for 2021-22.

The RSH report contains case studies to identify lessons learnt, and sets out their approach to consumer regulation. A full copy of the report can be accessed here.

The RSH is a non-departmental public body that regulates private registered providers of social housing to ‘promote a viable, efficient and well-governed social housing sector able to deliver homes that meet a range of needs’. Part of the RSH’s role is to assess whether issues indicate systematic failures within organisations or are matters which should be dealt with through complaints procedures and/or the Housing Ombudsman.

Key lessons

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The number of investigations into possible standard breaches increased by over 30% between April 2021 and March 2022, and identified key themes that providers need to address. This included:

Governance and leadership

The review stated that it is the responsibility of the organisation's leadership to ensure that regulatory standards are being met. Organisations must have a clear oversight of their own service delivery so they can be assured of the quality and safety of homes and services they provide for tenants.

The RSH encourages all boards and councillors to look critically at their services with fresh eyes, and to really probe into their service delivery.

Effective engagement with tenants

Providers are expected to provide good quality homes and services to their tenants, and must ensure they are responsive to their tenants. The RSH encourage providers to use the time before implementation of the Social Housing Regulation Bill to ensure that they have the culture, systems and processes that will allow them to deliver effective engagement with their tenants.

Quality accommodation

Providing good quality, safe homes for tenants is a fundamental objective of all registered providers. This includes ensuring that all statutory health and safety obligations are met, including requirements on fire, electrical, water, asbestos, and lift safety. Providers must ensure that tenants know how to report issues with their home, and are easily able to report issues in ways accessible to them, and that providers can respond promptly when issues arise.

Data and compliance

The review identified the importance of having accurate, up-to-date, complete and reliable data regarding health and safety requirements. It is vital that providers have access to health and safety data they can trust so they have oversight of their organisation and can be confident they are meeting all relevant health and safety requirements and tenant needs. The review specifically commented that leadership of merging organisations need reliable and accurate health and safety data, and must pay sufficient attention to concerns raised at the due diligence stage of merger discussions.

What next?

The Government recently proposed a new Social Housing Regulation Bill to amend the RSH role and introduce proactive consumer regulation in the next few years. The proposed legislation contained in the Bill will emphasise the importance of tenants being listened to and being able to hold their landlord to account as well as emphasising the importance of tenants having access to prompt and effective redress mechanisms for when things go wrong. The RSH noted that the upcoming changes may require a cultural shift with some registered providers, which may take time to achieve.

The report is clear in reiterating that it is unacceptable not to tell the RSH when issues emerge which risk an organisation’s compliance with any of the economic or consumer standards, outlining the importance of being transparent. The RSH urges all registered providers to act now so that they are ready to meet the new regulatory requirements and the report sets out how the regulator will hold them to account and enforce its standards to bring them back to compliance. With progress on new legislation well underway, no social housing landlord can afford to remain complacent.

Melanie Dirom is a Director at Ward Hadaway.

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