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Failing social landlords face threat of unlimited fines under Social Housing Regulation Bill

The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is to have the power to issue unlimited fines under the Social Housing Regulation Bill introduced to Parliament today (8 June 2022).

The Bill also means:

  • The RSH will be able to enter properties with only 48 hours’ notice – down from 28 days – and make emergency repairs “where there is a serious risk to tenants, with landlords footing the bill”.
  • Residents will be able to demand information and rate their landlord as part of new satisfaction measures.
  • A new 250-person residents panel will be convened every four months “to share their experiences with ministers, inform policy thinking and help drive change in the sector”.
  • Landlords will be required to have a named person who will be responsible for health and safety requirements.
  • Tenants of housing associations will be able to request information from their landlord, “similar to how the Freedom of Information Act works for council housing”.

The Bill removes the serious detriment test, meaning the RSH will be able to intervene on grounds of a breach or potential breach of consumer standards, whether or not tenants face ‘serious detriment’.

This is “a legislative barrier that once axed will make it easier for the Regulator to tackle poor performing landlords”, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said.

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It added that the biggest social housing providers will face regular Ofsted-style inspections.

Secretary of State Michael Gove said: “In 2022 it is disgraceful that anyone should live in damp, cold and unsafe homes, waiting months for repairs and being routinely ignored by their landlord. These new laws will end this injustice and ensure the regulator has strong new powers to take on rogue social landlords.

“We are driving up the standards of social housing and giving residents a voice to make sure they get the homes they deserve. That is levelling up in action.”

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Having a home that is warm and dry, safe, secure and affordable is the right of every person in this country. For social housing providers this means providing high quality living standards in every home and carrying out repairs on time.

“Government data shows that on average social homes are better quality than other rented homes, however we have seen instances where social housing tenants have had to live in substandard properties and this is not acceptable.

“We welcome the aims of this bill to give tenant’s greater powers and improve access to swift and fair redress. Over 200 housing associations have already taken steps to strengthen relationships between residents and landlords by signing up to Together with Tenants, a sector-led initiative which sets new standards for tenant and landlord relationships.

“Alongside this, the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing are working together to support housing associations to take collective action on quality issues, details of which will be published imminently.”

Responding to the introduction of the Bill, Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “The vast majority of social landlords are responsible and provide decent housing to tenants and residents, but recent reports have shone a light on the need for continuous learning and improvement to be made.

“Councils want all residents to be able to live in safe and secure, high-quality housing. The LGA continues to support councils to improve their housing management services and engagement with tenants and residents through the delivery of a social housing management peer challenge and promotion of best practice, as part of our sector support offer.

“As well as improving existing homes, the social housing supply is not sufficient to meeting the current housing demand, which is why we want to see long-term plans to give councils powers to build 100,000 high-quality, climate-friendly social homes a year, including reform of the Right to Buy scheme, which has made it difficult for councils to build replacement homes at the rate at which they are sold.”

Gemma Bell, governance partner at law firm Devonshires, suggested that the measures within the Bill "signify a real shift in rebalancing the focus between economic and consumer regulation of social housing".

She said: “While the vast majority of housing associations provide excellent services to their residents, never before has there been a greater need for Boards and councillors to ensure that they are obtaining sufficient assurance that the homes and services being provided by their organisations are safe, decent and of good quality.

“Although we have not seen the Regulator of Social Housing issue fines to date, the removal of the current cap of £5,000 to make the level of fines unlimited, together with other measures proposed in the Bill such as the power to carry out short notice inspections and a 'look through' power to follow payments made out of sector, will provide the Regulator with a greater array of tools to more effectively regulate an increasingly complex sector.”

Alongside the introduction of the Bill, the government is seeking views on electrical safety standards for social housing via a consultation.

The DLUHC also confirmed that the Private Rented Sector White Paper will be published shortly.

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