After three years of waiting, the much-anticipated Social Housing White Paper has finally been published, with plenty of warm words to make tenants feel safer and more in control.
In the wake of Grenfell, safety was always going to be a priority in this White Paper and there is a raft of measures to create more accountability and regulation in social housing. In particular, this will be done through legislation and expanding the remit and objectives of the Regulator of Social Housing, so that it includes safety, plus the legal requirement for social housing landlords to identify a nominated person responsible for health and safety compliance.
There are also measures to increase the obligation for landlords to report on tenant satisfaction and how money has been spent, and in doing so, be more transparent in reporting on performance. While these measures have been welcomed, many housing associations that already engage in good practice will find it a natural progression of the efficient work already in place.
The White Paper also covers off how the process to take complaints to the Housing Ombudsman should become simpler and with less delay, with the threat of a published list of shame for those social housing landlords that are deemed offenders.
The threshold for tenants to enjoy the Right to Shared Ownership is being taken down to 10 per cent – a proposal that forms part of the new model for shared ownership that was put out for consultation this week. This is great news for those able to move into homes under the Affordable Homes Programme, as this new threshold only applies to them. Not so great news if you are an existing tenant in an existing home. And if you’re a long-term tenant in a property built before 1997, there is nothing for you in this White Paper, as the Right to Acquire is still barred to you. The threshold drop may be designed to stimulate home ownership, but only for those at the foot of the ladder.
The missing piece of the puzzle continues to be the lack of plans to accelerate the delivery of more social housing, which was particularly disappointing and a missed opportunity to speed up availability. Social housing organisations have been among the busiest housebuilders in recent years, but they’ve already raised concerns that proposed planning reforms will further undermine delivery. The latest White Paper does nothing about this, despite a waiting list of over one million people in need of a good quality home.
Lots of changes are being proposed to level up the worst offenders in social housing, but that feels like the purpose – to create a new minimum expectation on service and quality for tenants, who will be treated more as consumers and importantly, protected, heard and respected. For many social housing landlords, this will be good news as they’re already operating beyond this expectation with their customers. For others, time will tell whether customers do end up getting a better deal.
Mike Conway is a director at Camargue