The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 received Royal Assent in July. The sector has faced substantial criticisms recently and the Act aims to address shortcomings. It changes the regulation of social housing in England, introducing reforms to improve the quality of social homes and behaviour of social landlords. Some of the detail is contained in the Act but much more will be in new standards, directions and regulations. This is a brief overview of some parts of the Act and what is still to come.
New era for social housing regulation in England
The main themes of the new Act put tenants firmly at the centre, ensuring landlords provide safe, good quality homes and are held accountable for failures. The Act dramatically changes the regulatory landscape. But this is not the end of the story. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Regulator of Social Housing will be consulting on the specific details of many of the changes over the coming months.
Extended Regulator objectives
The Regulator's objectives are set out in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. The new Act extends the consumer objectives so that the Regulator is "to support the provision of social housing that is well-managed, safe, energy efficient and of appropriate quality". It also adds a new objective to ensure that landlords act in a transparent way with their tenants.
The Regulator is proposing four new consumer standards to reflect the extended remit:
- Safety and Quality Standard will deal with the provision of safe and good quality homes. It will tie in with the Decent Homes Standard and health and safety requirements. It will include requirements for evidence demonstrating homes are maintained to the proper standard
- Transparency, Influence and Accountability Standard aims to improve the landlord/tenant relationship and create a culture of transparency and accountability
- Neighbourhood and Community Standard will deal with creating well-maintained neighbourhoods so tenants can feel safe in their homes
- Tenancy Standard will set requirements for allocation, lettings and tenancy management.
Regulation of the new consumer standards will be aligned to that of the economic standards by removing the "serious detriment" test. This will allow the Regulator to move to a proactive regulatory approach and look at registered providers holistically. New, wider regulatory inspections will begin next April after the new standards have come into effect.
The Regulator will publish a Code of Practice to help RPs understand how to comply with the new consumer standards.
Additional Regulator powers
The Regulator's powers to take action against RPs are set out in statute. The new Act revises those powers and allows the Regulator to:
- arrange quicker surveys of the condition of property
- require an RP to implement a performance improvement plan
- arrange for emergency remedial action to remedy an RP's failure
- issue unlimited fines (they were previously capped).
The Act introduces Awaab's law which will set strict timescales for RPs to investigate hazards (including dangerous damp and mould) and fix problems or undertake repairs. Some of the crucial details will be set out in regulation. These important changes will allow social tenants to hold their landlord to account if they fail to act within the timeframes.
The Regulator will be under an obligation to set up "the Advisory Panel" which must include RPs, secured creditors, local authorities, the Greater London Authority, Homes England, DLUHC and, most importantly, tenants. The Advisory Panel will be able to give information and advice to the Regulator, whether or not it has been asked to.
The Advisory Panel will be in addition to the Social Housing Quality Resident Panel which the Government launched earlier this year so that social housing residents can share their views on legislation and issues in the sector.
Today is an important step towards righting the wrongs of the past. Our landmark laws will drive up standards of social housing and give residents a proper voice. The Social Housing Act will help to ensure that tenants get the safe, warm and decent homes they deserve – and those who have seriously neglected their responsibilities for far too long will face the consequences.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
The Regulator's consultation on the outcome-focused consumer standards and Code of Practice has opened and runs until mid-October.
We'll also be looking out for:
- DLUHC's consultation on the timeframes for action for Awaab's law
- A review of existing guidance on how damp and mould impacts health with new sector guidance
- An updated Decent Homes Standard
- Directions from government to the Regulator on the provision of information to tenants, competency and conduct, and access to information.