15 March 2024
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English social housing finance: what's in store for 2024? Part 3

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The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (Act) makes wholesale changes to social housing regulation under the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (HRA). These include the well-publicised enhancements to consumer regulation. Some came in to force last year, and we expect the remainder to come in to force on 1 April. Here we highlight some of the key changes applying to registered providers of social housing (RPs) from a social housing finance perspective.

New consumer standards

The changes to the approach of the Regulator of Social Housing (Regulator) to consumer regulation will begin from 1 April. The four new consumer standards (replacing the current five) will be the:

  • Safety and Quality Standard which will tie together stock condition, Decent Homes, health and safety, repairs, maintenance and planned improvement and adaptations
  • Transparency, Influence and Accountability Standard which will cover fairness and respect, diverse needs of all tenants, tenant engagement, information and complaints. It will incorporate the:
    • Tenant Satisfaction Measure requirements whereby RPs will be expected to publish performance information against a clearly defined set of expectations. The first submission date for large RPs (with 1,000 or more social homes) is at the end of June
    • requirements of the new standard on information and transparency under section 194C of the HRA
  • Neighbourhood and Community Standard which will deal with maintenance of shared spaces, local cooperation, safer neighbourhood and domestic abuse
  • Tenancy Standard which will cover allocations and lettings, tenancy sustainment and evictions, tenure and mutual exchange

The Standards will be amplified by a Code of Practice in the same way as the economic standards. In the Consumer Code of Practice, the Regulator gives examples which aim "to help registered providers understand what the regulator is looking for when seeking evidence which gives us assurance that they are delivering the outcomes of the standards".

How the Regulator will regulate

The Regulator's statutory consumer regulation objective has been expanded to:

  • support the provision of social housing that is safe and energy efficient (as well as well-managed and of appropriate quality) and
  • ensure RPs act in a transparent manner in relation to their tenants

Details of how the Regulator plans to regulate are set out in an updated version of "Regulating the Standards" and in "Reshaping consumer regulation: Our new approach". These give an overview of the new consumer regime.

Serious detriment test

The other key change to the consumer regulatory regime is the removal of the "serious detriment" test. This meant that the Regulator couldn't take action unless the RP's breach caused (or there was a significant risk it could cause) "serious detriment" to tenants. Its removal will:

  • allow the Regulator to take a proactive regulatory approach and look at RPs holistically
  • put consumer regulation on the same footing as economic regulation (where the "serious detriment" test did not apply)

Regulator powers

The Regulator's powers are enhanced under the Act, for example:

  • performance improvement plans – if required by the Regulator in certain circumstances, an RP must prepare a performance improvement plan, submit it to the Regulator and publish it
  • emergency remedial action – the Regulator can authorise people to enter an RP's premises to remedy specific failures
  • for profit RPs – a number of the Regulator's existing powers (e.g. removal or suspension of officers following an inquiry and removal of officers) are extended to apply to for profit RPs as well as non-profit RPs

In addition, fines on conviction for non-compliance with elements of the HRA (e.g. acting as an officer of an RP while disqualified) become unlimited.

Inspections and gradings

For large RPs, programmed inspections will take place at least every four years. Gradings will be "C" 1 - 4, to add to the existing gradings for the economic standards: "G" (governance) and "V" (viability).

In a recent interview with Inside Housing, Jonathan Walters from the Regulator has warned that very few RPs will get C1 judgements: "Most landlords have got distance to travel to be delivering all the outcomes in the standards".

New standard

The Regulator  is currently consulting on the  terms of the new standard on competence and conduct for managers of social housing.  We are expecting that standard (which requires professional qualifications for some social housing staff) to come into force from April next year.

What else are we expecting?

It is worth remembering that we are still waiting for a new Decent Homes Standard from Government which will tie into the Safety and Quality Standard.

Next steps

Please get in touch with one of our key contacts below or your usual AG Social, Sustainable and Green Finance team contact if you would like to discuss.

To the Point 

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