Access to Information Scheme for Registered Providers of Social Housing
In recent years, the social housing sector in England and Wales has witnessed a growing emphasis on transparency and tenant empowerment. The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 is a significant development in this regard and introduces far reaching consequences for registered providers in how they engage with residents. This article provides a summary of the latest developments regarding the Act, including the consultation on the first direction which is currently being considered by the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities.
The Act introduces new rights for the Regulator of Social Housing to require registered providers to publish information about management of the housing stock and compliance with the regulatory standards. This may include information on whether the registered provider has failed, or is at risk of failing, to meet any regulatory standard and information on the organisation’s management costs, income and expenditure.
In addition, the Act introduces a right for tenants to submit an “access to information” request to their landlord. This right aims to enhance transparency within the sector and make it easier for tenants to hold their landlord to account. Originally the access to information scheme was touted as being equivalent to the right of local authority tenants to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Freedom of Information Act gives wide ranging rights for any person a right to request any information from a public body. Unless the information falls within one of the exemptions defined in the Freedom of Information Act the public authority must comply with the request.
In contrast the rights under The Social Housing (Regulation) Act appear to be more limited. The right only applies to tenants, and not to third parties with wider interests (for example MPs and journalists). The information which may be requested is also more limited and applies only to information relating to the accommodation, facilities or services provided in connection with social housing.
Further detail on exactly what information registered providers will be required to make public will be set out in directions issued by the Regulator for Social Housing on the instruction of the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities. Consultation on the first direction is open until 22nd November 2023 and registered providers may submit their views using the consultation form on the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities website which can be accessed here.
In addition to setting out the information that will be the subject of the scheme, it is also expected that the Secretary of State’s direction will contain more details on the operation of the scheme. For example, relating to timescales that the registered provider must comply with when publishing information or responding to a request for information, and the circumstances in which registered providers may refuse to publish information or respond to a request. Should registered providers have any concerns regarding operation of the scheme we recommend that these concerns should be to the Secretary of State as part of the consultation (available here).
The Clarke Willmott Commercial team will share more information on this topic as it emerges. If you have any questions in the meantime, get in touch with one of our experts below for a free consultation.