Key changes following draft clauses in the Social Housing (Regeneration) Bill
The Charter for Social Housing Residents was published in November 2020.
It set out a number of proposals in relation to safety, improving the tenant experience and developing the landlord regulation regime. It promised not just policy focus, but legislative changes in support of its aspirations.
The Government has not yet set out its specific legislative plans. However, on 29 March 2022 it published the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, setting out various draft clauses in relation to proposed amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.
The Bill will go through Parliamentary procedures, such as committee stage and readings, “as Parliamentary time allows”. Hence, while the draft clauses give a good indication of the direction of travel, we won’t have clarity on the legislative changes, or the timescale for implementation, for some time to come. In the meantime, we have summarised some of the major proposed changes below:
The Regulator of Social Housing’s statutory objectives are amended to include both focus on safety, and transparency on the part of social housing landlords.
Relationship between Regulator of Social Housing and Housing Ombudsman
Obligation to co-operate in general and prepare and maintain a memorandum of how they intend to co-operate moving forward.
Collection of information
Extension of the Regulator’s power to require third parties to provide information, a “look through power” to follow information on funds or assets once they’ve left the regulated sector. This includes new offences in relation to provision of false or misleading information.
Designation of Health & Safety Lead
A new requirement to designate a specific person within a social housing landlord with responsibility for Health & Safety matters. Landlords will have a duty to ensure the designated person has sufficient authority, and is given sufficient time, to discharge the functions of the office. This may well have an impact on senior headcount within many landlords.
Consumer and Transparency Standards
There is specific inclusion of safety matters and those relating to access to information, which gives the Regulator the ability to set standards in these areas. However, as proposed, there is no specific requirement for the Regulator to do so and the existing legislation requiring the Regulator to allow landlords freedom of choice in how they conduct business is maintained.
Perhaps one of the larger legislative changes, this removes wholesale the “serious detriment” test. Currently, in order to use its powers of intervention in relation to failing consumer standards at landlords, the Regulator must show actual or potential “serious detriment” to tenants if it fails to intervene. The draft clauses remove this requirement completely. If adopted in its current form, this change to the legislation will put significant discretion in the hands of the Regulator in how and when to intervene. It will be interesting to observe both the Regulator’s attitude to this expanded discretion in general, and indeed the view of the Courts if the use of such discretion is challenged under judicial review.
Performance Improvement Plans
A new power allowing the Regulator to demand a landlord produces, and implements, a performance improvement plan to bring it back into line with consumer standards.
Regulatory and Enforcement Powers
The Bill proposes a removal of any financial caps on the level of penalties that may be imposed, in theory giving the Regulator the ability to impose unlimited fines.
Along with the Bill, the Government also announced measures to create a 250-member national tenant body in England, to be known as the Residents Panel, to consult with the Regulator on tenants’ issues. This proposal did not appear in the Charter, to some controversy, and this announcement appears designed to address that.
There was also additional detail on a “name and shame” procedure in relation to failing landlords, through publication on the web and through social media, though it is unclear how, if at all, this builds on existing practices.