The Regulator of Social Housing’s new consumer regulation review

Summer’s the time to prepare for autumn leaves.

By September we will have new rules on consumer regulation. That’s if the country finally hits a deadline! So, as the leaves fall to the ground, the standards might be rising towards the stars. We’ll see. This note sets out the rules the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is applying now. They are certainly tightening the screw. Pay attention, as a lot is changing.

You don’t want a regulatory notice or downgrade, do you? So, let’s take a look at the new consumer regulation review from the RSH and see how it helps to keep you on the right road. In some ways this is a holding paper. We’re waiting for the new rules on consumer regulation. Will these put tenants in the box seat? We will find out soon from Esther’s sofa! 

Here’s what the RSH is saying for now.

1. Build your house upon a rock – “The importance of good quality data cannot be overstated.”

The RSH expects you to sort out the basics by, for example:

  • Holding accurate and up-to-date data on the condition of the homes and using that to plan maintenance programmes
  • Understanding the key characteristics of your tenants and how this affects the services you need to provide to them
  • Carrying out all safety checks on gas, fire, water, lifts, asbestos and electrics – with records showing what you have done and will do.

2. Tenants are a big deal – “The quality of relationship with tenants underpins registered providers’ ability to meet their objectives.” – “How registered providers engage with their tenants, how they listen to tenants and give tenants the opportunity to make their views known is a key indicator of organisational culture and it goes to the heart of why registered providers exist and their purpose.”

The RSH wants to see that:

  • You have systems in place to find out what tenants want and you act on this (HQN worked on a project for the Welsh regulator where tenants told us they wanted landlords to “listen, act and learn” – it’s the same for England too)
  • It’s easy for tenants to make complaints and you learn from these
  • You are accountable to tenants by, for example, producing an annual report.

If you’re not listening to tenants, how good is your governance? That’s a key question for the RSH.

3. You can’t rely on “serious detriment” to get you off the hook – “Increasingly there is recognition that ensuring tenants’ homes are safe goes beyond complying with specific pieces of legislation.”

Back in the day, Grant Shapps as housing minister brought in a high hurdle so that the regulator was just a backstop for tenants (as consumers). The RSH couldn’t act unless it could show that life or limb was at risk. Now the RSH is saying that if you’re sloppy, they might still issue a notice even if there isn’t “serious detriment”.

They say they may be able to hit you on the governance standard. The sin is that you didn’t know what you needed to know. That’s a big step forward. And the rules might be changing anyway. Some say that the “serious detriment” test will be toast. Why don’t you sort out your repairs service today? Before the autumn leaves start falling …

Here’s what the Housing Ombudsman says about the complaints it gets: “Living in a home in a poor state of repair can have a significant impact on residents; this can cause stress and frustration, and damage the ongoing relationship with their landlord, as residents are faced with the issue every day.” Don’t forget they work hand in glove with the RSH – as indeed they should.

4. You’re doing this for the tenants, not the RSH – “Complying with the consumer standards should not solely be driven by the requirement to do so from the regulator, but because the expectations set out in the standards are the outcomes any registered provider should seek to achieve in the course of a well-run business.”

Like the grownups they are, the RSH say they’re not the audience. It’s not all about them. The main thing is that you keep tenants safe. That song will stay the same no matter who does the regulating.

5. The RSH doesn’t have an all-seeing eye – so help them (at the right time) – “Transparency with the regulator is essential.”

The RSH doesn’t have the people or powers to spot every problem. You’ve got to tell them when things go wrong. This is what’s meant by co-regulation. If you don’t speak to the RSH soon enough, they can throw the book at you.

So, do please spot things early and ‘fess up. They really don’t like a deathbed confession. It’s just not cool to wake up to an issue on the eve of an In-Depth Assessment (IDA). Yes, some folk are that slack and they deserve all they get. Don’t fall into this trap.

In a nutshell: “All registered providers have an obligation to act to ensure the homes where their tenants live are safe.”

  • Make sure you have all the basic data you need on your homes and services
  • Be clear with your tenants about who does what so they can get in touch with the right people
  • Face up to things – sort out services at the earliest opportunity
  • Be transparent with tenants, MPs, the ombudsman and the regulator – the truth will always emerge (that’s why social media was invented)
  • Better out than in – the regulator will cut you some slack if you go to them early with a plan
  • But the opposite applies too – if the whole world is screaming at you and you ignore their valid points, you will be (I’m sorry to say) the architect of your own downfall
  • Make sure the board is all over consumer regulation
  • Produce an honest and succinct annual report for tenants
  • Look before you leap on merger – check for problems on the way in, not afterwards
  • All that glitters is not gold – check carefully before you snap up new homes. It’s amazing how many cases are about dismal standards here.

Do read the RSH consumer regulation review: it is packed with useful information (click here)

Pay close attention to the cases where the RSH did not issue a notice. There’s a lot to learn from the landlords that listened and acted quickly. You can have a similar problem but with different outcomes. And rightly so. Some boards get it, others don’t.

It’s also worth looking at HQN’s analysis of a recent speech by the chief of the RSH on consumer regulation to the CIH  – it gives a real insight into how the RSH thinks (click here).

Here is what tenants in Wales told us. Would it be the same in England?

This is the Housing Ombudsman’s report on repairs.

How can HQN help?

  • Regular briefings on consumer regulation
  • Training sessions for councils and ALMOs on consumer regulation
  • Mock IDAs for housing associations
  • Health checks of safety on fire, gas, water, electrics, lifts and asbestos
  • Health checks of internal controls and data
  • SAFETYnet
  • For any health checks please email anna.pattison@hqnetwork.co.uk. For more information on SAFETYnet please email safetynet@hqnetwork.co.uk. Alternatively give us a call on 01904 557150.

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive