By Alistair McIntosh, HQN CEO

“We have published draft legislation…to toughen up regulation of social housing landlords. This includes naming and shaming those landlords who fail to meet acceptable living standards and giving tenants a direct channel to raise their concerns with Government” – Eddie Hughes MP, Minister for Housing.

It’s time for action. The government is tightening up the rules to prevent a repeat of Grenfell. Nightly exposes of poor social housing on the TV news have forced the government’s hands.

So, what’s going to happen?

  • The Regulator for Social Housing (RSH) will get new powers to inspect social housing and demand improvements where these are needed
  • The RSH and Housing Ombudsman will work more closely to target problem landlords
  • Each landlord must put a named senior officer in charge of keeping tenants safe
  • A panel of tenants and landlords will be appointed to advise the RSH
  • Tenants are being surveyed now to find out what they think of housing services
  • Landlords will be required to publish data on performance including top pay (RSH is already consulting on publishing satisfaction data).

How should you prepare for this new regime?

  1. Motivate ALL your people
  • The board/councillors need to grasp the priority the government is giving to showing tenants respect, keeping homes safe, and being transparent about costs and performance
  • Senior finance officers need to divert resources to the frontline
  • Development staff must ensure new homes are spot on from day one
  • Maintenance operatives must treat tenants with courtesy as this is a key factor in driving satisfaction up or down.

“Many tenants are telling me they are upset by a constant stream of unpleasant remarks made by landlord staff visiting their home” – active tenant.

  • Frontline staff must be encouraged to pass on bad news to managers and managers must act on this
  • Make sure that complaints are investigated and responded to by senior people from the start – learn from your mistakes, don’t let complaints get lost in processes

2. Identify and SUPPORT the health and safety lead

This person will need:

  • Ample time to focus on the job
  • High-quality relevant training throughout
  • Infrastructure to support the post
  • Access to well-motivated technical experts (council witnesses at the Grenfell Inquiry said this gap was a critical flaw)
  • Clout – the authority to change things

3. Get the FACTS straight and ACT

The RSH is constantly and rightly berating landlords for poor-quality data. You need to sort this out by:

  • Gathering and updating safety data on all your homes and communal areas across risks such as fire safety, electrics, gas, lifts, asbestos and water
  • Maintaining accurate data on compliance with the Decent Homes Standard (as it is now and as it is amended)
  • Holding credible estimates of what you have to spend on getting to net zero
  • Putting in place the money to pay for the necessary works
  • Agreeing programmes of works that minimise inconvenience to tenants
  • Gathering satisfaction data, probing reasons for dissatisfaction and taking action to rectify matters
  • Gathering data on individual needs of tenants and tying that up with stock condition data (don’t leave vulnerable people in damp homes)

4. Forge a better relationship with tenants

There’s no glib answer here but there are a few pointers from our study for the Welsh regulator:

“… the purpose of resident involvement is not primarily to bring about specific practical outcomes but to engender a relationship of mutual trust, built through honest dialogue and respect, and embedded at every level. A strong message coming over is about the culture of organisations: repeated references to authenticity, genuineness, commitment and honesty suggest that residents and professionals alike want to see organisations being open to dialogue, committed to it, and committed to making the changes that residents feel are needed. That will involve some power sharing and compromise. The quality of ‘listening’ to tenants and residents was found to be necessary but not enough. It must be accompanied by a quality of taking on board what is said, being seen to respond to it, and then to learn from it. As we say above, study participants felt they would know resident involvement was working by both practical results and achievement of better understanding. This could be summarised as ‘Listen, act, learn’.”

5. Don’t wait – inspect yourself NOW

There’s no mystery about the standards we need to apply. After all, Kwajo Tweneboa and ITV have no difficulty spotting homes where we fall below the mark. You can inspect yourself by:

  • Going out on the estates and seeing things firsthand – “Sir Ken was known for his endless store visits and attention to detail” – obituary for Sir Ken Morrison of eponymous supermarkets
  • Talking to frontline staff in call centres and operatives
  • Examining complaint files
  • Talking to tenants at every opportunity
  • Making stringent efforts to seek views from all tenants including those with disabilities
  • Ensuring that you listen properly to black and brown tenants (typically less satisfied with many cases of poor treatment shown by ITV)
  • Acting on the findings by drawing up your own improvement plan and reporting honestly to tenants on progress
  • “To see ourselves as others see us” – consider asking for an independent inspection as a fresh pair of eyes
  • Carefully check data on safety, Decent Homes compliance and service inspection before entertaining a merger offer

Final points

The RSH uses a co-regulatory approach. What does this mean? Quite simply they expect you to have a system in place to regulate yourself. They will check this if and when they come to inspect you. The RSH expects you to tell them of any breaches of standards quickly.

What’s the timeline for change? We don’t know. There’s nothing at all that’s unreasonable in what the government is asking you to do. We think you should start now. For some landlords there’s a hill to climb. The RSH tells us they expect you to be ready on day one of the new regime.

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A year ago, we produced a full toolkit on preparing for the White Paper. Why don’t you go through it and test yourself?