Chat with us live
By Roger Jarman
Right up until Tuesday itself you would have thought there would be nothing on housing in the Queen’s Speech. Planning reforms had been trailed by ministers over the weekend, but the press was silent about any reforms to the rented housing sector in England. This was strange because on social housing regulation Michael Gove (Secretary of State for DLUHC) had been indicating since the New Year that a bill would be introduced in this session of Parliament, implementing the provisions of the Social Housing White Paper (published November 2020). Additionally, although there had been less focus on the private rented sector (PRS) of late, observers were expecting some reference to new regulations governing private renting, as these reforms had already been promised in the last Queen’s Speech.
Perhaps housing regulation is not a ‘salient issue’ for voters, as political scientists might tell us. Hence, it is not a focus for public debate unlike, say, the proposed clamp down on peaceful protest, the introduction of a bill of rights or the privatisation of Channel 4. But the government is probably uncomfortable about its legislative reforms in housing because they run counter to the de-regulatory rhetoric of minsters in a post-Brexit Britain.
Because make no mistake, the regulatory reforms in social housing are pretty radical in anybody’s book. The changes proposed in both social housing and in the PRS could easily have been penned by a left-leaning government led by Sir Keir Starmer.
The contents of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will be familiar fare for those that have been following the development of government policy in this space since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, followed by the Green Paper in 2018 and the White Paper in 2020. Nothing new was set out by DLUHC in the papers, that were published alongside the statement given by Prince Charles in the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday.
However, there are still major gaps in the new regulatory framework for social housing that need to be plugged. The conclusions of the decent homes review are awaited. Here, it looks like the government will pass on the opportunity to set exacting targets on social landlords to de-carbonise their housing stock. Also, there is no word from the Regulator of Social Housing about the detailed consumer standards that providers will be expected to follow – and no indication either about the inspection methods that the regulator will use when assessing compliance with the consumer standards.
Turning to the PRS reforms, the Renters Reform Bill will eventually see the abolition of ‘no fault’ evictions under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. To assuage landlords though, ministers are also promising that the grounds for possession will be reformed to introduce “new and stronger grounds for repeated incidences of rent arrears and reducing notice periods for anti-social behaviour”.
A progressive step will see the PRS having to comply with the decent homes standards that will apply in social housing as well.
The documents accompanying the Queen’s Speech make no reference to the creation of a national register for private landlords. Speculation was rife that ministers were considering establishing such a register to replace the PRS licensing schemes that have been introduced piecemeal by local authorities in different parts of the country.
One new proposal sees the creation of an ombudsman for private landlords, so that disputes “can easily be resolved without the need to go to court, which is often costly and lengthy, and ensure that when residents make a complaint, landlords take action to put things right”. Where this service fits within the existing framework for ombudsman in the PRS is anyone’s guess.
Unsurprisingly, most criticism of the government‘s proposals for the PRS centres on the failure to tackle affordability issues – particularly in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis. In the context of the ‘levelling up’ agenda, why should private landlords not have their rent levels determined by the state (as is the case with the social housing sector)? But perhaps that would be too much for a Conservative administration. ‘Level up’ maybe – but not where that could damage the interests of some of your core supporters (ie, private landlords).
We are told that the 38 bills outlined in the Queen’s Speech will be enacted over the two years until the end of this Parliament. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (covering a raft of planning reforms) is published this week. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long to see the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, the Renters Reform Bill and Leasehold Reform Bill published as well. Those living in rented and leasehold accommodation need to see the promised reforms introduced as soon as possible.