The Chief Executive at the Regulator of Social Housing has said she was “appalled and ashamed” at the poor conditions raised by ITV News.
Speaking at Housing 2021, Fiona MacGregor said: “All of you will have heard over the last few years our “don’t wait” message.
“In advance of legislation, we expect providers to take action to deliver the aims of the White Paper: ensuring that residents live in good quality homes and are listened to when things go wrong. Don’t wait for the regulator to have the powers to enforce this.
“Recent media coverage has highlighted this in the most uncomfortable of ways. We have all been appalled and ashamed to see some of the conditions that have been highlighted, and what that means for affected tenants.”
MacGregor also said there was a need to “share good practice and learning within the sector.”
She added: “There is no room, or need, for competition or even schadenfreude – it does not serve the sector well, does nothing to help address stigma, and risks “there but for the grace of” territory.
“Sharing learning and ensuring transparency is why I’ve asked Clarion to publish the lessons learned from the Eastfields estate once that exercise has concluded, and they have agreed to do so.”
Looking at the sector’s finances, the Regulator was keen to stress that there shouldn’t be a conversation about investing in existing homes or building new homes, there could be both.
“The notion that the sector cannot deliver on building safety and stock improvement as well as delivering new supply appears to be an overly stark dilemma.
“However, in the current debate about funding new social housing supply there is some confusion between financing and economics. There is no shortage of finance, and most providers have the capacity to raise more debt. Too often we see so called ‘innovative solutions’ trying to solve a problem that does not currently exist.
“There is no shortage of available capital, but the difficult economic problem is generating sufficient return on that capital from sub-market rents whilst paying market prices for land and development.
“The recent Affordable Homes Programme announcement will clearly help with the economic conundrum to some extent, but our review of business plans shows how the desirable and necessary investment in, new supply and existing homes can gradually erode the financial and economic capacity of providers; which is leading some to try and find other ways to fund their business plans.”
And in the conclusion of her speech, MacGregor sent out a warning to the sector: “So, while delivering new homes to meet unmet need is as critical as ever, that should not be at the expense of the quality of existing homes.
“There is much that landlords can do to get on the front foot – to find issues and ensure tenants have confidence that it is worth reporting repairs; triangulate where possible through identification of themes and trends – and fixing issues promptly and effectively wherever possible.
“And be transparent about complexities, pressures, delays or where things go wrong. But find them before others do it for you. And fix, wherever possible, issues before they escalate, which leads to trust breaking down and established routes to redress being circumvented.
“Where things do break down and there is evidence of failure at organisational level please be in no doubt that we will call breach where we consider that it exists.
“We will not be influenced by size of organisation or by type of organisation. We will do our job in line with our role and remit – and will not succumb to pressure from any quarter – whether that pressure is to call, or not to call a breach.”
Also speaking at the session was the Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway.
He used his address to urge the sector to make the most of complaints, and learn from them. His major concerns were around the increasing rate of maladministration his organisation was finding, as well as some of the repetition of cases.
He said lessons from complaints should lead to “organisational culture change” and told delegates “not to rely on satisfaction surveys” and to instead bring issues into the boardroom for proper discussion.