With long-awaited social housing reforms set to be announced later this week, tenants across England could soon receive greater protection from landlords.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick is preparing to unveil new policies for England, which are expected to include a strengthened regulator with a mandate to check council and registered social landlords in England, listen to tenants, and maintain standards of homes.
Tenants are also set to be given a more direct way of raising complaints without having to first contact local councillors or MPs.
The planned reforms were prompted by the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which claimed 72 lives and followed a refurbishment project plagued by tension between residents and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management organisation.
The reforms have been repeatedly delayed, in part due to a succession of different housing secretaries and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August 2018, then housing secretary James Brokenshire published a Green Paper that set to “rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords to ensure issues are resolved swiftly and residents’ voices are heard” and “address the stigma that for too long has been associated with social housing”.
But housing campaigners warn that the Social Housing White Paper – which will apply only to social housing in England, where it accommodates about nine million people – is unlikely to address the wider problem of a shortage of supply.
Recently, the Local Government Association (LGA) said council housing waiting lists could nearly double to two million households in 2021 as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19.
While unemployment is set to drive up demand, completion of social housing fell to its lowest level since at least 1978 this spring.
Five million households live in social housing in the UK, and in the last year the regulator identified 15 cases that required its intervention because of issues that threatened serious harm.
Problems with electrics, fire safety, and asbestos were among the most common.
James Prestwich, policy director at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said he expects inspections of consumer standards to be more “proactive”.
Currently, the regulator has to be satisfied that a landlord’s conduct threatens “serious detriment” to tenants before it steps in, a threshold which is expected to be lowered.
“This will set out proposals about how tenants’ voices can be heard,” he said.
“We are keen to see how that focus on consumer regulation is going to work.
“Greater consumer regulation is a good thing, but when we’re talking about social housing we need the government to grasp the nettle and invest in more social housing.”
The tenant engagement service TPAS has said it believes the White Paper will “ask organisations to evidence their performance to show that they are listening to and engaging with tenants”.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was approached for comment.
Image credit: Guy William/Shutterstock
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