The long-awaited Social Housing White Paper was finally unveilved by the government earlier this week, and while it may only be a couple of days old, a picture is starting to emerge amid the settling dust.
Many groups have welcomed the reforms laid out in the seven chapters of The Charter for Social Housing Residents, expressing widespread approval for its commitment to giving tenants a voice and increasingly the culpability of landlords.
However, others have been critical of the government’s continued espousal of home ownership and lack of clarity around issues such as decarbonisation.
But regardless whether or not you are in favour of the reforms, it has come as a relief to many that after more than three years of waiting, the Social Housing White Paper is finally here.
From tenants to CEOs, businesses to housing bodies, Housing Digital has compiled a brief snapshot of responses from across the housing sector.
Sovereign Housing welcomed the publication of the White Paper, applauding the government’s plans to reinforce the Regulator of Social Housing’s powers, with a focus on safety and transparency.
Sovereign also welcomed the proposed measures to improve the resolution of complaints and empower residents.
Chief executive Mark Washer said: “I share the government’s ambition that social housing tenants should live in safe homes, feel connected to their landlords and feel that their voices can be heard…But we can never be complacent, and good customer service requires constant vigilance.”
“I look forward to working with the Social Housing Regulator as she takes on new responsibilities as a proactive consumer regulator.
“I am passionate that social housing tenants should expect consistently high standards, just as a private tenant would – indeed I hope that Sovereign’s customers have a better experience than most.”
Many other housing providers expressed a similar sentiment, with the likes of Nottingham Community Housing Association and Orbit welcoming the move toward “greater transparency and putting customers at the core”.
“We welcome the government’s drive towards more transparency in the social housing sector, providing customers with the tools to scrutinise their landlord’s performance and empowering them to make informed decisions,” said Orbit.
Colette McKune, group chief executive at ForHousing, said: “Every tenant has the right to feel safe, to be treated with respect and have their voice heard.
“Working with the regulator and government on developing the new consumer standards is very important. At the same time, our focus will remain on building on and learning from the good work currently being done to give tenants a meaningful say in how communities are run and services are delivered.
“By demonstrating our willingness to work with, listen to, and to act upon the feedback of tenants, social landlords will be able to deliver on the Charter set out by government, meaning that the decisions continue to be driven by open, honest and, sometimes, challenging conversations with tenants.”
On Twitter, Commonweal Housing welcomed “the publication of the #socialhousingwhitepaper, which strengthens the powers of @RSHEngland and @HousingOmbuds, as well as focusing on residents of social housing”.
Both the National Housing Federation (NHF) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) welcomed the publication of the White Paper, saying it offered “much-needed certainty”.
“The publication of the Social Housing White Paper is an important and welcome milestone in the country’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy,” said Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF).
“The sector has been unwavering in its commitment to strengthening the relationships between housing associations and their residents.
“The White Paper offers much-needed certainty as we continue this work.
“The NHF and its members have made significant progress on tenant relations and engagement by developing our own resident charter, and we hope to see this work recognised in the White Paper as a standard by which the sector can continue making improvements, especially over the time it takes for the new system to be up and running.
“Housing associations have demonstrated willingness to be more accountable and transparent, and we believe that the White Paper represents a natural progression of the work we have been doing.
“We look forward to seeing the detail in the white paper so we can continue working with residents, the government, and the Regulator of Social Housing to deliver these important reforms.”
Gavin Smart, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), said: “We welcome the intention of the white paper, which puts tenants front and centre and aims to address the stigmatisation of social housing and people who live in social housing.
“Our work to recognise and enhance the professionalism of the housing sector very much complements the themes set out in the paper, and we look forward to working with government and the Regulator of Social Housing to embed these across the sector.”
The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) was welcoming of the White Paper, too, with chief executive Fiona MacGregor emphasising the Regulator’s commitment to tenants.
“We welcome the publication of the White Paper and its vision for a social housing sector which values and responds to the voices of tenants,” said MacGregor.
“We will maintain our robust approach to economic regulation and look forward to working with tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders to implement the changes to the consumer regulation framework.”
Chloe Fletcher, Policy director at the National Federation of ALMOs, said on Twitter: “Really glad to see the government commit to more proactive consumer regulation for social residents in #SocialHousingWhitePaper, and we look forward to working with members and the RSH on the detail.”
The Local Government Association was also keen to share its response to the White Paper, and while it largely welcomed the “important” reforms, it pointed out that they “will not help” the country’s shortage of social housing.
“Councils are proud of their housing and the individuals and families that call it home,” said Cllr Darren Rodwell, the LGAs housing spokesperson.
“It is paramount that the voice of all social housing residents is heard, and councils are committed to improving standards and empowering and supporting tenants.
“We support measures that will make the existing redress process clearer, equitable and accessible for all tenants, regardless of the tenure they are living in.
“Councils are also determined that their tenants should have the security of a safe and well-maintained home, with any issues quickly and satisfactorily addressed – tenants of all housing tenures should expect that their landlords will consistently work towards improving living conditions.”
Rodwell added: “Now is the time to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades. As important as these reforms are for tenants, they will not help to tackle the severe shortage of social housing the country faces.
“Every penny spent on building new social housing is an investment that has the potential to bring significant economic and social returns.
“We have set out how handing councils the powers and resources to build 100,000 social homes for rent each year would help to reduce spiralling council housing waiting lists and deliver a £14.5bn boost to the economy.”
Among tenants and tenants organisations, the White Paper was also generally well received, though there was criticism of some details.
In one of many points raised in a long Twitter thread dissecting all seven chapters of the Paper, prominent tenant campaigner Rob Gershon praised plans to reduce the time it takes for tenants to have their complaints heard.
On Twitter, Gershon said: “Here is the expected removal of the ‘democratic filter, though. Previously as a tenant, in order to get your complaint to the ombudsman, there was an additional 8-week wait unless you could get an MP or council member to carry your complaint up the chain.
“Good riddance, frankly. @Ed_Miliband noted during the Shelter commission that it wasn’t like councillors or MPs were ever filtering out complaints anyway, it was just a pointless admin step that might have put some tenants off.”
But Gershon also urged for more clarification around certain details within the Paper. Again on Twitter, Gershon said: “Some detail is really, REALLY needed about how this new regulation of the consumer standards would take place. A lot of of positive talk about recruiting new people with the right skills but ultimately we need details of.”
Fellow housing campaigner Leslie Channon echoed the same sentiment. “Once again, I keep repeating – the devil will be in the details,” she said on Twitter.
In regard to the problem of social housing stigma, Channon also said: “By ending the whole thing with chapter 7 in itself perpetuates the belief that #socialhousing is a lesser tenure. No other western country has such an obsession with #homeownership #SocialHousingWhitePaper most people rent.”
In a separate tweet, Channon said: “Can we not just torch Chapter 7?”
Meanwhile Jennie Osbourne, CEO of leading tenant engagement experts Tpas, said on Twitter: “Pleased to see the social housing white paper this morning. We’ve been waiting so long but there’s a lot here to be pleased about. We always knew this would be a long journey. We’re working through the detail & looking forward to working with our members to shape it where we can.”
Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, said on Twitter: “Can we let this sink in please? £1.2 billion on tem accommodation. While we delivered a *net loss* of 17,000 social homes last year and this year we risk building the lowest number *on record* Please @MHCLG@RobertJenrick we can change this.”
Kelsey Walker, director at Savills’ Affordable Housing Consultancy, said: “The proactive approach to consumer regulation will need further consultation, a change in legislation, and a new operational approach to be developed by the RSH.
“However, the Social Housing White Paper clearly sets out the expectations on landlords, and so the sector can continue to prepare as a result.”
Parity Projects, which provides services across the UK for social and private landlords, said on Twitter: “Disappointing not to get clarity on decarbonisation expectations in #SocialHousingWhitePaper. Clarity on Net Zero targets, timing and finance wd provide efficiencies, & costs will increase the longer decisions take – the #climateemergency is not waiting.”
Carbon monoxide regulation
The All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) commended the government’s plans to extend regulation around carbon monoxide alarms.
Carbon monoxide, a gas released when fuel is not properly burnt, causes death and severe illness. It is described by the Department for Health as the most common cause of fatal poisoning in the USA and Europe.
Co-chair Barry Sheerman MP said: “It is fantastic news for all households that the government has announced it will consult on making carbon monoxide alarms mandatory in social housing, all rentals, and when a fixed heating appliance of any fuel type is installed in any home.
“The All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group has long been calling for life saving CO alarms to be required in all homes in England, no matter what tenure or fuel type they use.
“This will help protect millions of tenants and homeowners.”
Fellow co-chair Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff said: “The symptoms of CO poisoning are unspecific, and may easily be mistaken for a hangover, common flu, or dementia, and therefore ignored.
“Especially while people are isolating in their homes due to Covid-19 restrictions it is vitally important to be aware of the risk from this silent killer.
“We urge everyone with a gas or solid fuel boiler or cooker to be alert, to have their appliances properly serviced, and to install a certified CO alarm.”
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