Written by IFF Research

The social housing white paper: definitive guide

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The social housing white paper, or “The Charter for Social Housing Residents” was published in November 2020.  Covering seven key themes of importance to the everyday lives of residents, the white paper made a big splash in regulation, engagement, complaints, safety and ASB. Headlines included a greater role for the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman, open publication of performance against standard metrics (the Tenant Satisfaction measures) and “publicity” of landlord complaints. At 76 pages, it’s a hefty document. So we’ve broken down the chapters below.

What is the social housing white paper

Following the tragic tower block fire at Grenfell in 2017, an in-depth government review of failings and a wide consultation with the social housing sector revealed five themes for further action. These were published for further consultation in the “A New Deal for Social Housing” green paper:

  1. Ensuring homes are safe and decent
  2. Effective resolution of complaints
  3. Empowering residents and strengthening the Regulator
  4. Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities
  5. Expanding supply and supporting home ownership

After a shuffle of several housing ministers, and against a backdrop of nationwide complications including Brexit and Covid-19, the long-delayed white paper was published in November 2020.

The white paper sets out wide ranging and compulsory changes to how social housing organisations operate, and themes from the green paper above have been re-drafted and expanded into seven themes with further specific policies, measures, and an enhanced role for the Regulator for Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman.

What does the white paper mean for the social housing sector?

The impact to the social housing sector cannot be underestimated.  Not only are operational activities and performance measures under increased scrutiny by the Regulator, there are also new requirements for resident engagement and complaints.

In this new world for social housing, there is a greater emphasis on safety, resident voice, performance monitoring and home ownership.  And all this is backed up by a risk-based inspection regime from the Regulator of Social Housing.  It may not be a return to Audit Commission KLOEs, but non-compliance with the new consumer standards could result in unlimited fines, and reputation-damaging publication of results.

Overall, there are seven themes in the social housing white paper, all linked by one common thread – that the safety, wellbeing and voices of social housing residents is paramount, and it’s down to landlords to demonstrate engagement and performance to their residents.

We set out each of these themes in detail, getting to the heart of what you need to know now.

Themes of the social housing white paper

Chapter 1: To be safe in your home
Chapter 2: To know how your landlord is performing
Chapter 3: To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly
Chapter 4: To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator for tenants
Chapter 5: To have your voice heard by your landlord
Chapter 6: To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in
Chapter 7: To be supported to take your first steps to ownership

Chapter 1: To be safe in your home

In the years since the Grenfell Tower fire, many of the building safety issues it so tragically brought into public awareness have already begun to be investigated and addressed. This chapter focuses more on rebuilding trust in building safety measures and ensuring residents ‘feel safe’ as well as ‘are safe’.

What does it mean?

Building and home safety will become an explicit part of the redesigned consumer regulation standards. All landlords will need to have a nominated, publicly named person who is responsible for health and safety compliance.

There will be consistency in safety measures across the private and social rented sectors, with mandatory installation of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and an increased focus on electrical safety.

Landlords will need to engage residents of all tenures on safety issues. Two-way balanced engagement leads to trust which is key to ‘feeling safe’. The accountable person for every high-rise building will be required to produce and action a resident engagement strategy to share safety information and allow safety concerns to be voiced.


Chapter 2: To know how your landlord is performing

A key point of controversy in the green paper was the idea that landlords should gather standardised Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics which would be presented in publicly available league tables. For now, there is no suggestion of league tables, just more accessible performance information. The KPIs are back though.

What does it mean?

The Regulator has developed a set of tenant satisfaction measures (TSMs) which landlords will have to gather. They will follow the themes of the white paper around properties being in good repair, building safety, engagement and neighbourhood management – including measures on anti-social behaviour. For further information see our tenant satisfaction measures guide.

Alongside the new TSMs, landlords will also be required to publish expenditure data, and in particular, details of the Chief Executive and Executive Team salaries.

Each landlord must name a nominated person responsible for consumer standards compliance; someone suitably senior and identifiable to all, including The Ombudsman, The Regulator and residents.

Chapter 3: To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly

With the Housing Ombudsman’s complaints handling code having already been published and in force since January 2022, this chapter focuses on a strengthened working relationship between the Ombudsman and the Regulator, and the actions landlords must take to increase awareness of residents right to complain.

What does it mean?

The long criticised ‘democratic filter’ (where residents must go through a “designated person” or wait 8 weeks before taking their complaint to The Ombudsman) is to be scrapped.

The Ombudsman’s complaints handling code will help ensure consistency of complaint handling by different landlords and also put greater emphasis on learning from complaints as a route to service improvement.

Complaints handling will be sped up, with the Ombudsman given powers to take action against landlords who are systemically unreasonably slow in handling complaints or are slow to provide information to the Ombudsman for them to review escalated complaints.

From March 2021, the Ombudsman began publishing online reports of complaints handled for each landlord as well as detailing the outcomes. On a quarterly basis they will also publish ‘complaint handling failure orders’ – naming the landlords and reason for failure.

The Regulator, the Ombudsman and the Government will lead a centralised awareness raising campaign of social housing residents’ right to complain and the routes of objection open to them. Landlords will also be required to publish their complaints process both on their website and more widely, as well as raising awareness themselves of the complaints process.

Chapter 4: To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator for tenants

This chapter is all about the “new” consumer standards – and the return to inspections to assess compliance with them, alongside continuing co-regulation.

What does it mean?

The Regulator has reviewed the existing consumer regulation and the new consumer standards will align with the TSMs, the Social Housing Regulation Bill, once approved by parliament will give the Regulator greater powers to address non-compliant landlords. .

The “serious detriment” threshold for Regulator intervention will be scrapped and replaced by a four yearly inspection cycle. The inspections will be in the form of an annual desk-top review of the new TSMs and complaints (especially those escalated to The Ombudsman), four yearly inspections based on risk (considering the size of the organisation and those who house the most vulnerable i.e. specialist providers) and reactive investigations where non-compliance is suspected.

Landlords will be required to self-refer any breaches of the consumer standard to The Regulator. The cap on fines which The Regulator can impose will be removed, and Performance Improvement Plans will be introduced for failing landlords. Local Authorities will also be held to greater accountability for their management of ALMOs and TMOs.

The notice period the Regulator must give a landlord to survey the condition of their properties will be reduced from 28 to 2 days. Following completion of a survey The Regulator will be empowered to arrange repairs to homes and recoup the costs.

Chapter 5: To have your voice heard by your landlord

‘Involved tenants’ should be a key part of any landlords governance and scrutiny arrangements. But beyond this, residents who don’t want to attend formal meetings or join a panel should have their needs identified and voices heard too. This chapter discusses the need to tailor engagement opportunities to residents needs and interests, encouraging and supporting greater involvement.

What does it mean?

Building on the success of Together with Tenants, the Regulator will review if landlords have “sought out best practice” in resident engagement and involvement, and continually improved how they engage with residents.

To upskill residents who would like to be more involved in formal scrutiny and decision making, a Government-led learning and support programme will be made accessible to all residents of social housing.

To ensure residents are treated with care and receive the correct support from landlords, the Government will lead a working group to review professional training and development, including the need for mental health awareness training for frontline staff.

Chapter 6: To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in

Much has changed since the Decent Homes Standard of 2001. Energy efficiency and decarbonisation are now top of many agendas, as are access to green space for the benefit of wellbeing, encouraging community integration through good design and tackling community issues such as anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse. This chapter reconsiders what a good home should mean and how landlords should tackle neighbourhood issues.

What does it mean?

The Decent Homes Standard is currently under review, to decide if it needs to be updated. The review will consider energy efficiency and decarbonisation, access to green spaces and access to communal space.

Linking back to the TSMs mentioned in chapter 2, the specific inclusion of ‘satisfaction with anti-social behaviour’ handling has relevance here too, with landlords having to report how they are performing in this area, and be challenged on this as necessary by the Regulator.

The Government will clarify the responsibilities of landlords and the police in directly tackling anti-social behaviour, so residents understand where to access support and what to expect in terms of a response, including greater clarity around the availability of Community Trigger or multi-agency ASB Case Review arrangements.

The new regulatory consumer standards will include requiring landlords to have a policy to tackle issues surrounding domestic abuse.


Chapter 7: To be supported to take your first steps to ownership

The final chapter focuses on increasing supply of affordable homes, and in particular, redesigning the shared ownership model and introducing the ‘Right to Shared Ownership’.

What does it mean?

Half the homes delivered under the Affordable Homes Programme (up to 180,000 homes, scheduled to run until 2028/29) will be for social or affordable rent with the other half affordable homeownership.

The new shared ownership model will reduce the minimum initial stake from 25% to 10%, allowing owners to staircase in increments of 1%. Landlords will also now have to cover repairs for homeowners for the first 10 years.

The new right to shared ownership model will give residents the opportunity to buy a 10% stake in their home and become a shared owner, staircasing as under the main shared ownership model.





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If you’d like to discuss the requirements that have come about off the back off the social housing white paper, or want to know what you need to do, we’d be happy to help and advice.

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