The Social Housing (Regulation) Act is intended to proactively encourage the regulation of Registered Providers (RPs) and significantly enhance the Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) role in regulating the consumer standards.
Despite receiving Royal Asset on 20 July 2023, many of the provisions are not yet in force and are subject to further regulations made by the Secretary of State but consultation regarding the consumer standards has now closed (as of October 2023) and it is anticipated that the Act will commence on 1 April 2024. This will bring into effect a range of potential governance and funding implications.
Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 – the provisions
Many of the provisions in the Act are responses to the tragedies of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died in 2020 from exposure to serious mould. They aim to protect tenants from serious hazards within their homes. The Act describes its own purpose as being to “reform the regulatory regime to drive significant change in landlord behaviour”. These tragedies alongside the Housing Ombudsman’s regular findings of severe maladministration, highlight the necessity for ensuring the provision of social housing is “safe”.
Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) role
The RSH will have enhanced regulatory powers, covering both private registered providers of social housing (i.e. housing associations and for-profits) as well as local housing authorities, to enforce new social housing consumer standards. The RSH will be able to take action against social landlords before people are at risk (as the Act will remove the “serious detriment” test, placing the consumer standards on an equal footing with the economic standards by allowing the RSH to exercise its enforcement powers for any breach, or potential breach) and hold them to account with a regular inspection regime, whilst the Secretary of State will have the power to require social landlords to investigate and rectify serious health hazards.
The RSH will be able to give notice to require a social landlord to prepare and implement a performance improvement plan where the landlord is failing to meet regulatory standards. Tenants will also be able to request copies of improvement plans, ensuring transparency. Additionally, the RSH will be able to impose unlimited fines, undertake surveys on properties and authorise emergency remedial action to remedy failures by a landlord.
Whilst the emphasis is clearly on improving consumer regulation, this is not to be at the detriment of the economic standards. The Act also seeks to maintain and refine the RSH’s current economic regulatory role. Ensuring that providers are well governed and financially viable remains a core priority.
New provisions are introduced to improve the relationship between the RSH and the Housing Ombudsman. Encouraging a more joined-up approach to regulation and the handling of complaints between the RSH and Housing Ombudsman means that they should be able to exchange information more quickly in order to better protect tenants.
The Act also widens the power of the RSH in respect of the collection of information. There is now a wider range of circumstances in which the RSH can require persons to provide documents or information to it. Limitations on the RSH’s ability to request information, particularly from third parties, have been removed, and it is now an offence to knowingly or recklessly provide the RSH with false or misleading information. This highlights the importance of Registered Providers of affordable housing (RPs) ensuring that they are transparent with the RSH.
The RSH may charge RPs fees on initial registration and on a continuing basis. The RSH may also charge fees for dealing with unsuccessful applications for registration and may require payment in advance. It also makes clear that any fees may be set at a level to cover all of the costs of the RSH (including costs unrelated to the registration process).
The Act allows the RSH to look beyond simple constitutional form, and instead into actual operation, when determining whether an RP is non-profit or profit making. The RSH may now make the registration of an RP conditional upon the ability to meet regulatory standards on registration and the Act clarifies the law in relation to the compulsory deregistration of an RP for failure to meet a regulatory standard. It is likely only to be utilised where the breach is significant and the RP is unwilling or unable to rectify the position, but the Act does not specifically require this to be the case. This could have a significant impact on affected RPs’ wider operations, particularly given that maintenance of RP status is a common requirement of funding agreements. This could also have significant repercussions for residents’ rights and benefit entitlements. With this in mind, we hope to see clear guidance issued as to when the RSH would expect to exercise this authority.
If you wish to discuss anything raised in this article, please contact our specialist Social Housing team.