Social housing landlords in England face checks on tenants’ satisfaction

Credit offers

Social landlords in England will be required to report on residents’ satisfaction in an effort to rebalance power between owners and tenants in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the housing secretary has announced.

Robert Jenrick said the measurement of issues “that matter to tenants” could be used to guide investigations by a new proactive consumer regulation body for council and social landlords, which is also proposed in the government’s social housing white paper.

A new wing of the social housing regulator will check on standards including quality of homes and repairs, landlords’ engagement with tenants and their handling of complaints. Currently the social housing regulator mostly examines the finances and governance of housing associations, and it has been seen as remote from England’s 9 million residents of social housing.

Last year the regulator identified only 15 cases that required its intervention because of problems that threatened serious harm. Close to 1,000 landlords and council bodies are expected to be covered by the new regime.

Detailed proposals will be published on Tuesday in the long-awaited white paper, which Jenrick promised will give tenants “a much stronger voice and, in doing so, [refocus] the sector on its social mission”.

“I want to see social housing tenants empowered by a regulatory regime and a culture of transparency, accountability, decency and public service befitting of the best intentions and deep roots of social housing in this country,” he said.

Tenants’ rights campaigners cautioned that the satisfaction ratings will only be meaningful if they are assessed independently. They called for the new regulation arm to be properly staffed with at least 100 inspectors to uncover problems before they result in disasters like Grenfell. The regulator currently only investigates housing association or council housing providers reactively, when something has gone wrong.

  Waitrose's bubbly 'special offer' didn't check out

Apply for a credit card

“There are problems in social housing that would have been picked up by a more proactive investigation of landlords and conditions,” said Rob Gershon, a tenants’ rights activist. “This offers that prospect but it has to be staffed and consumer regulation needs to be treated as seriously as financial and governance regulation.”

Jenirck said the changes would speed up the handling of residents’ complaints by the housing ombudsman and “empower residents” by requiring landlords to improve tenant engagement.

The Local Government Association said it was “paramount that the voice of all social housing residents is heard”.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “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.”

In a move likely to grate with social housing residents who do not aspire to home ownership, Jenrick said the government “will ensure social housing can support people to take their first step to ownership, so it is a ladder to other opportunities.”

Ed Daffarn, the vice-chair of Grenfell United and a survivor of the fire, said: “If this white paper is going to make a difference to people’s lives, the regulator and the ombudsman need to understand the devastating impact bad landlords can and do have on people’s lives. We have little faith that bad landlords will improve themselves, so the responsibility now lies with the regulator and ombudsman to use their new powers to ensure no residents are ever treated how we were.”

  UK contactless payment limit to rise to £100

Social housing landlords broadly welcomed the reforms. Kate Henderson, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “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 welcome the regulator taking a more proactive interest in how organisations are meeting the consumer standards. We think it is important that the regulator is there to ultimately protect the rights and interests of residents.”