On 14 July 2022, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) published its annual consumer review. The review covers the year 2021-22, providing valuable insight into the issues causing the RSH greatest concern and highlighting several matters that providers will need to address. The review also features comments on the move to proactive consumer regulation and should prompt registered providers (RPs) to reflect on their own preparations.
The RSH once again emphasises the importance of RPs referring themselves to the RSH when a breach of the consumer standards has occurred. In the review, the RSH notes its ‘disappointment, despite its leadership and governing body being aware of the issues’ when one RP had not self-referred. The RSH stated that ‘it is unacceptable not to tell us when issues emerge which risk an organisation’s compliance with any of the economic or consumer standards’. Further, the RSH highlighted the fact that all the local authority cases where they found a consumer standard breach this year had been self-referred. The RSH noted that ‘this is important. It demonstrates that the local authorities understand their responsibilities and are willing to work with us in a co-regulatory way to resolve the issues’.
However, the review should also serve as a warning to local authorities. Five of the eight regulatory notices served by the RSH last year relate to local authorities. The review notes that regardless of whether local authorities manage their housing stock directly or use an arms-length management organisation, elected officials, senior leaders, and local authorities have a responsibility to ensure they are meeting the consumer standards.
The importance that the RSH places upon the need for reliable data and clear oversight of compliance is clear in the review. Many of the regulatory notices served relate to fire safety, electrical safety, and asbestos issues which have been ‘discovered’ either following a merger, or completion of a quarterly survey or an internal review. The RSH observes ‘clear links between governance and compliance with consumer standards’. Providers should note the RSH often sees a failure to comply with its consumer standards as a governance failure as it can be a clear indicator to the RSH that a board does not have sufficient oversight.
As ever, the RSH provides a number of case summaries, which provide examples of relevant breaches, the key contributory factors and the conclusions reached.
One case study relates to a breach of the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard. Here the RP’s regulatory notice had arisen out of multiple complaints about the quality of accommodation in a tower block. The RSH found that there was a failure to treat its tenants with fairness and respect and provide an effective process for tenants to raise complaints. This highlights that the tone and substance of complaint handling is crucial. Complaints can also act as an early warning system, alerting providers to the fact that their systems are failing to address issues of concern. Effective systems to address and learn lessons from complaints may become even more important for providers as they adapt to the forthcoming proactive regulatory regime.
Another case study highlights that issues that are being addressed do not always lead to regulatory action. In this case, the RSH recognised that there had been weaknesses in the provider’s approach to internal transfers. However, taking into account the steps the provider had taken to understand and address the problem at an early stage, they concluded that there was not a breach of the Tenancy Standard.
In a third example, a tenant made a referral regarding anti-social behaviour. The RP engaged with the RSH to evidence their multi-agency approach to managing anti-social behaviour. As the provider had taken reasonable steps to work with tenants and other agencies to try and resolve what was a complex case, the RSH did not find a breach of the Neighbourhood and Community Standard.
Key takeaways from the review for providers:
- Ensure your health and safety compliance data is accurate and reliable and is being reviewed regularly at senior leadership level.
- Make sure to self-report any breaches discovered without fail. In 90% of referrals, no breach is found.
- Avoid complacency – however well run an RP is now – a proactive approach to consumer regulation is on its way.
- Are you taking all reasonable steps to tackle the reported ASB?
- Is your complaints handling treating residents with respect and fairness and what can be learned from any patterns and trends revealed?
With the sector moving towards the implementation of the Social Housing Regulation Bill (SHRB) 2022, the Building Safety Act, and the commencement of proactive consumer regulation, the review provides helpful insight to providers. The RSH has made clear in the review that providers should not wait until the SHRB is enacted, and that they should act now to get ready as the new regime will apply from ‘day one’.
Key takeaways from the SHRB for providers are:
- Once legislation is enacted the RSH will take a proactive approach to consumer regulation matters.
- Removal of the much-criticised serious detriment test will enable the RSH to take action simply where there has been a failure to meet standards without the requirement to show associated risk to residents.
- Providers will face OFSTED-style inspections on short notice.
- Providers will be subject to freedom of information ‘access to information’ style information sharing requirements.
- Failing providers will be named and shamed.
- There will be an extension of the RSH’s enforcement powers both in relation to consumer and economic standards.
- The introduction of the new consumer standards including tenant satisfaction measures on safety.
- A requirement to appoint a designated health and safety lead. Boards should be planning now who the suitable health and safety lead would be.
Operational teams who will find themselves inspected (under the proposed new OFSTED-style inspection regime) will need to be prepared and supported through that process.
Getting to a state of preparedness in advance will be crucial because inspections really will be on virtually no notice and focus on outcomes for residents rather than structures and governance. The boards of RPs are ultimately responsible for compliance and will need to adapt to a different regulatory approach to inspections and engagement. Boards will need to think about regulatory scrutiny and criticism differently, using that feedback as a valuable tool in driving continuous improvement and compliance.
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