Educated guesses on Green Paper outcomes

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By Rob Gershon, HQN Residents’ Network Lead Associate

Next week’s Residents’ Network conference puts aside waiting for the outcomes of the Social Housing Green Paper. Instead, speakers and contributors will discuss the things that landlords and residents can be doing now to meet some of the questions posed in it.

The existing regulations might not proactively regulate the consumer standards; but different landlords have taken different approaches to meet the criteria of these standards nonetheless.

Some of the ideas in the Green Paper have struck a chord with residents, politicians, civil servants and other commentators, and there are already some indications of what could change once it proceeds to its next stages.

League tables

Already the subject of some heated debate, the idea of league tables has attracted a degree of criticism, especially from tenants who feel that as well as it being impossible to compare different kinds and sizes of landlords, there is a risk that their landlords will chase key performance indicators that make them look good in the tables, regardless of whether the work is useful to residents or communities.

Nevertheless, at one of his recent ministerial meetings with tenants housing minister Kit Malthouse expressed great support for league tables, meaning that even if we don’t know what they will compare yet, they are likely to be on their way.

Changes to the process of escalating complaints

Existing consumer standards expect landlords to have a complaints system that is simple and transparent. However, the experiences of tenants recounted at ministerial roadshows over more than a year, along with the responses that shaped the Green Paper have highlighted that for many tenants this is not the case. Exactly how the government will enforce better handling of complaints remains to be seen, but a couple of areas are likely to be highlighted.

One will be around communication, as many tenants often just want a response to complaints and issues even if resolving problems can take time or might not be possible.

Complaints satisfaction may feature in league tables.

Ombudsman filter

Much of the discussion about complaints has also referenced the Housing Ombudsman. When a tenant has exhausted their landlord’s complaints process they can appeal to the Ombudsman – currently, there is an eight-week wait before this referral can be made unless a tenant goes through a local councillor or MP, a process called the “democratic filter”.

It’s possible that this additional time may be reduced, and that tenants may therefore be able to refer directly to the Ombudsman without delay or the need for a representative.

Tenant voice

One of the most difficult areas to predict, the idea of a national voice for tenants, which will also be discussed at next week’s conference, has been a long-standing area of discussion since the National Tenant Voice was disbanded in 2010.

Although the process of the Green Paper seems to have involved nothing but consultations so far, it is likely that if there’s going to be an independent voice for tenants, then tenants may well need to decide between them what this body would be for, how it would be made up, and how it would be funded.

Changes at the Regulator for Social Housing

Another area that is difficult to predict but where there are likely to be changes are at the regulator.

It’s likely that the existing areas that are regulated will remain – financial viability, governance, and the recently introduced value for money standard – but that regulation around some areas of the consumer standards will become actively regulated.

Most likely the Home Standard – incorporating health and safety, fire, gas and electricity safety – will take on a more prominent aspect. The current, badly defined test of “serious detriment”, where the regulator only intervenes when there is a systemic problem likely to cause harm to tenants, will likely be reviewed, not least in light of the failures of communication and action ahead of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Standards around the tenant involvement and empowerment standard may also come under review, with the Green Paper covering a wide set of issues that specifically discuss a change in the power balance between landlords and tenants.

The Green Paper hints at entirely different models of co-regulation and governance, highlighting as it does housing associations that have become “mutual” models and asking if there should be another transfer of landlords from councils to other bodies like community land trusts.

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