In its bid to further protect social housing residents, the UK Government has recently announced that social housing managers must gain a professional qualification.
The new requirements, which are to be introduced through amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, aim to drive standards in the sector. In addition to this, the Government says that the changes will give the Regulator “tough new powers” that allow them to enter a property with only 48 hours' notice to conduct emergency repairs.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove, who made the announcement on the 26th of February, said: “The changes we are delivering today will make sure social housing managers across the country have the right skills and experience to deliver an excellent service and drive up standards across the board.”
However, despite the many positives to be gained from these new requirements, some critics have pointed out that this falls short of the recommendations outlined by the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group (RoPA), a body tasked with advising the Government on a new regulatory framework to help raise professional standards in the industry.
What is the Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA)?
The RoPA Working Group, established in 2018 and chaired by Lord Richard Best, is made up of several industry stakeholders, including ARLA Propertymark and NAEA Propertymark. It had previously put forth its recommendations in July 2019 for a new industry regulator, the introduction and enforcement of a standard code of practice, as well as the need for training, qualifications and licensing.
Although RoPA's proposals focused primarily on estate agents in the UK and letting and managing agents in England, it was felt that it would have a widespread positive impact on standards in the property sector.
Commenting in May 2022, Timothy Douglas, head of policy and campaigns at Propertymark, said: “The property sector is going through significant change with legislation impacting leaseholders, economic crime and the purchasing of property from overseas buyers, proposals to reform private renting and new building and fire safety requirements.
“These changes are important but without regulating and driving up standards for sales, lettings and managing agents who will implement these rules and work with consumers often at the start of their home buying and renting journey, the UK Government risk only doing half a job when it comes to levelling up the housing market.”
Fast forward to this year, the long-awaited recommendations are still yet to be implemented, despite some in the Government publicly backing the proposals along with leading industry figures.
Speaking on the Today Conveyancer podcast in early February, Kate Faulkner OBE, chair of the Home Buying and Selling Group offered her backing to the cause, saying that with everyone around the agent being regulated it’s now a priority for the Government to stop agents from setting up without minimum standards or regulations.
Despite very clear backing from many quarters, it is felt that the RoPA has been swept aside because it’s not a clear vote winner, and a revolving door of housing ministers has done nothing to help see the wider recommendations put forth by the group come to fruition. The recent departure of Lucy Frazer takes the total to 15 housing ministers since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
What is the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill?
For now, although highly influential and unquestionably needed in the sector, the RoPA remains shelved with no specific timeline for its implementation. Industry reform instead relies on amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, which have been inspired by the recommendations of RoPA, at least in part.
Last year, the Social Housing White Paper was put forward, laying the groundwork for the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill in the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire of 2017. The Bill has been devised to create a stronger, more proactive regulatory framework, with the hopes that it will drive standards across the sector and help landlords deliver a better service to social housing tenants.
The Bill has been supported widely in Parliament and has recently tabled amendments that add “greater protections” against hazards in social housing. As of March 2023, the Bill is in its third and final reading in the House of Commons, before it goes into its final stages, where amendments are considered before it receives Royal Assent and passes into law.
The most recent amendments to the bill include the following:
- The introduction of Awaab’s law to protect social housing tenants against mould and damp in homes.
- The provision of new powers for the Housing Ombudsman, which instructs landlords to self-assess against the regulations through complaint investigations.
- The enablement of a regulator to establish standards for information and transparency, specifically regarding information for tenants about the correct complaints procedures and channels.
What are the new changes?
The introduction of these new amendments to the Social Housing (Regulations) Bill is deemed by many in the Government as a significant step towards making sure social housing tenants feel safe and secure.
In addition to the tabled amendments, which focused more so on the duties and responsibilities of landlords, the Government has announced that it will also include new rules for social housing managers. Under these new rules, social housing managers must obtain either an Ofqual-regulated Level 4 or 5 Certificate or Diploma in Housing, or a Foundation Degree from the Chartered Institute of Housing.
These new requirements are expected to impact approximately 25,000 social housing managers, which the Government says will professionalise and drive the culture change needed in the social housing sector.
The announcement read: “While many managers already provide a high quality professional service, not all do. This will ensure that all managers have the skills and qualifications they need.
“This will bring social housing more closely into line with other sectors providing front line services, including social work, teaching, and health and care services. Any landlord who fails to meet the requirements of the new standards could receive an unlimited fine from the regulator.”
The Future of Social Housing
As we know all too well, the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 highlighted the need for better regulation of social housing providers. It is felt that by requiring social housing managers to hold a qualification in their field, standards across the sector will be improved, therefore protecting social housing tenants from harm.
While the introduction of these new regulations is a positive development for social housing across the country, property professionals should still work together to ensure that all stakeholders in the property industry are safe, from landlords to tenants to professionals working in the field.
Through greater regulation and increased support for social housing providers and landlords, the quality of social housing will inevitably improve, and although elements of the new changes to social housing regulations are a bitter pill to swallow for some stakeholders, at the heart of the legislation sits a wider issue that must be acknowledged.
In time, it is hoped that recommendations put forth by industry-expert working groups like The Regulation of Property Agents can be carried over to their respective sectors, ultimately creating a widespread culture of professional excellence for the benefit of the entire property industry.