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Social housing in the United Kingdom has long been criticised for its failings by campaigners working to raise standards for social housing tenants, though some believe that the results have often fallen short of expectation.

However, a new social housing law, known as the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, is set to make several positive changes to the safety standards people can expect from social housing, and the new powers it grants the Secretary of State and the Regulator of Social Housing to bring negligent landlords to task (or face unlimited fines) is being welcomed across the board.

Although it passed into law in July 2023, the new Act won’t be enforceable until around April 2024 whilst new regulations and procedures are finalised.

Inventory Base is here to support landlords and agents across the wider property sector, so we’ll summarise the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, including key information and updates, looking at the impacts of the reforms on all parties.

What is the Social Housing Regulation Act 2023?

This important piece of legislation looks set to improve the social housing sector according to the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS). The act centres on the management of social housing, which often accommodates the most vulnerable people in society.

Intended to protect tenants, there will be tighter regulation of social housing landlords with new social housing consumer standards that aim to avoid a property’s dangerous hazards impacting tenants.

Now enshrined in law, the Social Housing Act has crucially granted the Regulator of Social Housing powers to tackle social housing landlords “before people are at risk” and “holds landlords to account with regular inspections” according to the NHAS. The Secretary of State has also been given the authority to demand that social housing landlords examine and put right any hazards.

A history of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023

There have been several stages of development leading up to the introduction of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023.

In 2018, the UK Government published its Social Housing Green Paper: A New Deal for Social Housing, followed two years later by the Social Housing White Paper or The Charter for Social Housing Residents in 2020. Both shared the common aim of reforming social housing regulation for the better.

As Local Government Lawyer notes, the bill then progressed through Parliament and the different stages of the law-making procedure, where it underwent “a ‘patchwork’ of reform, plugging various gaps and picking up on some wider topical issues”. These positive developments reflect the intricacies of what social housing law should achieve and who it should protect.

As we will discuss, the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 has also been shaped by tragic events that took place in social housing. Therefore, the many supporters of this new law will be relieved when the new consumer standards are enforceable.

The law looks set to come into effect on 1st April 2024, after allowing time for new regulations to be devised, meaning that landlords and their agents will be subject to its rules in mere weeks.

Updates to the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 has three core objectives according to Trowers and Hamlins’ essential guide to this new social housing law.

The first aim is to “reform the consumer regulatory regime” with a more proactive approach to protecting social housing tenants. Therefore, the social housing Regulator will be given new statutory objectives, including transparency and safety, along with the necessary remit to intervene to achieve these aims.

The withdrawal of the ‘serious detriment’ test will also create an easier route for the Regulator to intervene in more cases where social housing falls below expected consumer standards. Previously, since 2011, they could only get involved if they had reason to believe that social housing tenants were at risk of serious detriment.

Its second objective is to “refine the economic regulatory regime” so that regulating consumer standards does not damage financial standards. Social housing providers in the UK must be “well governed and financially viable”, thereby refining the Regulator’s existing economic regulation role.

Thirdly, the Social Housing Act seeks to “strengthen the Regulator’s enforcement powers”. In real terms, they will be able to act using newly granted enforcement powers for more successful interventions regarding consumer standards, to emphasise how these benchmarks matter. It looks set to galvanise Registered Providers of social housing (RPs), social housing landlords and the agents that represent them, so they bring their properties up to a safe standard of accommodation.

A focus on tenant safety & Awaab’s Law

The inconsistent state of social housing across the country, including properties that feature dangerous hazards to life and health, has been brought to the public’s attention following widespread media coverage of two tragedies. The first to note is the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017, where 72 adults and children sadly lost their lives in a fire.

As cited in a BBC News article, Professor Luke Bisby listed multiple issues in his report to the Grenfell Towers public enquiry that contributed towards the rapid spread of the fire throughout the block of flats.

He said that “evidence ‘strongly supports’ the theory that the polyethylene material in the cladding was the primary cause of the fire’s spread”. He also drew attention to the vertical cavities within the cladding structure and insulation – here the evidence was inconclusive.

Similarly, fire expert Dr Barabara Lane stated that the installation of exposed gas pipes in 2016 was another factor, with all of the building’s flat doors failing to comply with up-to-date fire resistance standards.

Other failings included ineffective lifts which could have otherwise helped more residents evacuate and the non-working smoke extraction within the building. The absence of ‘wet riser’ pipes that could have provided fire crews with ample water supply once the fire broke out, was also heard.

Looking to the future, Shelter has highlighted how the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 will ensure that tenants “are treated with dignity and respect by professional housing managers”. This is a basic human need and will provide a safe standard of care that is maintained.

The legislation has also been driven by the tragic passing of two-year-old Awaab Ishak. Caused by the effects of severe mould in his home in Rochdale, the subsequent campaign for ‘Awaab’s Law’ should act to shield other children and families from serious hazards.

As a legacy of the work of campaigners, the Social Housing Act will bestow the Secretary of State with the authority to create regulations that mean that social landlords must investigate and solve serious hazards within a specified period. Issues may include mould, fire safety and damp walls.

Boosting standards in social housing

The new consumer standards being applied to social housing look set to boost standards of accommodation. Unlike before, issues such as landlord transparency, staff qualifications for housing management and health and safety will be proactively prioritised.

It is worth noting that housing associations and other private registered providers already have inspections, unlike local authority social housing. Helping to achieve the Government’s aim of ‘Levelling Up’, introducing these regular new inspections can only be a good thing in driving away rogue actors from the property sector.

A clearer picture

In terms of landlord transparency, the Regulator will be able to create rules where social landlords are obliged to provide information about their services and the amenities and accommodations they manage. They may also have to report any non-compliance aspects and disclose their executive pay for clarity.

New staff qualifications

Unlike in the past, the Regulator of Social Housing will be able to set a universal benchmark of training which covers staff conduct and knowledge. Namely, a professional qualification for anyone who works in offering housing management services.

This echoes the recommendations presented by the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group (RoPA), which we reported on in our blog New Laws for Social Housing Managers. Senior managers and executives will need to obtain mandatory qualifications that might include a foundation degree.

Compliant Health and Safety

Another way to boost social housing lies with the Act’s announcement that social landlords need to hire a health and safety lead. They will act in an advisory role and make sure that the properties meet all relevant laws in terms of health and safety.

Working together

Two further strategies are being put into place. A Memorandum of Understanding is set to improve standards and avoid dangers within social housing. Co-managed by the Housing Ombudsman and Regulator, it will establish a more cooperative way of working.

Benefitting tenants by better handling their complaints, the law will require both bodies to discuss any proposed changes they are considering making to their standards, with the other. In conjunction with the Ombudman’s new powers to issue a statutory-based Complaint Handling Code, progress should be made to boost standards.

Likewise, the Social Housing Act demands that social landlords, the Secretary of State and advocates of tenants living in social housing, are represented within an advisory panel. Created by the Regulator, it will receive advice and relevant information regarding the issues that could significantly affect social housing and its landlords.

What next for the Social Housing Act?

The Social Housing Act is expected to come into force in spring 2024. With this in mind, now is the time for landlords, responsible persons and housing associations/agents to take action to ensure safe living conditions are in place across the board.

The sector will need to achieve considerable professionalism, even beyond its current standards, with qualifications to provide a more accessible, accurate and informed service.

The Government has stated that the “intent of this Act is to reform the regulatory regime to drive significant change in landlord behaviour to focus on the needs of their tenants”.

Social housing landlords, therefore, will need to be fully up-to-date and aware of their obligations. If agents know what they can expect, they can also help to meet this statement’s concluding promise to “ensure landlords are held to account for their performance”.

How Inventory Base can support you

Whether you are operating in social housing or the PRS, our property inventory and inspection templates can help you keep up to date with your growing list of obligations. Schedule your demo to learn more about our award-winning software for landlords and agents.