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Government publish Green Paper outlining social housing plan

Wednesday 15 August 2018

On 14 August, the Government published their delayed Green Paper on social housing. But was it worth the wait and what did it say?

The Government say that the Green Paper proposals aim to redress the balance between residents and landlords, tackle stigma and ensure high standards throughout social housing. They also took the opportunity to launch a consultation which gives everybody the chance to submit their views on how the current regulatory framework for social housing is operating.  

The paper has five key priorities at its heart:

  • Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities
  • Expanding supply and supporting home ownership
  • Effective resolution of complaints
  • Empowering residents and strengthening the regulator
  • Ensuring homes are safe and decent

It outlines what they call 'a new deal for social housing' and one of the key themes is around trying to de-stigmatise social housing, citing first-hand accounts from social housing residents who were interviewed as part of the preliminary work for the paper.

In total nearly 1,000 residents met ministers at social housing events and over 7,000 people contributed their views online. The basis of the findings were used to help inform the plan. 

One resident described how the stigma effected them: 

"[I am] stigmatised for being in social housing and treated as a second-class citizen. I am made to feel less of a person than the person that has bought their house. [My main concern is] the perception of council tenants as benefit scroungers when there are many tenants who are hardworking, honest people."

Expanding supply and supporting home ownership

Just under four million households (nine million people) currently live in the social rented sector in England, but with official figures showing a waiting list of 1.15 million households, and it's widely recognised that measures need to be taken to address the shortfall. Some of the ways the Government plan to do this are:

  • Raise the housing borrowing cap by up to £1 billion in local authority areas of high affordability pressure
  • Giving landlords a new rent settlement of Consumer Price Index, plus one per cent, thereby encouraging continued investment
  • Consulting on how local authorities can use money raised from Right to Buy to help them build more homes
  • Repeal legislation which was set to bring the Higher Value Assets provision of the Housing Panning Act 2016 into effect 'when parliamentary time allows'

Ensuring resident safety

Safety of social housing is high in the public's consciousness following the Grenfell tragedy last year and other high profile residential property fires. In the Green Paper the Government recaps on what measures they've taken already to address safety issues directly related to Grenfell and also set out their wider regulation plans. 

They refer to the testing work carried out on cladding used on high-rise buildings via the Building Research Establishment, the remediation work being undertaken at sites around the country and the subsequent independent Hackitt review, the findings of which they have largely agreed with.

The Government has also committed to reviewing the 'Decent Homes' Standard, which has not been revised since 2006, and say that they'll consider introducing the same safety measures that the private rented sector has seen over the last few years such as regulation around smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and electrical checks. Attention is also drawn to the role that residents and landlords have to play in working together to ensure homes are safe, something which was also in the Hackitt recommendations. 

In relation to reviewing the Decent Homes Standard, Tamara Sandoul, Policy Manager at CIEH, said: "We...strongly support the proposed review of the decent homes standard. This standard needs to align with standards for other tenures, so that all housing is made safer and healthier, and is simple for landlords to understand."

Effective resolution of Complaints 
From the research carried out with residents it is clear that tenants should have a stronger voice so they can influence decisions, and also feel confident in raising concerns to landlords. The Government will look at reforming the complaints process and redress, in particular the 'democratic filter' process whereby unresolved complaints have to be referred to a 'designated person' - usually a local Councillor, MP or tenant panel - before being looked at by the Housing Ombudsman. This can take up to eight weeks and bring about frustrating delays for residents and is something that residents in other housing sectors don't have to endure. They also want to address the lack of clarity and consistency in procedures and introduce timescales in which complaints must be dealt with.

Empowering residents and strengthening the regulator
By far the biggest section of the report, spanning 13 pages and posing 36 questions at the end of it, most of it revolves around landlords responsibilities.

They propose to make it easier for tenants to compare a landlord's performance against other landlords by publishing performance data in a clear, regular and consistent format. This could include things such as: maintaining safety, handling of complaints, engagement and neighbourhood management. One suggestion is to create league tables of landlords and introduce financial incentives and penalties to reward good performance and drive poor performance in the right direction. 

Residents should also be given a say in appointing service providers who carry out repairs or improvements, maybe choosing from a list of pre-approved contractors. This way they can switch easily if it's decided between tenants that the current provider isn't satisfactory. 

Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire MP, said:

"Providing quality and fair social housing is a priority for this government.

"Our Green Paper offers a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety to residents living in social housing across the country.

"Regardless of whether you own your home or rent in the social sector, residents deserve security, dignity and the opportunities to build a better life."

Download the Green Paper

Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP criticised the Government’s delayed social housing Green Paper for “tinkering at the edges”, saying she would like to see them lift the borrowing cap for Local Authorities completely and invest funding to deliver more homes for social rent.

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has welcomed the focus on rebalancing the relationship between tenants and landlords, but called for detail and concrete proposals. 

Tamara Sandoul, Policy Manager at CIEH, said:

“Although Environmental Health Professionals, who are charged with assessing the safety of privately rented housing, cannot enforce social housing, in the aftermath of Grenfell it is vital that the safety of social housing is revisited along with the provision of clear routes for redress.

"However, there really are very few tangible proposals in this announcement. What we need to see are some concrete proposals from the Government on how they are going to ensure safe and high-quality housing across the board, and what resources are going to be committed to it.”