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Social Housing Speed Read – Proposal of social landlord league tables

In this week's Speed Read, we discuss proposals in the Social Housing Green Paper, 'A New Deal for Social Housing' to introduce social landlord league tables.

The Green Paper proposal

‘A New Deal for Social Housing’ (the “Green Paper”) was published on 14 August 2018. The Green Paper focused on five core aims: tackling stigma; expanding supply and supporting home ownership; effectively resolving complaints; empowering residents and ensuring homes are safe and decent.

The Green Paper as a whole received a mixed response from those in the industry, and one of the proposals which received the most attention, albeit not the most positive reaction, was the suggestion of introducing social landlord league tables.

During the consultation period prior to publishing the Green Paper, it was noted that residents voiced concerns of inadequate methods of monitoring the performance of social landlords. The Green Paper stated that to meet their aim of empowering residents, they need to provide ‘good information on how their landlord is performing compared to others’, and noted that residents felt that annual reports currently provided by landlords are not always easy to access and comprehend. Therefore, the Green Paper suggested that the creation of league tables would be an appropriate solution.

The league tables would include assessments of ‘meaningful key performance indicators’ (KPIs), which would make it easy for residents to compare social landlords. The Green Paper suggests priority areas which were identified through discussions with residents, namely: ‘keeping properties in good repair; maintaining the safety of buildings; effective handling of complaints; respectful and helpful engagement with residents; and responsible neighbourhood management’. The Green Paper suggests that information on performance would be provided every year to the Regulator of Social Housing, who would then publish the league tables.

The Green Paper also suggests the possibility of financial incentives and penalties in response to good or poor performance and that the KPIs may be also relevant when considering funding proposals for social landlords.

The rationale behind this proposal is that when armed with better information regarding landlord performance comparison residents may feel more empowered and able to pressure their own landlords to improve. If effective, this may be able to contribute to ensuring homes are safe and decent and encourage effective resolution of complaints.

Responses to the proposal

Although key figures and organisations responded to the proposal of league tables at the time of publication of the Green Paper, further commentary has recently been published following the end of the consultation on the Green Paper itself, which ended on 6 November 2018.

The responses to the proposed introduction of league tables have been largely critical of their potential effectiveness in empowering residents and also in achieving other core aims included in the paper.

The National Housing Federation (“NHF”) stated that they are doubtful of the practical effectiveness of league tables as ‘residents cannot – at least not very easily – choose to move to a different landlord if a league table shows their landlord is not performing well’. Similarly, the Local Government Association suggest that this may increase stigma through ‘reinforcing negative stereotypes’ and ‘driving perverse incentives’, which would clearly be counter-productive to a core aim of the Green Paper.

While the NHF supports the need for transparency and honesty within the sector, it suggests that the proposed KPIs do not include enough scope for the inclusion of issues which may be significant to specific residents or communities. The Chartered Institute of Housing agree that the tables may not take into account differing needs and priorities of communities.

Dr Chris Foye of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence suggests that linking financial incentives to KPIs could lead to problems, as ‘there is a real risk that rewarding or punishing social landlords on the basis of performance indicators may encourage perverse behaviour’.

Simon Dow, interim chair of the Regulator for Social Housing responded to criticisms of the proposal by suggesting that no practical or effective alternatives have been proposed, and that it is clear from the ‘public and political mood’ that increased public scrutiny cannot be avoided.

Future of the proposal

The need for improvement in the core areas suggested by the Green Paper is largely agreed upon but the proposed solution of league tables is currently lacking support from within the sector.

As mentioned, the period for submitting feedback regarding the Green Paper’s proposals has recently ended, and the responses to this are now being assessed. We must therefore wait and see whether the Government will rethink its approach to informing and empowering tenants through publishing league tables, or whether the social landlords should start considering how well they would fare against suggested KPIs.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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