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Social Housing Speed Read – Social Housing Green Paper update

In this week's Speed Read, we provide an update on proposals in the Social Housing Green Paper, 'A New Deal for Social Housing' to introduce league tables for social housing providers.

The Green Paper

As we discussed in a previous speed read, ‘A New Deal for Social Housing‘ (the “Green Paper”) was published on 14 August 2018 and 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.

One of the headline proposals of the Green Paper was the introduction of ‘league tables’ of social landlords, the aim of which was to allow social housing tenants to monitor the performance of their landlord compared to others, particularly as it was felt that current methods of doing so were inadequate.

The league tables would rank landlords based on an assessment of key performance indicators (KPIs) in relation to certain priority areas. The reasoning behind publishing the league tables was that it would empower tenants to pressure their landlords into taking action where necessary as they would have demonstrable evidence to point to in support of any claims brought by them. It was also proposed in the Green Paper that financial incentives and penalties could be linked to league table positions in order to encourage social landlords to improve their services without having to be forced by their tenants.

The response

The initial response of industry bodies to the proposal of league tables in particular was largely not encouraging for the government, with warnings that they could be counter-productive and encourage the wrong priorities.

The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence highlighted the fact that the proposed KPIs measure a variety of factors, some of which can be quantified or measured such as the state of repair of a house, while others which can’t such as residents’ sense of security. This could then lead to landlords focusing on the more quantifiable KPIs at the expense of others, or even to perverse behaviour in an attempt to ‘game’ the system and artificially inflate their position in the league tables.

Now it has emerged that government ministers are reticent to implement the proposal following the range of consultation responses to the Green Paper, particularly due to fears from tenants that the tables could exacerbate stigma around social housing, the complete opposite of the government’s original reasoning behind them; these fears were supported by various bodies including the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing. Tenants were also worried that they would suffer if their landlord was ranked poorly as it could lead to them being trapped in their homes in developments with bad reputations.

Paul Hackett, chair of the G15 group of London housing associations and chief executive of Optivo has stated that, having discussed the proposal with social tenants, he believes that it is “not what they are asking for” but that “they want leadership from housing associations to take the tenant voice seriously with a culture at board and executive team level which reflects that.”

Jenny Osbourne, chief executive of tenant engagement body Tpas echoed tenants’ fears that they will be trapped in housing controlled by a landlord with a low ranking, as “in reality there remains so little choice about moving landlord”. Instead, while “league tables could be a help to make performance more visible across the sector”, tenants’ key concern is the improvement of the service they personally receive from their landlords.

The future

While it appears that the government is unlikely to proceed with the proposal for league tables for social landlords, the Regulator of Social Housing has stated that there is interest in the potential for KPIs to be used in helping tenants hold their landlords to account. It remains to be seen how they would operate in practice and not in the form of a league table, but the hope is that they would help bring more transparency to the social housing system.

There are various other proposals from the Green Paper which may still be implemented. Some of the key proposals include:

  • Consideration to scrapping of the current ‘serious detriment’ test, to allow ‘Ofsted-style’ tougher consumer regulation
  • New home ownership options such as allowing tenants to buy as little as 1% of their property each year through shared ownership. This would only apply to new shared ownership purchases.
  • Ditching of plans to force social landlords to offer fixed term tenancies rather than lifetime tenancies in social housing
  • Ditching of plans to force councils to sell off their most valuable social housing when it becomes vacant
  • The potential introduction a new stock transfer programme from councils to ‘community-led’ housing associations
  • The return of guaranteed debt funding to help the development of affordable homes, and longer term ‘strategic partnerships’ for developing housing associations

Any plans implemented by the Government will surely have a significant effect on social landlords who should be sure to keep up with future speed reads which will cover developments brought in in future by the Green Paper.

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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