ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt explains the significance of the new housing reforms and breaks down the strengthened powers given to the regulator
They have been a long time coming but on Wednesday the government’s social housing reforms, promising to “reset” the relationship between tenant and landlord, have finally been brought to Parliament.
Almost five years to the week since a fire ripped through the council-owned Grenfell tower, killing 72 social housing tenants, the changes ministers promised in the days after the disaster in 2017 will begin the process of becoming law in 2022.
In an interview with ITV News in February, Housing Secretary Michael Gove admitted the government had been too slow in bringing forward the changes.
“Your work and others have highlighted a situation which we promised to fix four years ago and which we haven't," he told us.
"The Grenfell tragedy was a tragedy of many dimensions. One of the things that everyone pledged to do afterwards was to make sure that people in social housing had their voices heard, and we haven't done that effectively.”
The Social Housing Regulation Bill is designed to amplify the voices of those who the government now admit have been too easily muffled or ignored by their landlords, by the Regulator and by ministers.
It proposes to come down harder on councils and housing associations who fail to deal with complaints promptly and properly with the threat of unlimited fines from the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), hitherto a rather toothless entity in dealing with disrepair and ensuring decent standards.
The RSH will also have the power to inspect properties with 48 hours notice and order emergency repairs.
The government wants the biggest social housing providers to face regular “Ofsted-style inspections”.
Daniel Hewitt provides analysis on the new housing reforms
The Bill will also remove the “serious detriment” test, a measure currently used by the Regulator to determine whether or not a landlord has failed in its duties to tenants.
For many in the sector the test sets the bar far too high for landlords to be found guilty of breaching standards, effectively requiring tenants’ health or safety to be put at serious risk for the Regulator to intervene.
Tenants will now be able to rate their landlord as part of new satisfaction measures and a 250-strong residents panel will meet with ministers three times a year to raise issues and suggest policy changes.
While the government describes the changes as a “major reset”, a number of the reforms reverse the Conservative government’s previous changes to the sector a decade ago.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove told ITV News that change is needed in the social housing sector earlier this year
It was this government in 2012, under then Housing Secretary Grant Shapps, that introduced the “serious detriment” test in the first place.
It is now being scrapped, having proven “a legislative barrier that once axed will make it easier for the Regulator to tackle poor performing landlords”, according the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
It was this government in 2012 that removed the obligation on the Regulator to proactively inspect properties and monitor standards.
Now the government says giving the Regulator those powers back will help “tackle damp, cold and unsafe homes and ensure landlords don’t ignore tenants.”
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It was this government in 2010 that closed down National Tenants Voice, a body set up by the last Labour government to give social housing tenants a say in shaping national policy on housing issues. Now it says a new tenants panel will allow them to “share their experiences with Ministers, inform policy thinking and help drive change in the sector.”
“In 2022 it is disgraceful that anyone should live in damp, cold and unsafe homes, waiting months for repairs and being routinely ignored by their landlord. These new laws will end this injustice and ensure the regulator has strong new powers to take on rogue social landlords,” said Michael Gove.
“We are driving up the standards of social housing and giving residents a voice to make sure they get the homes they deserve. That is levelling up in action.”
'We have got to do better,' Michael Gove told ITV News' Daniel Hewitt of the need to provide more social housing back in February
"I don't want to criticise my predecessors because again, there have been many, many
What the bill doesn’t address is the desperate need to build more social homes.
Right now there are over 1 million families on social housing waiting lists in England. More than 96,000 families are in temporary accommodation (and rising every year).
This includes 121,680 children, whose ability to succeed in education and live healthy lives is seriously compromised.
Increased regulation and more accountability for poor performing landlords have been widely welcomed but councils and housing associations all too often don’t have enough homes for the people that need them, and families are forced to live in cramped, unsuitable, temporary accommodation.
Councils in particular don’t have the money to replace old, decaying stock that is no longer fit for purpose and needs pulling down and replacing. Budgets cuts have also seen the number of repair teams and housing offices dwindle.
Michael Gove admitted to ITV News in February the government has not built enough social homes and has pledged to build more. Exactly how many more, and by when, he has yet to say.