LABM garners opinion from across the sector to the new Social Housing White Paper — The Charter for Social Housing Residents.
Housing associations and councils have worked hard over the years to tackle the perception of social housing and address housing inequality. The new White Paper seeks to build on this. The ‘Charter for social housing residents’ is aimed at protecting tenants, detailing what they should expect, such as safe, good quality homes and to be treated with respect. The Executive Summary opens with ‘A home should always be more than just four walls and a roof’ and goes on further to say: ‘A home should provide safety, security and dignity. An opportunity to put down roots and contribute to our community so we can enjoy social and civic lives. Regardless of who you rent from, your landlord should treat you fairly and with respect. And if things go wrong there should be a swift and effective means of redress.’
The White Paper gives a brief history of social housing and recognises the positive work of councils and housing associations, saying: ‘Today, the sector provides homes to four million households. Many landlords provide a good service to their residents. They provide a decent and safe home. They support thriving neighbourhoods and communities. They are open with their residents, listen to them and treat them with respect.’
However, the White paper goes on to highlight that ‘this is not true of all landlords’, referencing the terrible Grenfell Tower Tragedy.
In his forward for the White Paper, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reflected on his time as a cub reporter in the 1980s, where he visited a Wolverhampton family living in a condensation and mould plagued council home. He paints a vivid picture of the despair on the father’s face. The Prime Minister wrote: “We’re levelling up this country, making it fairer for everyone — and that includes making sure social housing tenants are treated with the respect they deserve, so that nobody should ever again feel as hopeless as the man I met all those years ago.”
In his foreword, the Secretary of State for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick added: “I want tenants to feel protected and empowered by a regulatory regime and a culture of transparency, accountability, decency and service befitting of the best intentions and traditions of social housing in this country.
“I hope the ideas and regulatory changes we set out in this White Paper will make a measurable difference to the experiences of those living in England’s four million social homes in the years ahead.”
Welcome vision for social housing
Fiona MacGregor, Chief Executive of the Regulator of Social Housing said: “We welcome the publication of the White Paper and its vision for a social housing sector, which values and responds to the voices of tenants. We will maintain our robust approach to economic regulation and look forward to working with tenants, landlords and other stakeholders to implement the changes to the consumer regulation framework.”
Reverse the decline in council housing
Responding to the Social Housing White Paper, Cllr Darren Rodwell, Local Government Association Housing Spokesperson, said: “Councils are proud of their housing and the individuals and families that call it home. It is paramount that the voice of all social housing residents is heard, and councils are committed to improving standards and empowering and supporting tenants. We support measures that will make the existing redress process clearer, equitable and accessible for all tenants, regardless of the tenure they are living in.
“Councils are also determined that their tenants should have the security of a safe and well-maintained home with any issues quickly and satisfactorily addressed. Tenants of all housing tenures should expect that their landlords will consistently work towards improving living conditions.
“Now is the time to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades. As important as these reforms are for tenants, they will not help to tackle the severe shortage of social housing the country faces.
“Every penny spent on building new social housing is an investment that has the potential to bring significant economic and social returns. We have set out how handing councils the powers and resources to build 100,000 social homes for rent each year would help to reduce spiralling council housing waiting lists and deliver a £14.5bn boost to the economy.”
Responding to the social housing reforms announced by the Government, Cllr Tom Beattie, Vice Chair of the District Councils’ Network, commented: “We are pleased the Government has announced measures to ensure that social housing tenants are able to work well with social landlords to feel proud of their home and their community, and that issues are resolved when they emerge.
“Unfortunately this White Paper is a real missed opportunity to address the massive demand for social housing, as more and more people find themselves in expensive and often unsuitable private rented housing.
“The Government needs to set out a plan for building many more high quality, energy-efficient, attractive social housing at rent levels that people can afford.
“Central to this is breaking down the barriers which prevent councils from building new council homes. It is vital the Government supports this effort with further investment, and through devolving Right to Buy so councils can set discounts locally.”
White Paper offers much needed certainty
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation said: “The publication of the Social Housing White Paper is an important and welcome milestone in the country’s response to the fire at Grenfell Tower. The sector has been unwavering in its commitment to strengthening the relationships between housing associations and their residents. The white paper offers much needed certainty as we continue this work.
“We are pleased that the Government acknowledges again here the vital role of social housing in building lives and communities. This is true now more than ever, as the country navigates the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with social housing landlords being critical partners in delivering frontline services to people who need these most.
“Housing associations have demonstrated commitment to being more accountable and transparent, and we believe that the White Paper represents a natural progression of the work we have been doing. We look forward to working closely and collaboratively with the Government to deliver on these welcome reforms.”
Emphasis on tenant safety vitally important
The Chartered Institute of Housing is pleased that the long-promised White Paper has been published, and welcomes the commitment to raise standards, the focus on increased transparency and the desire to give tenants a real opportunity to shape and influence the decisions that impact on their lives. The CIH looks forward to working with the Government and the social housing regulator to shape a proactive approach to consumer regulation, which focuses on the importance of the professionalism of the sector. The industry body wants to ensure that the changes needed apply across the whole sector and benefit all tenants.
The CIH hopes the White Paper sets a new vision for the sector, which reflects the positive contribution that the profession has made to build trust and engagement with residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The White Paper’s emphasis on tenants’ safety is vitally important. As well as the measures proposed, CIH is looking to government to continue to work with the sector so there is a full understanding of what is required to ensure building safety, and that government recognises landlords’ need for resources to ensure that all homes are safe.
CIH is also pleased that the Government has responded to calls to review the Decent Homes Standard, which is due a fundamental refresh. In addition to enhanced building safety requirements, CIH urges the Government to set energy efficiency standards consistent with its ‘net zero carbon’ goals and to work with the sector to develop a plan to meet them.
Gavin Smart, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Chief Executive, commented: “We welcome the intention of the White Paper, which puts tenants front and centre and aims to address the stigmatisation of social housing and people who live in social housing. Our work to recognise and enhance the professionalism of the housing sector very much complements the themes set out in the paper and we look forward to working with government and the Regulator of Social Housing to embed these across the sector.”