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Preparing for Change – the Consumer Regulation Review 2020/21

Posted: 13/10/2021

It is perhaps unsurprising that the latest Consumer Regulation Review reiterates a number of key messages found in previous versions given that only one finding of a breach of the Consumer Standards and serious detriment in 2020-2021 has been published. However, in light of the publication of the Social Housing White Paper last year, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) also emphasises the need for providers to be prepared for change. There is a clear upcoming direction of travel around issues such as hearing the tenants’ voice and building safety.

Within the review, the RSH confirms that, despite the challenges of the pandemic, most RPs had effectively managed the crisis. Several of the case studies contained within the Review also reflect the more flexible approach to regulation adopted by the RSH through the height of the pandemic. This is particularly the case where action plans to address potential compliance issues were disrupted by the pandemic (provided plans were put in place to manage identified risks), and providers engaged with the RSH early on.

Key themes in the review include:

  1. health and safety compliance and managing risk and the fact that these are reliant on accurate and good quality data;

  2. communicating with tenants and understanding their needs – the review highlights the positive responses from providers to engagement challenges arising from the pandemic, and also emphasises the need for providers to be considering how best to ensure tenant voices are heard, “as this speaks to their culture and the purpose of the organisation”;

  3. continuous learning from complaints – echoing the Complaints Handling Code and comments from the Housing Ombudsman that complaints should be a valuable source of insight for boards and councillors (see our update on the Housing Ombudsman’s recent guidance), the review encourages providers to use complaints data to spot wider issues, trends or signs of systemic failures within their organisation;

  4. complying with the standards and planning for the future – while we are still waiting for legislation to amend the RSH’s consumer regulation role following the Social Housing White Paper, the RSH stresses in the review that the direction of travel is clear in relation to issues such as tenants’ safety, hearing the tenant voice and making tenants feel respected. Where providers are aware of weaknesses in these areas, they should be preparing to address these now, and not waiting for legislation; and

  5. the link to good governance – once again the review stresses the clear correlation between providers being unable to demonstrate that they have effective governance arrangements in place, and those who cannot demonstrate compliance with the Consumer Standards. Some particular failures identified during this period related to lease-based providers or providers with heavy reliance on managing agent arrangements, where health and safety checks were not being carried out or overseen directly by the landlord. Effective governance arrangements are necessary to ensure compliance with the Consumer Standards and are particularly important when services are provided by third parties. In such instances, responsibility for oversight of compliance still sits with the provider board (or councillors) and governance arrangements must give assurance of compliance with the standards.

The significant reduction in the number of serious detriment findings in 2020-21 (from 15 to one) are suggested within the review to be a consequence of factors such as changes occurring within providers as they responded to the impact of Covid-19 and changes in how the RSH engaged with providers during this period (including its monthly CORS survey). Where things do go wrong, the RSH emphasises the importance of being proactive in managing risk and responding promptly and effectively, and several case studies included in the review highlight these points.

With changes to consumer regulation imminent, providers should ensure that they have effective assurance on compliance with the current standards, and that they are planning for changes in relation to key issues such as fire and building safety and resident engagement. Providers should ensure they have a clear picture of any weaknesses in their organisations now, rather than waiting for legislation to come into force.

If you have any questions about the issues raised within the review, then please do contact a member of the Housing, Corporate and Governance team

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