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The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023: are we going back to the future?

Posted: 01/11/2023

There has been much coverage of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which gained royal assent on 20 July 2023. Much of this is focused on how the act shakes up social housing and introduces a number of new powers and obligations.

This series of ‘back to the future’ articles will look at the act from a slightly different angle; so whilst looking at the changes made, and what social housing providers should be aware of, it will also examine whether this is entirely new law, or a re-invention of something previously seen within the social housing sector.

This is the first article in the series, which sets out a general introduction to the act.

The act seeks to give effect to reforms that were first proposed in the government’s social housing white paper of 2020. It aims to improve the service tenants receive from their social housing landlords which, on occasion, has been shown to be not quite as good as it should be. Recent cases in the housing press, and complaints upheld by the Housing Ombudsman have shown a need for more investment in housing associations’ housing services, and improvements to the way tenants’ complaints are handled.

The goal of the act is to deal with this by improving how social housing is regulated, improving the quality of social housing, and addressing some of the systemic issues identified following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. In addition, following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, amendments were made to the bill to enact what the government called ‘Awaab’s Law’, to force social landlords to fix damp and mould within strict time limits.

The act has three core objectives, being:

  • to put the consumer regulatory regime on the same footing as the economic regulatory one (ie proactive and not reactive);
  • to tighten up the economic regulatory regime by closing loopholes etc; and
  • to strengthen the Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) enforcement powers – giving it the ‘teeth’ to regulate effectively.

So how new is all of this? 

Before the act came into force, the RSH (then called the Housing Corporation) pro-actively regulated all aspects of a housing association’s activities without distinction; this included the economic and consumer standards. Why the government of the day decided to split housing regulation into the economic and consumer standards, with differing regulatory regimes for each one, can be left for the historians to debate. What matters is that the regulator, once again, has the necessary powers to pro-actively regulate the whole of a housing association’s social housing activities, as well as (as regards the economic standards) the impact of its non-housing ones too. 

The government believes that by going back to this form of regulation, the regulator will be better able to monitor and regulate housing associations and the delivery of their social housing objectives.

The next ‘back to the future’ article will look at health and safety under the act. Other articles in this series will consider the following aspects of the act: tenant satisfaction; Awaab’s Law; the regulator’s new powers; consumer regulation; and electrical safety.

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