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The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023: consumer standards

Posted: 14/02/2024

This series of ‘back to the future’ articles looks at the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, the changes made, and what social housing providers should be aware of, as well as examining whether it is entirely new law, or a re-invention of something previously seen within the social housing sector.

This is the sixth article in the series, which looks at the consumer regulatory standards.

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 has put consumer standards on the same footing as the economic standards, and has given the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) new powers to regulate and enforce them.

From 1 April 2024, the regulator will move from a reactive approach to consumer regulation, where it can only investigate consumer issues if there is ‘a serious detriment’ to tenants, to a proactive approach on the same ‘co-regulatory’ basis as it regulates economic standards.

The RSH will have new inspection powers, and when carrying out inspections of registered providers from 1 April 2024, it will have a new focus on compliance with consumer standards, as well as economic ones. The regulator will be rating housing associations under a new C rating, depending on how well they comply with the new consumer standards. This means that housing associations are going to have to demonstrate compliance with these new consumer standards in the same way as they do now with the economic ones.

As well as the regulator having increased powers in respect of consumer standards, these standards themselves are changing. The RSH is currently consulting on the changes and the final version will be ready at the end of this month, with the new standards coming into force in April 2024.

The current standards will therefore be replaced by four new standards, as below:

  • the Safety and Quality Standard (replacing the Home Standard);
  • the Tenancy Standard (replacing the old Tenancy Standard);
  • the Neighbourhood and Community Standard (replacing the old Neighbourhood and Community Standard); and
  • the Transparency, Influence and Accountability Standard (replacing the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard). 

In addition, there will be two new consumer standards. The first new standard relates to the provision of information to tenants. There has been a consultation in respect of this new standard and the government has published its direction to the RSH regarding the provision of information to tenants. It is expected that this revised standard will apply from April 2024. 

The second new standard relates to competence and conduct. The consultation in respect of this consumer standard began on 6 February 2024 and will finish just under two months later on 2 April. It is expected that it will apply from April 2025. 

There will also be a new code of conduct, just as there is for economic standards. The aim of this code of conduct is to provide examples of good practice to help registered providers comply with the new consumer standards.

Is this new law, or old? The consumer standards themselves are changing; they will keep the same basic principles, but expand on them where required. However, these are not huge changes, just changes that housing associations should be aware of. The regulator’s increased powers may feel new but, as it said at a recent conference, they merely reflect what housing associations should be (and in most cases are) doing. What is new is the codification of these obligations within the new consumer standards and the specific regulation against them that will come into force on 1 April 2024.

Our next ‘back to the future’ article will look at electrical safety. We will also be running a more detailed blog on the new consumer standards, starting in March this year.

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