Social Housing: Regulation

Part of Committees – in the House of Commons at 9:32 pm on 31 October 2016.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 9:32, 31 October 2016

I am delighted to have secured this debate. I called for it to voice my concerns about the regulation of social landlords and how they manage their properties. First, I want to pay tribute to the hundreds of my constituents who have campaigned, with me and their councillors, to draw urgent attention to their plight. The focus of my contribution will be how we can ensure that social housing tenants have the proper protection they need and can live in security and safety. This applies in particular to repairs and maintenance services, which if not done speedily and to a high standard can be devastating, and in some cases life-threatening.

At a time when local authorities and housing associations have been facing significant funding pressures, it is vital that the Government and regulators pay particular attention to the experience of social housing tenants. Housing associations are a critical part of the solution to Britain’s housing crisis; they provide affordable, quality rented and shared ownership accommodation, and the best ones are anchored in their communities. Many provide specialist housing services—for example, for people with disabilities. Some housing associations have historical roots in the 19th century and the mutual and co-operative traditions.

Tower Hamlets has many excellent community-based housing associations which have worked well in partnership with the council to look after residents and to be genuinely responsive to the needs of local people, but in recent years I have become increasingly concerned that these progressive aims are being subverted and the not-for-profit ethos of housing associations is being undermined in some cases. Old Ford Housing, which was established in 1998 as the successor body to Tower Hamlets Housing Trust, was widely regarded as one of the best housing associations in east London. It was originally a subsidiary of Circle 33 Housing Group for financing purposes, but it was accountable to its own board of tenants, leaseholders and independent members. In 2005, it merged with Anglia Housing Group to form Circle Anglia. Other associations then joined to form Circle Housing Group.

The quality of maintenance has progressively worsened since the merger. Circle Housing has systematically failed local people. Local councillors and I have had to deal with hundreds of complaints from residents, as have other MPs with housing in their constituency that is managed by Circle Housing. Last winter, it failed to manage its heating repairs properly, meaning that many tenants had no heating or hot water for days. Many other examples have been brought to my attention of missed appointments, repairs left undone, poor-quality work by contractors, and failures to communicate with residents. Tower Hamlets Council has taken the rare step of dropping Circle Housing altogether as a preferred partner for housing development in the borough.