Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:27 pm on 27th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:27 pm, 27th June 2022

My Lords, I am proud to be here today to open this Second Reading debate of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. This Bill will transform the lives of social housing tenants up and down the country. Once it is implemented, more tenants will live in decent, well looked-after homes, enjoying the quality of accommodation that they deserve.

However, it is right that we also reflect on the events that have led us to this point. Just over five years ago, 72 people—18 of them children—died as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire. The horrifying scenes that night ought never to have occurred. The situation in which the residents of Grenfell Tower were placed was unforgivable. The fire at Grenfell Tower exposed failures and decades of malpractice. It is vital that we bring about reform and lasting change so that a tragedy such as Grenfell never happens again.

Noble Lords have debated the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Act. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill represents the next step in this programme of change. Social housing tenants, whether in Grenfell Tower or elsewhere up and down this country, have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. They do not always feel safe in their homes. Everyone should be treated with respect. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home. In 2022, it is a disgrace that there are social housing tenants who are forced to live in damp, cold, unsafe homes. Some tenants wait months for repairs and are ignored by their landlords. We should be ashamed that this takes place. There are many good landlords in the sector. Many provide high-quality, well-managed, well-maintained accommodation. Many listen and care for their tenants, and many run a fiscally sound organisation. However, that cannot be said for every organisation. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will change this.

This Bill is short but radical. The Regulator of Social Housing is responsible for landlords who register with it throughout England. The regulator will be taking a new, proactive approach to regulating social housing landlords on the issues that matter most to tenants: safety, so that tenants feel protected in their homes; transparency, so that tenants know what their landlord is doing to resolve their issues and can hold their landlord to account; quality accommodation and services, which we would expect landlords to provide; and complaint handling, so that tenants are listened to and their concerns are effectively addressed. The Bill will drive significant change in how social landlords behave, forcing them to focus on the needs of their tenants. Where they do not do this, they will be held robustly to account.

The Bill has three key parts. The first is a brand-new proactive consumer regime. This is the core of this legislation. The regulator will be empowered to hold landlords to account and to proactively ensure landlords are meeting the consumer standards we expect them to deliver. We are changing the regulator’s objectives. This will put tenant safety and transparency at the heart of everything the regulator does. We are removing the “serious detriment” test so that this is no longer a barrier to the regulator enforcing breaches of consumer standards. We are setting out the powers for the Housing Ombudsman to issue a complaint handling code to its members and to make orders to prevent problems recurring in future following complaints.

The Government are also taking a power to bring forward electrical safety regulations for social housing. We are consulting on mandatory electrical safety checks in the social rented sector, and this will align standards with the private rented sector. The new regime will also mean that the regulator will regularly inspect the largest landlords to ensure they are delivering quality homes and services to their tenants. Landlords will need to appoint a person with specific responsibility for health and safety. There will be a new access to information scheme. This will work similarly to the Freedom of Information Act for landlords not currently captured by that Act. Tenants of these landlords will, under the access to information scheme, have the right to request information from their landlord so they can effectively hold their landlord to account.

The second part of the Bill tweaks the current economic regulatory regime. The existing regime has been highly successful. The regulator has been effective at ensuring social housing landlords are fiscally well managed, and that tenants’ homes are not lost. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. The make-up of the sector is changing. New models for how landlords structure their organisations are popping up. We need to future-proof the current regime. We are tightening the definition of “non-profit” so that malign actors cannot play the system. We are forcing landlords to notify the regulator when they change their corporate form. We are introducing a look-through power so the regulator can follow money paid outside of the regulated sector, to ensure probity.

The third part of the Bill will give new powers for the regulator to take enforcement action when things go wrong. These powers will ensure the regulator can take robust action where landlords are failing to meet standards. There will be no limit on the amount the regulator can fine a landlord. Where a survey uncovers a serious issue with a property that a landlord has failed to fix, the regulator will be able to intervene and carry out repairs to fix the problem.

Noble Lords will wish to note that there will be a few targeted government amendments to this legislation in Committee. Among these, we are adding a provision that companies will be required to notify the regulator when there is a change in control of a housing association, as set out in the social housing White Paper. We are also adding a duty on the Housing Ombudsman to monitor compliance with its complaint handling code and a power for the ombudsman to recover any associated costs from its members.

The introduction of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to this House represents a decisive moment for tenants of social housing up and down this country. I beg to move.