My Lords, I add to the compliments to the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, on a most thoughtful and interesting speech. It was something to ponder on and I am sure that, in further contributions to the housing debates, it will be possible to expand on some of his thoughts and ideas. I am also delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, with whom I share a number of interests.
I am pleased today to welcome unreservedly the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, as others have. It is vital legislation, which will give residents a much more powerful voice when it comes to the homes in which they live. It is an important part of the response to the horrific events at Grenfell Tower five years ago. The Bill goes a long way to address constructively some of the key issues that matter most to residents and social housing providers, including quality of services, safety and performance.
I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the trade body for England’s housing associations, a position I have held since 2015. During my tenure in this role, which draws to a close in September, I have been privileged to see first-hand the ways housing associations work tirelessly to deliver good-quality, secure housing for millions of people across the country. The important role that housing associations and social housing can play in every community was highlighted to me during the pandemic, when the sector galvanised at speed to keep residents safe, keep vital services operating and protect residents’ financial security by committing to a no-evictions pledge, which is still in place today.
Most strikingly, however, I have seen from what I regard as a brilliant sector a continued and unfailing commitment to learn and improve where services are not meeting residents’ expectations and needs—and that is exactly why the sector stands behind this legislation. Since the very start of the process of developing the social housing White Paper, from those early conversations with the then Housing Minister and tenants across the country following the Grenfell fire, the NHF and its members have been engaged and proactive in seeking change. There was a clear message from tenants that social housing providers were not always living up to the high standards that we rightly expect from that sector, with its long and proud history of housing people in need. We were not always listening to tenants’ views as closely as we could and should, or responding quickly enough to their concerns.
While it may not always have been easy to listen to such criticisms, the sector is now unflinching in recognising where improvements could be made and is always committed to getting things right. In fact, the sector stepped forward without legislation or government policy decisions to develop, along with residents, Together with Tenants, a sector-wide initiative focused on strengthening the relationship between residents and housing association landlords. Based on a four-point plan and charter, the programme has been delivering tangible changes in accountability, transparency and governance across housing associations since its launch in 2019. To date, 207 housing associations are signed up to the programme, covering 83% of all housing association homes. The NHF was pleased to see Together with Tenants referenced in the White Paper. I am confident that the programme has laid excellent foundations on which the regulations brought forward by the Bill can stand securely.
Furthermore, in the last three weeks the sector has taken a huge step forward in tackling issues of poor-quality housing. Earlier this month it was announced that the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing have worked together to set up an independent panel to make swift recommendations to tackle issues of poor-quality housing in the sector. We have seen from reports on ITV News and campaigns on social media that some residents have been badly let down by unacceptable problems with housing quality and poor customer service. The work of the new panel, chaired by Helen Baker, the chair of Shelter and an expert in housing, social care, health and education, will guide housing associations to tackle these problems head-on.
I am proud to say that the NHF and its members embrace a culture of transparency and openness when it comes to performance in dealing with issues that matter to residents, and we want that to be clear, meaningful and inclusive. We are at a critical point for improving many residents’ experience of social housing, and housing associations stand ready to deliver this change.
As I welcome the Bill, I hope the Minister will join me in welcoming the work that housing associations are already doing to drive up standards. Will he commit to continuing to engage closely with housing associations on what I believe to be vital reforms?