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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:26 pm on 27th June 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Deputy Chairman of Committees 4:26 pm, 27th June 2022

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in social housing, in particular as the chair of Look Ahead, a small housing association in London. Like other noble Lords, I warmly welcome this Bill, which will support stronger and more proactive consumer regulations and the inclusion of further health and safety requirements in social housing to protect tenants.

The National Housing Federation provided a very useful briefing for today; it has been detailed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I particularly want to talk about its recommendations that the Government should seriously consider the potential costs of the ombudsman and regulator in taking on these new responsibilities, and ensure that there is effective funding so that they can conduct them properly. Can the Minister clarify what funding will be made available to ensure that the aims of the Bill can be achieved at pace within sound government structures?

In all the briefings received—including those from Shelter and Electrical Safety First, already referred to by other noble Lords—issues arise with the proposed electricity checks. Will such checks include appliances such as white goods, for example fridges, as well as main electrical installations for sockets and lights? We know—again, as other noble Lords have said—that the Grenfell Tower tragedy was linked to such an issue. New white goods are expensive. What will happen if tenants’ own white goods fail assessments for safety? Will they be removed? How will people afford replacements? These are really important issues for social tenants.

It is clear that social landlords will need sufficient powers to gain access to properties if they are truly to make sure that large buildings are fully assessed for electrical safety. Should safety checks cover leasehold properties in social housing blocks as well as homes that are rented out?

If the new proactive consumer regulation regime is adopted as outlined in the Bill, are the Government confident that the definition of “social rented sector” is sufficiently detailed? The statistics in the Library briefing suggest that the social rented sector provides homes for 4 million households, or, perhaps more importantly, one-sixth of all households. The Bill and briefings received appear to make no mention of shared ownership properties, which are a particular interest of mine, as the Minister knows. Many shared ownership households own only a quarter of their homes and pay social rent to housing associations on the remaining 75%. Is there a need for an amendment to the Bill to clarify the rights and responsibilities of both parties involved in shared ownership, particularly with regard to safety checks and the costs of putting things right? Under current legislation, I suggest that these will fall on the tenant, rather than the housing association, and I would welcome clarity on this.

Other noble Lords spoke eloquently about the positive aspects of the Bill, and it will certainly improve the lots of tenants if enacted. I look forward to working with the Minister and Members on all sides of this House to make revisions in areas where further definitions may improve the Bill, particularly with regard to the rights of shared ownership tenants, many of whom work in the public sector and are already suffering with the cost of inflation, before the mortgage element of their shared ownership increases.