What changes are taking place in social housing? The answer is, a lot. In fact, a huge amount. 

There are a large number of open consultations, spotlight reports and the new implementation of the Statutory Complaint Handling code, without mentioning Michael Gove’s pledge (on 11 February 2024 via BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg) that the Government will have outlawed no fault evictions by the next general election – more on this to follow from our team, once things take up traction. 

Arguably once all of the changes have been implemented (however they might finally look), they will form the biggest change to how social housing looks, and operates, for at least the last decade. 

A brief recap on what registered providers (RPs) should have on their radar, including links to our previous commentary:

  • Consultation on Awaab’s Law  – deadline to respond 5 March 2024
  • The anticipated announcement of the new Consumer Standards from the Regulator of Social Housing – These are due to go live on 1 April 2024.  We are waiting on the final version of these, along with the updated ‘Regulating the Standards’ guidance – watch out for further information on this shortly. In the meantime our previous commentary can be found here.
  • Consultation on setting competence and conduct standards  – deadline to respond 2 April 2024, submit via this link
  • Consultation on reforms to social housing allocations – deadline to respond 26 March 2024, submit via this link
  • Recent Relationship of Equals Housing Ombudsman spotlight report – look out for our upcoming article on this!
  • Housing Ombudsman – Statutory Complaint Handling Code 2024 – landlords have been urged by the Ombudsman to prepare ahead of the deadline on 1 April 2024.

As we say, a lot going on. 

Consultation on setting competence and conduct standards

Following the enactment of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (SHA 2023) we have been anticipating these changes. The proposals now set out the finer detail, including the indication that the deadline is going to be that landlords have a maximum of two years for staff to have obtained the necessary qualifications, or be working towards them.  

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) outlines, “The proposals set out in this consultation should equip all social housing staff with the skills, knowledge and experience needed to provide tenants with a high quality, respectful service – helping to ensure that tragedies like the Grenfell fire and the death of Awaab Ishak never happen again.” 

What are the proposals?

Bottom line is that managers in the sector will be required to hold appropriate level qualifications equivalent to a level 4 or 5 certificate or diploma in housing, or a foundation degree from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). 

RPs will need to have a written policy (which is regularly reviewed) setting out “their approach to managing and developing the skills, knowledge, experience and conduct of those of their staff who are relevant individuals” and the steps they will take to ensure staff have these skills and exhibit them to a good quality (this includes where there are managing agreements to other organisations). 

The policy will need to address how the skills, knowledge and experience will be tailored to the different roles within the organisation, the learning and development plans to underpin such values along with both the appraisal of staff and management relating to poor performance.

It is also expected for RP’s to adopt, or develop, a “code of conduct” for staff and ensure it is embedded within the organisation. 

The proposals go on to set out the specific expectations on the type of qualification that should be held by senior housing executives or senior housing managers – defined by their substantive role in managing the delivery of housing management services to tenants. Annex B of the consultation sets out the functions that they deem should be covered (emphasising that role titles are used inconsistently within the sector), but confirms that it is not exhaustive.

What are the deadlines?

The proposed transition period is two years – which starts the day that the “Competence and Conduct Standard” comes into force (proposed as 1 April 2025).

It is further proposed that at least half of the individuals in scope who are in post, might be working towards, or have completed, a relevant qualification within the first 12 months. 

Anyone else within scope, or who move within the first 18 months, will need to have completed, or be working towards them, by the end of that period. 

There are proposed adjusted periods for small RPs (less than 50 units of stock) contained within the consultation.

The consultation itself closes on 2 April 2024 – please respond  through the DLUHC website via this link.

Consultation on reforms to social housing allocations

Another expected consultation following the enactment of SHA 2023, but again we now know more of the finer detail. 

The proposals consider the introduction of the following criteria which is to be used by local housing authorities when allocating social housing:

  • UK connection test – “The new test would help to ensure that more social housing is allocated to British citizens and those who have a strong connection to the country.” This proposes a requirement for applicants to have been a lawful resident for the last 10 years – with some exemptions relating to those arriving for safe and legal resettlement (for example Afghanistan and Ukraine refugees). 
  • Local connection test – proposes a requirement that local authorities must insist there be a local connection for at least two years (or longer if desired by the LA) for any applicant applying for social housing.
  • Income test – proposes mandating an income test for those on the waiting list, who have yet to be allocated a social home. Those above the maximum threshold (the figure for which has not been identified within the proposals) will not be eligible for social housing. Exemptions will apply for those in receipt of passporting benefits, those who are in need of supported housing (or have care or support needs) and veterans of UK armed forces. 
  • Anti-social behaviour (ASB) – requirement for local authorities to disqualify any applicant who has unspent anti-social behaviour convictions or civil sanctions, within the location the behaviour took place. The ASB behaviour within the test is intended to align with the grounds for the mandatory grounds for possession (84A Housing Act 1985 and 7A Housing Act 1988). Exclusions will apply for domestic abuse survivors and those whose behaviour was due to a condition or disability.
  • Fraudulent declaration test – disqualification for a set period for applicants who knowingly or recklessly make false declarations on their housing application form. Views are sought as to the length of the disqualification and the period for which disclosure should be made by the applicant.
  • Terrorism – disqualifying applicants who have unspent convictions for a terrorist offence.

The proposals also include new grounds for possession relating to terrorism and the ASB (the “three strikes and you’re out” policy).

  • Looking at the ASB ground first – the proposals confirm that it is the intention of Parliament that the definition for a ‘strike’ aligns with those sanctions set out in the Home Office’s statutory guidance to frontline professionals on Anti-social Behaviour Powers – i.e. Criminal Behaviour Orders, civil injunctions, Closure notices and orders, community protection notices, dispersal powers and public space protection orders.
    It appears to be suggested that the “three strikes” would not apply to behaviour which could lead to the use of the mandatory grounds, but to the remaining behaviour mentioned above – three being the maximum number before a landlord should consider using a discretionary ground for possession. 
  • The second relates to the proposal for the creation of a new ground, or amendment to the serious offences set out in 84A Housing Act 1985 to include terrorism as a serious offence. The intention appears to relate only to unspent convictions, and there is currently no mention of any amendment to the need for the offence to have occurred within the locality of the property. 

The proposals set out that they intend to apply the above tests both to new applicants, but also to those already on the waiting lists. 

The consultation is open until 26 March 2024 you can respond via this link.

Statutory Complaint Handling Code 2024

Following the consultation period at the end of 2023, the joint code between the Housing Ombudsman and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) was announced on 8 February 2024, which will become a statutory requirement on 1 April 2024. 

Although RPs have had to meet the obligations under the Complaint Handling Code since it was introduced in 2022, the biggest change is that RPs will now need to demonstrate they are meeting the requirements by submitting an annual Complaints, Performance and Service Improvement Report which must include a self-assessment (along with publishing it on your website) in addition to your tenant satisfaction measures. 

What are the deadlines?

For those RPs who have more than 1,000 homes the deadline is 30 June 2024. Those with fewer than 1,000 homes, will need to submit this 12 weeks after the financial year end, or the date of publication of the tenant satisfaction measures on the organisation website. 

Housing Ombudsman workshops

The Housing Ombudsman is running a number of workshops – dates of which can be found on their website

Complaint policies

As landlords are required to be compliant with the new code from 1 April 2024, now is a crucial time for policies to be reviewed. The Housing Ombudsman has made it clear that where policies are not compliant, a detailed explanation will be needed as to the reasons why in the self-assessment, along with the date in which it intends to comply. 

Landlords are also required to provide suitable guidance and training to staff involved in complaint handling. Such training should be regularly refreshed, or sooner if there is a change to the landlord’s compliant policy. 

It is clear that this will be an ongoing focus for the Ombudsman, especially given its announcement in December 2023 that they were launching a special investigation into three London social landlords, following concerns of their wider failings around struggling to deal with damp and mould repairs and also complaint handling. 

Key action points:

  1. We urge all social landlords to respond to the various consultations - it is so important for the Government to have the views from you in order to shape future legislation, especially in terms of the practical issues and challenges of implementing the changes.  
  2. It has never been more crucial for RPs to be taking time to review their policies – particularly those relating to vulnerable tenants, repairs and complaint handling to ensure compliance ahead of 1 April 2024. We are already assisting RPs with this exercise, so please do get in touch if we can assist your teams. 
  3. Ensure training is scheduled in readiness to implement any changes in policy. 

How can we help?

Should you require any further help and guidance, please contact Sarah Orchard or Kate Hicks who will be happy to assist.

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