Housing associations, government and regulators need to work together to define new standards for social housing and ensure each home meets these, according to an action plan published in response to the Better Social Housing Review

An audit of all social housing in England should be carried out to drive systemic improvements in conditions, according to joint recommendations by The National Housing Federation (NHF) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). 

The two bodies have published an action plan to tackle poor-quality social housing, building on the seven recommendations published in their Better Social Housing Review (BSHR) in December 2022.

The NHF and CIH have set out plans for a thorough audit of all social homes and the definition of new standards for maintenance. 

“[Our action plan] commits housing professionals to a series of important steps which will address the [BSHR’s] findings and recommendations and help to ensure that all tenants of social housing live in good quality, well-managed homes and are treated with dignity and respect,” Gavin Smart, chief executive of the CIH, said in a statement.

In their report, NHF and CIH sets out ”a shared, consistent approach to assessing homes” that all social landlords can adopt.

“This robust and ambitious plan shows the sector’s commitment to making improvements where they are needed,” Kate Henderson, chief executive of the NHF, said in a statement.

“England has some of the oldest and worst quality homes in Europe and these issues cannot be permanently fixed without funding for regeneration.”

The action plan recommends the promotion of qualifications, training and professional standards for housing officers, and sets out ways to support housing associations to measure progress.  

It also highlights the importance of engaging with and listening to both ethnically diverse and disabled residents and staff, pointing out that Black and Asian households are around three times more likely to live in damp homes than white British households. 

The action plan intends to collaborate with housing associations to develop a new set of core indicators on the condition of our homes and who lives in them.

They will work closely with these bodies, government and industry to make sure the revised Decent Homes Standard, which is due to be consulted on in 2023, and the new consumer regulation standards, are met.

Proposals will be consulted on to ensure they are workable for different types of organisations, including smaller and supported housing providers. They also plan to share examples of good practice from the work already ongoing to improve the quality of housing association homes.

Several housing associations have already endorsed the action plan, including members of the G15 and Homes for the North groups and BME National. 

The Local Government Association, the Association of Retained Council Housing and the National Federation of ALMOs have also agreed to adopt the action plan where possible.

In England 4.2 million people are waiting in need of social housing, and 310,000 children are forced to share a bed with other family members because of overcrowding.

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This week’s action plan follows mounting concern about the financial pressures on housing associations which are facing rampant inflation, a 7% rent cap in 2022/23, and competing pressures to build new homes, decarbonise stock and make building safety improvements.

Over the last five years housing associations have spent nearly £88 billion on repairs and maintenance of existing homes and building new homes, according to the NHF and CIH report.

“The BSHR panel itself found that housing associations are under huge pressures, having seen funding for new affordable housing cut by 63% in 2010, during which time they have been investing more in new building safety and decarbonisation requirements,” Henderson said. 

“We need the government to invest in a long-term strategy for social housing which encompasses both the regeneration of existing homes and communities, as well as building urgently needed new social homes.”

In March, the government announced it was launching an inquiry into the finances and sustainability of the social housing sector in England. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee will examine the financial pressures facing social landlords and the resources needed to meet a variety of challenges, including improving social housing stock.