The new standards and inspection programme will come into force on 1 April

The Regulator of Social Housing has published its new set of consumer standards and regulatory approach to deliver a “well-governed social housing sector” which provides quality homes and services for tenants.

fiona macgregor

Fiona MacGregor, chief executive of the Regulator of Social Housing, says that landlords will be actively inspected to ensure they’re meeting the standards

As part of the changes, the regulator will assess landlords against four new consumer standards and hold them to account by carrying out regular inspections and scrutinising data on tenant satisfaction and repairs.

The regulator introduced tenant satisfaction measures (TSM) in April last year as a metric by which to assess how well social landlords in England and Wales are doing at providing quality homes and services.

Large landlords will be required to submit their first TSM data return to the regulator by 30 June 2024.

The economic standards set by the regulator will remain unchanged. These include the governance and financial viability standard, the value for money standard, which ensures RPs make best use of their resources, and the rent standard, which ensures social housing rents are set in accordance with government policy. 

>> See also: Regulator of Social Housing upgrades South Liverpool Homes’ governance rating

>> See also: Regulator of Social Housing publishes guidance on Tenant Satisfaction Measures

The four new consumer standards are the Safety and Quality Homes standard, the Transparency, Influence and Accountability standard, The Neighbourhood and Community standard and the Tenancy standard.

From 1 April, the regulator will inspect large landlords, with 1,000 or more social homes at least once every four years to ensure they are meeting the consumer standards. The RSH will carry out inspections outside of this four-year programme, for example one on small landlords.

In January 2023, the regulator launched a series of inspection pilots to prepare for the introduction of the consumer standards in April. 

Seven providers took part in an initial pilot: Bernicia Homes, Brunelcare, Cheshire Peaks and Plains, Eastbourne council, Folkestone and Hythe council, Guinness and Torus.

Another four landlords were involved in the second pilot: Aster Group, Leeds Federated Housing Association, Accent Group and Wythenshawe Community Housing Group.

The regulator’s new consumer standards

The Safety and Quality Homes Standard focuses on ensuring that landlords understand the condition of all of their homes and make use of that data to provide safe, quality homes.

Landlords are required to deliver repairs, maintenance and planned improvements in an effective, efficient and timely manner, and must be clear on their health and safety responsibilities.

The Transparency, Influence, and Accountability Standard: the standard requires landlords to be transparent with tenants, treat them fairly and respectfully so they can access services. Tenants must be able to voice concerns where necessary, influence decisions, and hold the landlord accountable.

The Neighbourhood and Community Standard: Landlords need to engage with relevant parties to ensure tenants live in secure, well-maintained neighbourhoods and feel safe in their homes.

The Tenancy Standard: This standard outlines fair allocation and letting of homes, as well as requirements for managing tenancies by landlords.

The Social Housing Regulation Act (2023) has expanded the regulator’s powers, granting it additional enforcement powers to use in more serious cases. The act has also removed the ‘serious detriment’ test, meaning the RSH can use its monitoring and enforcement powers in relation to the consumer standards without needing to be satisified that there was or is actual or potential risk of significant detriment to tenants. 

These powers include requiring a registered provider to submit a performance improvement plan or to take particular actions set out in an enforcement notice.

The regulator will also be able to authorise an appropriate person to enter a social housing premises to take emergency remedial action and issue penalties or require the RP to pay compensation.

More broadly, the RSH adopts a co-regulatory approach to overseeing landlords, recognising that they are independent organisations, with their own boards and councillors.

The updated regulatory strategy centres around assessing risk, stating that “the higher we think the level of risk is, the greater our level of scrutiny and the stronger our actions are likely to be.”

To develop the new consumer standards and regulatory approach, the regulator engaged with landlords, tenants and other stakeholders. Over 1,000 people took part in the RSH’s standards consultation, with more than 50% of responses coming from tenants.

Fiona MacGregor, chief executive of RSH, said: “Social landlords must keep tenants safe in their homes, listen to what they say and put things right when needed. We are introducing new standards to drive improvements in social housing, and we will actively inspect landlords to check they are meeting them.

“We have spoken to thousands of tenants and other stakeholders who have helped shape our new approach, and we are extremely grateful for their input and involvement. It is vital that landlords make sure they are ready.”

Fiona Fletcher-Smith, chair of G15, said the group’s members “wholeheartedly welcome” the new standards set out today by the Regulator of Social Housing, which they believe ”will further protect tenants and improve the services they receive”.

”We are committed to doing our part to ensure the successful implementation of the new requirements, and have been preparing for these since the publication of the Social Housing Green and White papers,” she continued.

“We particularly welcome the understanding that change needs to be long term and sustained, but financial viability is critical in order for this to happen. Key for us is certainty around rents, and so we are calling for a ten-year rent settlement with a cast-iron commitment to indexation.

”A reintroduction of rent convergence would also provide fairness by ensuring residents pay comparable rents based on the size of their property and location.”

Matt Cowen, a senior associate and social housing governance lead at the law firm Winckworth Sherwood said: “Following programmed inspections by the Regulator, all large landlords will receive a grade on how well they are meeting the consumer standards ranging from C1 (‘the landlord is delivering on the standards’) to C4 (‘there are very serious failings in the landlord delivering the outcomes of the consumer standards’).

“The four new standards are centred on improving the tenant experience. For RPs, compliance with the new standards means significant changes to the way they operate, where they allocate funds, the range of data they need to collect and the way that tenants are involved in decision-making structures. Many RPs are well prepared for these changes but for those who aren’t, this really is the last opportunity.”