Government launches Social Housing White Paper

The white paper aims to strengthen the voice of social housing tenants and make landlords more accountable for the services they deliver.
The government’s new Social Housing White Paper aims to strengthen the voice of social housing tenants. Credit: George Clerk/iStock

The government has launched its new Social Housing White Paper which outlines major reforms to support social housing tenants in England.

The white paper, The Charter for Social Housing Residents, sets out reforms that aim to improve tenants’ access to the Housing Ombudsman, reducing the length of time it takes to make decisions and ensuring effective resolution.

The paper will also make landlords more accountable for the services they deliver, as it also introduces access to a new information scheme for housing association tenants and a set of tenant satisfaction measures that landlords will have to report against.

The housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the new white paper will bring ‘transformational change’ for social housing residents, giving them a much stronger voice.

Jenirkc said: “I want to see social housing tenants empowered by a regulatory regime and a culture of transparency, accountability, decency and public service befitting of the best intentions and deep roots of social housing in this country.

“The new approach and regulatory changes we set out in this white paper will make a measurable difference to the lived experiences of those living in England’s four million social homes in the years ahead.”

The publication of the white paper follows the government’s pledge to better regulate and improve the quality of social housing and follows consultation with residents and landlord groups across England, including those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The new charter outlines a seven-point plan setting out what every social housing resident should expect from their landlord, while the White Paper sets out what the government will do to ensure landlords deliver this change.

Among the biggest changes proposed in the white paper are a review of the Decent Homes Standard and reforms to the Regulator of Social Housing, which will be strengthened to explicitly include the safety of homes in its consumer regulation objective.

The regulator will also receive a new arm to proactively regulate on consumer standards including the quality of homes, repairs, meaningful engagement with tenants and the handling of complaints.

These changes will be backed by legislation to oblige landlords to nominate an individual responsible for health and safety compliance.

The white paper also introduces more measures for social housing residents to own their home, expanding the Right to Buy and introducing a new Right to Shared Ownership for housing association tenants in new homes.

Alongside its publication of the white paper, the government also published its responses to the consultation on the Social Housing Green Paper and call for evidence on social housing regulation, and opened a consultation on mandating smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in all rental homes.

The consultation on smoke alarms aims to give social tenants the same legal protections on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms as private sector renters.

While councils have questioned the lack of new investment in the Social Housing White Paper, its publication has been welcomed by housing associations who called it ‘an important and welcome milestone’ in the country’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, the Local Government Association housing spokesperson, said: “Now is the time to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades. As important as these reforms are for tenants, they will not help to tackle the severe shortage of social housing the country faces.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF), commented: “The NHF and its members have made significant progress on tenant relations and engagement by developing our own resident charter, and we hope to see this work recognised in the white paper as a standard by which the sector can continue making improvements, especially over the time it takes for the new system to be up and running.

“Housing associations have demonstrated willingness to be more accountable and transparent, and we believe that the white paper represents a natural progression of the work we have been doing.

“We look forward to seeing the detail in the white paper so we can continue working with residents, the government and the Regulator of Social Housing to deliver these important reforms.”

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