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Government social housing plans promise more rights but not more homes

The long-awaited Social Housing White Paper pledges to bring stricter regulation for landlords and an easier complaints process for tenants
London has been gripped by a housing crisis in the last few decades and housing campaigners insist that more social housing is the solution (Credit: Jay Mullings/Unsplash

The Government has laid out its social housing plans to improve tenants’ ability to hold landlords to account over living standards and access to support services – but has stopped short of meeting campaigners’ pleas for a social housing revolution. 

The ‘Charter for Social Housing Residents’ sets out reforms aimed at helping renters to raise grievances about the standard of their accommodation while landlords will be held more accountable for the services that they deliver.

Under the plans, tenants will have easier access to the Housing Ombudsman to solve disputes and landlords will have to report against a new set of tenant satisfaction measures.

But Shelter chief executive Polly Neate has warned that the government’s plans need to include more social homes to prevent rising homelessness. Last year Shelter called for three million more social homes over the next 20 years.

While Neate welcomed the government’s recommendations, she said: “Any new regulatory system is being set up to fail unless we build many more social homes.

“Fundamentally no regulator is going to be able to make up for the chronic shortage of social housing that led to this crisis. Any new dawn for social renters must come with major investment in new homes too.”

The white paper is an answer to calls for social housing reform following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and the views of the survivors and bereaved family members have been taken into account alongside other residents in England. Ministers heard views from 1,000 tenants with a further 7,000 submitted online.

But the government has opted not to set up a new regulatory body, as campaigners had called for, instead reforming the Regulator of Social Housing to govern the sector.

A Grenfell United spokesperson said: “We’ve got the same social housing regulator but for the first time the regulator will be tasked with rooting out toxic landlords through proactive inspections and tenants will have more rights to pursue complaints through the ombudsman.

“If this white paper is going to make any difference, the regulator and the ombudsman need to understand the devastating effect that landlords can have on people’s lives. We have little faith that landlords will improve themselves.” 

Every penny spent on building new social housing is an investment that has the potential to bring significant economic and social returns

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted that the new plans deliver on the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to improve the quality of social housing and boost regulation. 

Jenrick said: “We are delivering on the commitment we made to the Grenfell community that, never again, would the voices of residents go unheard.

“This white paper will bring transformational change for social housing residents, giving them a much stronger voice and, in doing so, re-focusing the sector on its social mission.”

However, while housing campaigners and local authority groups have welcomed the White Paper, they insist that the Government must ramp up how much social housing is being built across England to end the housing crisis.

While in government, the Conservatives claim to have built 486,600 new affordable homes since 2010, including 142,400 under the social rent category which has been neglected by successive governments while demand has risen. They also hail the new £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme as “the largest single investment in social housing for a decade”, promising that it will deliver up to 180,000 new homes 

But this would stop short of the “post-pandemic building boom” proposed by the Local Government Association in the days leading up to the paper’s release. The LGA wants 100,000 new social homes for rent each year, warning that otherwise two million people will be stuck on council house waiting lists and homelessness and rough sleeping will rise during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “We support measures that will make the existing redress process clearer, equitable and accessible for all tenants, regardless of the tenure they are living in.

“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. Every penny spent on building new social housing is an investment that has the potential to bring significant economic and social returns.”

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