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Housing

Social housing tenants should get compensation for living in homes ‘unfit for human habitation’, say MPs

Funds must be made available to regenerate old social housing stock and compensate social housing tenants for living with disrepair, MPs have warned in a damning social housing report.

Some of England’s social housing has deteriorated so badly it is “unfit for human habitation” and tenants must be compensated for living with the consequences, MPs have found.

The cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee‘s investigation found a serious shortage of social housing as well as ageing stock “approaching obsolescence”.

The MPs called on the government to introduce funding specifically to regenerate homes as well as raising the maximum amount of compensation tenants can receive from providers up to £25,000. The committee also criticised how complaints were dealt with and how regulators took action to support tenants.

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“Social housing plays a vital role in giving people a secure and affordable home, offering those in social housing protection from the rising costs and insecurity of private renting,” said committee chair Clive Betts.

“Too many social housing tenants are living in uninhabitable homes and experiencing appalling conditions and levels of disrepair, including serious damp and mould, with potential serious impacts on their mental and physical health.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson told The Big Issue the biggest social housing providers will face Ofsted-style inspections and unlimited fines for failures under the new Social Housing Regulation Bill.

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“We’re taking action to improve social housing through our new Bill,” the government spokesperson said. “This will give the regulator and Housing Ombudsman more powers, including unlimited fines from the regulator for landlords who fail tenants.

“The biggest suppliers will also be regularly inspected and complaints dealt with quickly and fairly, meaning more people will live in decent and well looked after homes.”

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The committee’s report comes after a year in which the state of social housing has been put in the spotlight following reporting from ITV News and activism from Kwajo Tweneboa, who has been documenting tenants’ complaints on social media.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said the report shows the “time for excuses is over” and said the sector must now improve how it treats tenants.

“Far too many tenants have been let down and left to live in damp and dangerous homes while their complaints go unanswered,” said Neate.

“The Social Housing Regulation Bill is an opportunity for the government to finally tip the scales in favour of fairness and accountability.

MPs found the power balance between tenants and housing providers as one of the biggest problems facing the social housing sector.

The committee called for the government to create a national tenant voice body to independently represent tenant and resident associations and improve standards.

The report also recommends that the Housing Ombudsman and housing providers address the lack of public awareness of how tenants can complain and called for the government to amend its upcoming Social Housing Regulation Bill to increase compensation.

The average amount of compensation paid to tenants for the distress of living in homes with disrepair was just £260 in 2020/21. The committee found this was “not anywhere close” to reflecting the detriment to tenants and called for the Housing Ombudsman to be given the powers to order providers to pay compensation up to £25,000 – the same as the new private renting ombudsman.

“The poor complaint handling of some providers not only adds insult to injury but the resulting delays in resolving tenant complaints actively contributes to the levels of disrepair,” added Betts. “Sadly, beyond the distress of experiencing poor living conditions, it is undeniable that tenants also face poor treatment from providers who discriminate and stigmatise people because they are social housing tenants.

“This must change. Providers need to up their game, treat tenants with dignity and respect, and put tenants at the centre of how they deliver housing services, including by regularly monitoring the condition of their housing stock.”

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The body responsible for regulating the quality in the sector, The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), came under criticism for failing to proactively defend tenants and make the use of enforcement powers.

The RSH has been prevented from acting unless it passes the ‘serious detriment’ test, which rules that the regulator can only find a provider in breach of a consumer standard if there is serious detriment to tenants.

MPs found the test, which will be repealed as part of the government’s bill, led to the “most passive consumer regulatory regime permissible” under current legislation.

The report calls for the regulator to be more proactive in defending the interests of tenants and calls on it to make more use of its enforcement powers, especially in the most serious cases.

“We will carefully consider the select committee’s findings, and we look forward to continuing our work with tenants and other stakeholders as we shape our approach to proactive consumer regulation,” said Jonathan Walters, deputy chief executive of the Regulator of Social Housing. 

“Every tenant deserves to live in a safe, decent and good quality home. It’s clear from the report, and some of the examples in our own casework, that there are landlords who have failed to achieve that. 

“This is unacceptable. To landlords who need to change, our message continues to be very clear: act now to put things right and don’t wait for new legislation.”

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